The Living Room

This Is My Story: Women and Homelessness

I was recently invited to show my portrait sketches of women from The Living Room on a Santa Rosa public art site called Inside OUT There. I’m happy to announce that you can now see the on line exhibition of these portrait stories. This project provides an intimate look at the lives of women who are or who have been homeless. During my year and a half of volunteering at The Living Room, I made friends with the women and children, led art and meditation groups, and sketched stories of the activities.

As women got to know me, they talked about their lives, let me sketch their portraits, and helped me to tell their stories. When the pandemic hit and the doors were shut on indoor services, I sketched the transition and switched to portraits of women wearing masks as they came for the food and other services at the outdoor location.

Please take a few minutes to visit the exhibition on line. You can look at the portraits full screen, read the stories, and navigate through them like a slideshow.

Eve

I would love to know your reactions to these picture-stories. Please share your thoughts in comments here, where they would be greatly appreciated.

Meet Victoria

Victoria is one of the first ladies I met a year and a half ago at The Living Room. She was in the knitting group and later I would see her in the art groups. One day she told me about her connection with Homeless Action, a group of grassroots activists in Sonoma County working towards ending the suffering of people who do not have a home. She was particularly involved in the legal struggles to protect homeless people on the streets from being arrested when they had nowhere else to go.

Her story is one of the most remarkable I learned when doing this portrait project.

Victoria

Victoria would come to the art group that Ruth and I led on Fridays. Sometimes she would burst into song and others would join in. After doing some art play sometimes we would do a free write, like I do in Muse Groups. Hers always revealed a quirky sense of humor that would keep us laughing.

One day she brought some aged wooden shingles she’s picked up in a construction trash pile, and we gave her the paints she wanted so that she could paint the madonna on one. When the others saw what she’d done, they wanted to try it too. The madonna is still in my car and she asks about it. I’m happy to hold onto it and the blessings that flow from it until she has a more permanent living situation.

Victoriapandemictimes

I have lost touch with my friends who, before the pandemic I would see on my weekly visits. So you can imagine that I was relieved to see her on one of my trips to the The Living Room after the pandemic started.

I sat with her on the roadside while she ate her lunch. She’s still in the shared living situation and involved with yet another group serving homeless people: SAVE Sonoma Applied Village Services and, due to being in the high risk (virus)category, does what she can by phone. But her current housing is time limited and she fears what will happen next, when there is so little permanent housing available, a problem she knows well.

Jodi

Sorrow poured on sorrow and anger overflowing it all. What dark and challenging times! So I want to share the recent death of a homeless friend of mine, striking the note of what value her life was to those of us who knew her.

Jodi was one of those people for whom the term “salt of the earth” seemed to apply. She smiled and laughed a lot and was always very animated. She would have made a fabulous campground host, which is what she and her husband had planned, until he died suddenly.

Jodi

For a while Jodi came to The Living Room almost every day to eat, sometimes to do laundry, shower, and rest her body after sleeping in her car. She was a loyal friend to many and one in particular, who was like a sister to her. And she had a connection with dogs, knew the homeless dog population well, and cared for them in every way she could.

Jodimemorial

Jodi was one of the women of whom I did a portrait story for a project I have been developing for The Living Room. I dropped off her framed portrait this morning to display with her memorial in the parking lot of TLR, where people in need come between 10am and 1pm each weekday to receive hot food and other necessities. Chairs are placed six feet apart in from of the memorial so that people may stop and take a minute to write in the book any memories they have of Jodi.

As I was leaving today two of her friends saw the memorial and were dismayed to hear she had passed. In that moment they had me and each other to share memories with. Hopefully many more will see and share their memories of her and feel uplifted by her example.

 

The Living Room: Pandemic Times

When the doors of The Living Room were ordered closed over two months ago to protect an already endangered population of homeless and at risk women and children from the viral spread, the staff got busy reinventing the program to meet the needs of the pandemic. Outside the gates. In other words, in the parking lot.

Last week I found my spot again under the redwood trees on the outskirts of the parking lot. I was sketching and hoping to see some of my friends, participants of the program I have come to know for the past year and a half of volunteering in the programs.

Redwood Gospel Mission had parked their mobile shower truck in the parking lot and people were lining up for the free hot meals – a breakfast and a lunch of healthy and appetizing food which they could carry off to eat somewhere off the property. Some headed for the side street and curbs, others for the bus stop or their cars.

Men were welcomed along with women and children. A man emerged from his shower and, after picking up his hot meal of pulled pork and veggies, did a little jig of happiness, exclaiming to no one in particular, “This feels so good! I want to live here!”

TLRpandemictimes

After getting their food, which was handed out the window of the kitchen, people were invited to go around to another window to pick up mail or get referrals and toiletries if needed.

My friend Ruth was getting her food bag and stopped a minute to talk with me. I asked how she was coping since the Covid crisis. She still sleeps in a tent with her partner, but no longer has the support of the programs and her friends at The Living Room, can’t do her laundry and rest comfortably there, and so much more. Also since the libraries are closed, it’s more difficult to stay connected with what’s going on, not to mention find public bathrooms to use. The encampments tend to be so dirty with trash that she doesn’t stay there, where otherwise there might be some sense of community.

Sheltering in place has a whole different meaning when your “place” is a tent or a car. I’ll be sharing more stories as I learn them and sketch stories of these folks who come to The Living Room. They’re our neighbors and we wish them well and want to be of help in any way we can.

