The Living Room

Good Friends at TLR

There’s a lovely courtyard area at The Living Room, Santa Rosa’s day shelter for women. With landscaping, picnic tables, chairs and shade it’s an inviting space to eat, visit with friends, counselors, and have a moment’s peace. It’s become my favorite place to sit and sketch visual stories about what happens here.


Dogs are as welcome here as the women (only accompanied of course). And these dogs are a select population. Some of them live in houses and apartments, but many live in cars or camp out with their mistresses, and they rarely appear down-on their-luck. In fact I venture to guess that they are blessed with an extra dose of loving care in that they are devoted companions.


Some are lap sized and cared for as a child. They all seem to have the effect of calming nerves and dispensing love when its most needed. No wonder the bottom line for finding housing is a place that accepts your best canine friend!


Sometimes they are curled up together napping or resting on a comfortable couch.


Recently the community suffered the sudden loss of a friend who was loved by everyone. The memorial was attended by women in the community who shared their memories, prayers, and their tears. These pets seemed happy to offer their doggie prayers, and as always to help make this place feel like home.


Meditation Garden and Art at TLR

Once a week for the past month I’ve been entering through the gate at The Living Room (TLR) laden with art supplies for the mixed media expressive art class. Ruth from the Muse Group meets me there, also laden with fun art stuff. This week she found me in the garden sketching a lovely corner of the day shelter compound that I hadn’t captured in sketches yet – the Meditation Garden.


I was well into this sketch when the subject I would have liked to sketch – a woman who is the owner of the bike – showed up. In the shade of the arbor she unpacked a loaded backpack, got it organized and repacked before heading out on the bike. There’s always a great deal of packing and unpacking going on here at this place where women come for day time respite and services before heading out again, to manage lives that are often lacking in secure housing.

On the day of our art group the resource room where we meet is a bustling place with women using computers for email and phones for inquiries about jobs, housing and a million other life concerns. As they finish up and file out to the hot lunch which is being served in the dining area, we turn the room into an art room with watercolor paper  and colorful inks and acrylic paints spread around the tables, along with stencils and stamps and squirters and scrapers and rollers for application. At noon the women start wandering in, up to seven or eight of them, and soon the small room is full of artists who have no trouble figuring out what to do with the paints!

Ruth and I quickly realized that what these folks needed was not an art class but an opportunity to play with materials without being encumbered by performance expectations. (Don’t we all need that!?)

This past week the room filled with a happy, raucous energy that was reflected in the paintings.  It was the last of our meetings in this series. (The regular Expressive Arts team returns with their wonderful program this coming week.) I think we were all a bit sad to have to draw our time to a close, possibly even especially Ruth and I.

I’ll be back this week though and probably for years to come, helping out with the meditation group, sketching stories and best of all, seeing my friends.

TLR Sketch Stories

The Living Room folks have been putting up with me and my sketchbook for six months now. I’ve produced a couple of posters of the sketches, but now I have a hard copy of Vol. I of my mostly on-location sketches to share with the women when I’m there. Apparently it’s nice to see yourself in a handmade book, especially when you’re used to being overlooked in a multitude of ways when you’re homeless.

Once again my husband Bob has applied his detailed book-making and letter press skills to the project. I always feel a little sheepish about putting all (literally) of my sketches, rough or otherwise into such a lovely container. Since I sketch on paper signatures which are sewn and taped together and then clipped into a light weight, temporary book made of corroplast,  there’s no way to tear out a sheet without messing up the book. But somehow when the book gets bound in this lovely cover my messy sketches look “right” and people are not critical (even though I still am!)


8″ X 10″ book with pen and watercolor on 100% cotton rag CP Fluid W/C paper

My plan is to publish the best sketch stories in a book that can be available then to the women in the program and others for fundraising purposes, but I’m working on a second volume first.


I’ve tried to sketch the various activities, both the everyday and special groups like meditation and singing. But I’m also documenting the many ways that volunteers help to keep this valuable program going.


. . .like preparing food, playing with the children, decorating the tables each week with fresh flowers and so much more.


When I sit in the corner sketching, usually for 30-50 minutes, I’m making notes about all the things that are happening around me. One Monday last month, in the living room-sized room, all these things (above) and a great deal more occurred in about 50 minutes! There’s no time to plan out the picture space. I just keep drawing in whatever I can see that may show some part of the story. It’s more like a tapestry of images that I hope will come together.


I’ve also been helping out a bit with the groups there. While the Expressive Arts group leaders take a month-long break, I’ve been filling in by offering a mixed media Muse Group with the able help of Ruth Burke. More about the fun we’re having in another post.

