Bonnie fell and broke her hip recently (months after I did the above portrait story), a day before holding that yard sale she’d been looking forward to. She spent some more time in the hospital following hip surgery, but was managing on her own with crutches and with plenty of pain. I stopped by to drop off a print of her portrait, and she insisted on showing me her apartment. So I donned my mask and took a quick peek.
I’m not sure what I expected, but every square inch of space in her one bedroom apartment had been turned into a museum of her collections: Disney characters, salt and pepper shakers, chimes, vintage lunch boxes, tea sets, dolls, dragons and wizards, and her own sculptures incorporating her many finds – all neatly arranged to tantalize the eye wherever it might land.
This is what I love about many of my friends who have been homeless. It’s that spirit of making the best of what one has, and not letting set-backs get one down. As I was leaving I ran into another participant at The Living Room, who was having her own issues with pain from walking after surgery. She was there to provide the ride for Bonnie to a doctor’s appt. People who know what it’s like to need help are always the first to offer it.
This week I invited myself over to one of The Living Room’s transitional shared living houses so that I could visit with friends I’d made while doing their portrait stories last year. Those of us who went to the day shelter on a regular basis, participants and volunteers, have been missing the sense of community we enjoyed there while eating lunch, attending groups or sitting in the garden.
I got to check in with Vivan and ask about her life with Covid. She spoke of her odyssey from Sloan House to Astro Motel to Sonoma State emergency housing, until finally a spot opened up for her at this shared house. Even with all the changes she’s been through, she still has the optimism and energy I remembered. She’s in line for permanent housing soon and plans to finish her books of stories and cookbooks, and eventually have her own food trucks.
Her comments about pandemic life could have been anyone’s. “I feel stuck here. I’m not out walking and am gaining weight.” And then she teared up to say that the pandemic had destroyed her chance of visiting her dad this year, which would be the first possible time since 2013.
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.