The Living Room offers a variety of ways you can be of service. You can find out more on the their website and Facebook page.

 

Meal service at The Living Room

I parked myself under the trees at The Living Room this week to grab a sketch of of the scene. The staff and volunteers have figured out a way to feed people in need  while still following the shelter in place guidelines. . .by handing the to go food out the kitchen window! Breakfast and lunch are inside the bag and if you want to see the lovely food they’re serving to about 120 people a day, visit their Facebook page!

TLRMealService

I arrived after the morning rush. I’ve missed my weekly visits to The Living Room where I talk to people, sketch the stories and portraits of the women who come. But it’s good to see that they’re able to continue serving so many people during this time even though the facility cannot be open as a day shelter.  And they continue to hand out necessities for people who are homeless, like toiletries, clean socks, pet food, and now of course, masks! If you feel inspired to help, there are easy ways to help, which can be found here.

 

The Living Room continues to serve

I’ve been missing my friends at The Living Room, the day shelter for women and children in Santa Rosa. The portrait project I’ve been working on for months came to an abrupt halt with the Shelter in Place order and The Living Room had to follow along and close its doors to prevent contagion spread among staff and the homeless women they serve.

But now the creative and hard working staff has reopened not the gate, but a window and Monday – Friday is serving those scrumptious and nutritious hot lunches they are known for. . .to go!

But they’ve also been coordinating with other groups to do what they can to continue to serve the homeless and at risk population, which has now grown exponentially. One day staff was making hand sanitizer in the dining room while practicing social distancing.

sanitizer

I wish I could have been there to help and of course sketch live! But I was able to add this sketch, done from a picture, to my growing book of stories from The Living Room.

 

Meet Cathy

The portrait story project I’ve been working on these past months now has a name!

This is My Story: Women and Homelessness

and we’re already working on the book! as well as upcoming art show/events later this year to which you will be invited! The original art story portraits are now hanging on a rotational basis in the dining room at The Living Room (TLR),  so that the participants can get to see them and know each others’ stories better. They gather round in excitement when the new ones are hung!

I met Cathy first in the Meditation Group at TLR and instantly wanted to know her better. I’m sure you would too. Her story is directly related to the 2017 firestorms. I’ve had to abridge it to fit it onto the page, but here’s the gist of it.

Cathy

One part of Cathy’s story that I couldn’t fit on the art piece was what she said about her large extended family  in this area (almost all of whom lost their homes in the fire): “My upbringing was in an Italian immigrant family where, because of the cultural experience of loving, caring, and compassion, we made a solemn promise to never abandon each other, to always take care of each other.” And then the firestorm tested the human limits of that promise, though they are still doing their best.

Carmen

The portrait project at The Living Room is keeping me joyfully busy these days, collecting the stories of these women who have become my friends. They have all been homeless and many of them still are. They have that is common, along with other things I couldn’t have known about without spending hours listening to them. They possess a kind of hard won wisdom and a desire to minister to others who are down on their luck.

. . .Like Carmen, who leaned in to tell me her secret, “Sleeping on the streets you learn to be grateful for what you do have, and it makes you strong.”

Carmen

Carmensita is almost always to be found by her side.  She is the white “Yoda” in the stroller below. Likely she is dog sitting the large hound by her side.

dogduo

 

Meet Maria

When I first starting going to The Living Room to sketch the stories I felt shy about just showing up and sitting down with the women. I had been given permission by the staff, but at first it was a bit like showing up at a party where no one there has actually invited you. Or even like the first day at a new school, an experience I had many times as a child, since my family moved a lot.

But it was my good luck that one of the first people I met, as I sat down in the singing group, was Maria. It was so easy to talk to her, and she volunteered information about how things worked there, so that I felt more at ease. And the next week, when I showed up at the Knitting Group, she let the group know what who I was. Over time I learned that it came naturally for her to offer help to women who had newly shown up at The Living Room, bewildered, anxious and in need of  direction. By the time I did this portrait, I had already sketched her numerous times in activities and events there.

Maria

 

Christmas at The Living Room

It’s a sunny morning, the day after Christmas, and my sons and I are headed to the beach for a hike! Both of them now live in land-locked places and appreciate the ocean air when they’re home.

So I’ll take a few moments while they’re eating breakfast (it’s been busy here lately!) to share my day of celebrating Christmas at The Living Room with participants, staff and Santa Tim and Jingles last week.

TLRmotherchildXmas

The week before I’d wrapped presents with the moms in the MAC (Mothers and Children) program. On this cold and rainy morning there were no children outside in the play area, so I headed into the MAC house which was packed with moms and their youngest children and a grandma or two. This little one was enjoying her new doll. . .

TLRMACXmas

. . .while other children were being entertained and entertaining the moms. I came too late for the young man who comes with his guitar to sing Christmas songs with the families. I caught what I could with my pen, took some pictures and added paint later.

The holiday feast was next, with roast beef, twice baked potatoes and all the other trimmings, and with an infinite supply of Christmas cookies, all served at white clothed, festively decorated tables by a large crew of volunteers.

lrsantasknee

(above sketch from Christmas 2018)

Then Santa and Jingles showed up to pose with Moms and kids and staff and even some lucky volunteers.

santa andme

You may have seen this very same Santa on the front page of the PD paper this week!

Happy Holidays to one and all!