Explore urban photographer Ian Tong’s gritty photos of Omaha’s homeless youth and the personal stories behind them. Go a step further and learn about our partner organization, YES! (Youth Emergency Services); a non-profit organization serving and empowering the at-risk and homeless youth of Omaha.
Established in 1974 by a group of community volunteers, YES! provides support services and empowerment for at-risk and homeless youth in Omaha. Their street-based caregiving model finds youth in crisis, provides emergency shelter for up to three weeks and fosters long-term programs that lead young people towards self-sufficiency.
Project Wake Up Call puts a twist on the ordinary donations process. If you donate $100 or more, you will receive an offer to stay at the Hotel RL location of your choice for one night (terms and conditions apply).
Ian Tong is a New York-based photographer originally from Hong Kong. With over 15 years in the industry, his experience encompasses a wide range of commissioned and personal photographic work. A series of personal projects currently keeps him busy, taking him to memorable locales such as Stockholm and Shanghai.
Tong’s personal work is concerned with environmental and societal issues that has been recognized regularly and featured in various competitions. His work has been selected for the prestigious American Photography annuals 27, 28 and 30. Also of particular note is his inclusion in the Aperture Foundation 2014 summer open exhibition.
Ian has a BA from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada and a MFA degree from Pratt Institute, New York, NY.
To bring the Project Wake Up Call initiative to life, urban photographer, Ian Tong, was tasked with creating a photo series that uncovered the living situation of the homeless community in Omaha.
The three young mothers Mekal, Kayla and Nyamal were young single mothers who lived in Yes Omaha’s maternal shelter. This home specifically catered for young mothers and their children and was separate from the other housing provided by YesOmaha. The shelters were a secure and private home configured to house the mothers and their children with bed, bath and laundry facilities. They were thrilled to be photographed and dressed up for the occasion.
Tyler was introduced to us via YesOmaha. He let us know he left home because of problems with his father. When he first left home he slept in unlocked public spaces. Tyler took us to downtown Omaha to the doorways and alleys where he would go sleep at night. YesOmaha in addition to providing shelter makes meals at their outreach center, which is open in the afternoons until early evening. It is an essential service which functions as a second home for many youths in need.
Parks and underpasses around Omaha had surprisingly little sign of people camping out. Throughout the States, in spite of extreme cold, I had witnessed homeless people camping out regardless of the temperature. In Omaha the local authorities prohibited camping on public spaces and when we were there, enforcement had been carried out. YesOmaha's staff knew of this but nonetheless had seen homeless encampments until they were cleared away. Not far from downtown, in the wooded area behind the railway tracks we found this camp area.
Resting in the heart of the city, Hotel RL Omaha invites guests to discover the culture throughout the River City. Local and famous attractions are waiting to be discovered nearby.
“As I arrived in Omaha with my assistant, the city was hit by an approaching ice storm that threatened to cover the ground with a slick coating of ice. Much of Omaha shut down as the road conditions worsened. By the second day however, the weather cleared and the sun rose to a brilliant clear winter’s day with an intense blue sky.
It was my first time visiting Nebraska. One thing I was particularly struck by was the sense of hospitality and friendliness in everyone that I met; from the people we met on the road whom we photographed to the manager of the pizza restaurant where we grabbed dinner. Winter in Omaha can be cold for sure but it was a lovely place to visit. Everywhere we went we were met with warmth and friendliness. My thanks goes out to the staff of YesOmaha, especially Allison and Maryanne who generously gave their time helping us find our way around. Also many thanks to the kind and helpful staff at Hotel RL who went out of their way to facilitate our project."