If you are interested in volunteering at The Living Room, they need you, especially this summer with so many folks headed off for vacation. Also donations are welcome. For more info head to their website.

Now I’m headed off to the Sierras for a week of painting and no wifi, so I’ll be back to the blog in about 10 days.

Volunteering at TLR

I was talking to the volunteer coordinator at The Living Room (the day shelter for women and children in Santa Rosa) while I was there this week. Katie coordinates the 120 weekly volunteers who offer their time and skills to support this amazing program. The onset of summer means that some volunteers have moved on or gotten jobs and left vacancies in the schedule. Just saying. . .if you have time and the inclination, I can’t think of a better volunteer gig than this.


This poster shows some of the countless ways volunteers can provide vital services to these families.


The moms who come to the Living Room are not only dealing with the challenges of mothering, but the added burden of not having shelter or financial means. Here they have a safe place to get counseling, eat nutritious meals, and have some fun time with their children, or even take an art class here while a volunteer plays with their child.


There are so many things to figure out when you’re homeless. Add these onto the already complex array of life challenges when you have a home: laundry, showers, a nap (to catch up on sleep you missed), calls and emails to services you’re on the wait list for, connections with people who have said they will help, forms to fill out, buses to catch so you can make it back to the shelter in time to have a bed for the night, friends who need help more than you do, pets who are like family you cannot abandon just because you lost your home.

The Living Room is a lifeline for these women and children. For me it always feels like walking into a beating heart. I am so grateful for the new friendships I have formed with the women who endure with such strength and fortitude and such generosity of spirit with each other.

If you have some time to offer and want to support these homeless women and children, you can contact Katie Phillips at the Living Room or contact me with any questions.

Volunteers at TLR

Still a highlight of my week, after 6 months of almost weekly visits, is The Living Room, a day shelter for at risk and homeless women and children. I’m a volunteer artist there, recording visual stories, making friends with the women, watching the children play, getting to know some of the unique challenges of living without a home.

Yesterday I hung out in the small building where all the clothing, toiletries, bedding and other donations come in. The two volunteers there allowed me to take up precious space while I sketched their story.



In the hour I was there a steady flow of donations came in and the phone rang with offers of even more.


It was quite a job, keeping track of it all, sorting and organizing. And I know from hanging out with the women who take advantage of this program, that these free items not only sustain them, but lift their spirits when so many other parts of their lives are not working for them. Being able to dress their children up in cute outfits, to bathe with fragrant toiletries and put on make up and dress in “new” outfits and jewelry, helps them to feel that at least some of the world is on their side.

Hot Breakfast and Lunch at The Living Room

For the past three months I’ve been making weekly visits to The Living Room, a day shelter for women and children in Santa Rosa. It’s become one of the highlights of my week.

The Living Room is the kind of program that breeds devoted volunteers who’ve been coming for years – like the weekly teams that cook delicious and healthy hot breakfasts and lunches for up to 80 people. hotlunch

Here’s a (standing) sketch I did while trying to stay out of the way of the cooks and servers. They were gracious to not complain!

My main role at the Living Room is to tell the visual stories as they unfold in the moment. The staff and participants have been generous and welcoming and allowed me to be a fly-on-the-wall, (even if sometimes under foot as well).

As I sketch I also get to hear the stories of homelessness and lives in transition. They are the stories of women of great spirit who are becoming my friends and teaching me about what is happening here in the county with our housing and other poorly addressed problems.


There’s a room full of toys for the MAC (mothers and children). It was a busy place that morning and the only place I found to sit was in a teensy chair next to this charming fellow who was rolling out his clay. Believe me it was hard to draw when another part of me was dying to play with the kids.

There are volunteers who can entertain the children so that overburdened moms can take care of other pressing matters – like where to sleep tonight, or how to get to medical appointments.

But moms might also have a break from serious concerns for an hour to participate in one of the groups – art, singing, knitting or meditation!


On Mondays Dave arrives with his guitar and song sheets and a professional lead singer.


. . .in the dining area, where some women are stretched out asleep and others assemble for a chance to sing favorite songs and lighten spirits. That day the songs were those I knew by heart and could sing along while sketching! It certainly lifted my spirits.

I’m working my way around all the activities and am hoping to put the sketches together as a banner to be hung on the walls of TLR, as well as a calendar at the end of the year, perhaps to help with fundraising.

We all love to see our lives in picture form. Apologies though to the women who have allowed their image to be so roughly rendered here. Hopefully the spirit as I experienced it will shine through.

More sketches coming. . .