In November 2018 when I approached The Living Room with my proposal to sketch stories of the activities and people there, the staff was enthusiastic and welcoming. But when I showed up with my sketch materials, it was like the first day at a new school, where you don’t know if anyone will want to talk to you, and you may have to eat lunch alone! (an experience I remember from a childhood of moving around the country, sometimes in the middle of the school year)
In general people who have been homeless are accustomed to being “invisible” in public, so they don’t necessarily make eye contact. And I am surprisingly shy about approaching people uninvited. I wondered why any of them would want to talk to me, or let me sketch them anyway. But I knew it was up to me to break the ice. I had a card made that introduced myself as an artist who was there to draw stories. I would stand in line, get a hot lunch tray, and sit next to someone to eat. Little by little I became known, and mostly it just got easier to approach people as I realized that what I had to offer was not just a sketch of them, but my genuine interest in anything they wanted to tell me about their lives.
That led to co-leading an art and meditation group there, and eventually to this portrait story project. Nickalena fascinated me in so many ways, like her story of devoting herself to homeless kids, becoming an artist and writing a book while on the streets. When I asked if I could read her poetry, she recited some to me, and it was delightful!
If you haven’t seen my exhibit of the portrait stories : This is My Story: Women and Homelessness, you can view it now on the Santa Rosa Arts website.
And visit The Living Room to find out more about what they’re doing now and how you could help.