Yamille Medina sits in front of a mirror while a makeup artist brushes purple blush onto her cheeks. She cradles her 2-year-old son Antonio in her arms; he’s a bit cranky.
Nearby, a nine-months pregnant woman is picking out a dress from a collection of outfits hanging on a rack. Another woman who had her baby six days ago is having her hair blow-dried.
These women are homeless. They live at the Miami Rescue Mission’s women’s shelter, many with their children. On this day, the women and their children are being treated to a staple of the holiday season: a portrait session.
Medina and her two sons, Antonio and Willie share a cramped room stuffed with suitcases full of clothes, bags of toys, and other items they were able to keep when they were evicted from their apartment a year ago.
The holiday season can be an especially difficult time for families in homeless shelters.
Families with children are the fastest growing homeless population in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That’s also true in Florida.
“They just feel hopeless 'cause this isn’t what they envisioned,” says Marilyn Brummit, director of development for the Miami Rescue Mission.
The portrait event is made possible by Help Portrait, an international movement to put volunteer photographers in touch with people who can’t afford professional pictures.
About a dozen local photographers and makeup artists volunteered their time for Help Portrait Miami day.
“These moments are awesome because we don’t get that. We can’t pay for it,” Medina says.
The women’s shelter is a hectic scene. At least nine families are preparing for their pictures. There’s a blow-drying station and two chairs for volunteer makeup artists to glam up the moms.
About a dozen kids are running around in their nicest clothes, laughing and coloring on pieces of paper.
Medina’s eight-year-old son Willie tries to calm his two-year-old brother, who's crying for a Nestle chocolate drink.
Willie reads from his children’s bible to Antonio. He chooses the story where Pharaoh makes Joseph the king of Egypt.
Medina was evicted from her apartment a year ago. Her husband works at the rescue mission, but his paycheck couldn’t cover all of their bills.
They lived in the living room of her mother’s one bedroom apartment for a few weeks, but that didn’t last.
“She wanted her space back,” Medina says. Her entire family wound up homeless.
Medina misses having a place to call her own. She misses the intimacy of dinnertime with just her husband and their children.
“I miss cooking for them and knowing at the end of the day we’re all going to sit down," she said. “Me coming from a Cuban background, we sit at our table and eat, talk about our day.”
During the day, she answers phones and takes messages at the rescue mission’s volunteer office. She’s learning skills she hopes will land her a paying job as an administrative assistant. Then she plans to save enough to put down a deposit on an apartment.
Sometimes, Medina says she gets depressed about her situation. She doesn't want to raise her two sons in a homeless shelter, but she says at least they're safe.
“I was never a crier, or at least I would hold it in a lot,” she says. “That’s gone. I cry when I have to cry."
She adds she also has happy moments and breakthroughs here. And days like the holiday photo shoot make her almost forget they’re homeless.
“This opportunity is a time for us to come in to show them that people really care,” said Anthony Jordan, a Miami photographer who organized the event, “that we still care about each other as humans.”
Its one of the few personalized and intimate moments the Miami Rescue Mission can offer families like Medina’s around this time of year.
On picture day, a photographer greets Medina near the rescue mission’s playground.
Antonio, who was crying earlier, is now fast asleep in his mom’s arms. They go ahead with the pictures anyway.
Antonio is wearing a bright-red sweater. Willie, the eight-year old, has his favorite long-sleeved brown shirt on and Medina is wearing a donated dress — it’s knee-length with a vibrant tribal print.
Eventually, Antonio wakes up. He’s in no mood for a photo.
“Tony, look over here, say 'cheese',” shout the photographers.
He smiles long enough for several clicks of the camera. Within minutes, the photos are ready for Medina to look at.
“It looks gorgeous,” she says.
The pictures are placed in white frames. Medina says she’ll put them on top of the dresser in her tiny room at the rescue mission, for now.
Someday soon, she hopes to hang them on her own apartment wall.