Project Women (now the Family Scholar House) provides housing to single mothers who are experiencing homelessness and supports them in obtaining a baccalaureate degree, thereby enabling them to break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their children.
Although Aaliyah coming into this world is the best thing that ever happened to Stephanie, being a committed single mother left her unable to give adequate attention to her own needs, specifically her education. Without her college degree, Stephanie knew finding employment that would afford them stable, sufficient income was not a reality. Project Women has provided them with housing and given Stephanie the support she needs to pursue her degree full-time.
Stephanie’s quote in the painting:
I began to believe that this was a blessing designed specifically for me. I am now in an environment that understands the importance of education and does everything possible to help keep me on track while I pursue my dreams.
For months, eleven artists have been creating beautiful street paintings designs with clients and staff from the nonprofit partners of the Norton Women’s Pavilion Champions 4 Her Festival. These designs will be translated onto the sidewalk of Witherspoon at Water Front Park the morning of Saturday, June 20th, which coincides with a 5k walk/run.
Last year’s event and street paintings were a huge success. The goal was to raise $100,000 for the participating nonprofit partners, but instead over $170,000 was allocated to the organizations.
Join us this year to see the street paintings unfold at your feet, participate as a walker/runner, and check out all of the educational/health booths. You can register here for the 5k.
And thank you to the artists for all of their hard work and service:
This summer, while doing research in preparation for a working trip to Seattle, I was introduced to a highly unique approach to addressing homelessness: “Tent Cities.” I found a 2005 Seattle Times article profiling an elementary school teacher, Peggy Hotes, who immersed herself in the plight of Seattle residents unable to afford the city’s 32% higher cost of living than the national average. Peggy soon found her compassion would spark the beginning of an extended metropolitan camping trip alongside Tent City residents to learn more about the system that prevents the able-bodied tent residents from affording permanent housing.
I contacted Peggy to schedule a face-to-face explanation of Tent Cities while I was in her neighborhood, then drove to a Thai restaurant to meet her with a list questions such as, “Do you think we should combat homelessness with prison reentry programs and substance abuse rehabilitation?” With all the civility and kindness that a war-worn advocate of civil rights could muster, she educated me about the various (and little known) forms of homelessness. I hadn’t given much thought to homelessness resulting not because of an addiction, but because a full time job (and maybe more than one) did not provide enough income to cover their cost of living.
After a good sociology lesson over pad thai, Peggy took me to Tent City 4, the nomadic camp where she has spent most of her time. At this point I had no idea what to expect, my preconceived ideas having been dismembered over dinner. We drove to the church where the front lawn was partially occupied by Tent City 4 for its standard 90 day stay. The complexity of the self-governing mini-town and diversity of its residents really caught me off guard. I met a woman working a shift at the check-in tent (outfitted with a desk and computer). The tall fence bordering the huddled canvas-thin houses created this single point of entry where the woman on duty ensured resident-created policies were being honored. Residents of a Tent City are screened for outstanding arrest warrants and sex offenses. No minors are allowed to stay overnight, no alcohol on the premises, and quiet hours are from 9pm-8am.
I can’t honestly make a generalized statement about the residents I met that evening; there were no stereotypical parallels between them other than the fact that none could afford traditional housing and they shared an affinity for coffee. To provide some individual color: I met a young white girl leaving to catch a bus to her full time job at Nintendo and a middle-aged Hispanic film producer preparing for a meeting with his investors the next day. No beggars, starving children, trembling drug addicts, pick-pockets, tattered clothes, shopping carts full of aluminum cans or empty beer bottles were in sight. This was a place of dignity for capable people struggling to find balance between current wages and the cost of living.
Tent City advocates also work diligently to lobby for policy change that will fairly ameliorate difficult living conditions and allow them to move back into apartments and homes. The courage to take a stand and the wherewithal to establish an alternative to homeless shelters found in those tents was amazing.
I was disappointed, however, in what I sensed as a level of complacency for Tent City residents. Peggy made it very clear there was no director or person of authority checking that residents were applying for a job, attending money management classes, going to school, etc. Residents could stay as long as they liked and no one would ever ask if they were employed or aspired to greater things. I do have issue with that because I think it encourages lackadaisical behavior in people who are looking for a second option to avoid proactively finding ways (i.e. education and job training) to make their income meet expenses. Many other people have been on the cusp of a similar existence, but have chosen one of multiple ways to increase their chances of joining a higher paying work force. That challenge yields a more beneficial, educated society. And who better to advocate for a living wage than an erudite former Tent City resident who went on to graduate from law school and fight for the cause on a level playing field?
5″ x 7″ watercolor in 12″ x 15″ frame, $220 ($10 donated to FareStart)
At the intersection of the demand for great food and people in need of job training and employment is an organization I toured while visiting Seattle: FareStart. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of downtown, FareStart hosts hungry customers in a sophisticated and swank interior with culinary presentation and flavors that match in quality. What’s unique about FareStart is a kitchen swarming not with well recognized foreign chefs, but rather Seattle residents who are homeless or otherwise disadvantaged.
FareStart offers a free 16 week job training program to prepare students for careers in the food service industry. During that period, case managers and FareStart staff address the needs of each individual, such as housing, transportation, crisis management and employment services. The boarder objective is to create a sustainable lives and eliminate poverty from the equation for each participant.
Monday through Friday, 11-2, FareStart is building the confidence and skills of the staff-in-training as they please the palates of Seattle residents with upscale dishes including “toasted hazelnut field roast.” Additionally, every Thursday night a premier guest chef works with the students on a new and exciting three course meal. This week’s chef is Adam Stevenson of Earth and Ocean, featuring the following tempting menu:
If you live in the area, or plan to visit, I highly recommend you experience the fruits of this amazing organization with your own mouth. They are located at 7th and Virginia and take reservations (206-267-7601) for the Thursday night dinners. They also do catering, private parties and offer a conference room for lunch meetings. So dine for the greater good! Cheers!
During my recent 2 weeks in Seattle, an unintentional theme of poverty presented itself in my agenda of meetings with community activists and nonprofit staff. Talking to people both personally effected by poverty and those involved in administrative roles opened my naive eyes to the nature of the issue and deepened my sensitivity. Just finishing Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family was also a rude awakening to a culture foreign to a middle class kid like myself.
I held a preconceived perception of poverty that assumed there was something “wrong” with a person who couldn’t afford housing, food, and other essentials; that something needed to be fixed about that individual. True, there are many factors, such as substance abuse, that may contribute to an individual’s inability to support themself, although in many cases, poverty means that a full-time job and frugal living does not equal the cost of living. Hindering circumstance outside of one’s own control, taking on a multitude of forms, can snowball into devastating financial results demanding more than a lifetime to surmount (ie death of a spouse, illness, or even a car accident resulting in a sudden loss of transportation).
Of course, I have several pieces in the works inspired by my interactions with the folks in Seattle, but the broader issue of poverty is a great tie-in to a nonprofit in New York that has been collecting dust in my backlog of organizations waiting to be featured here. The long awaited completion of this painting of NYC presented the perfect opportunity to bring Robin Hood to center stage.
Robin Hood, much like United Way, boasts a record of impressive efficiency with dwarfed administrative cost. Both organizations fund other nonprofits rather than offering services directly to individuals themselves, inherently cutting administrative costs, but additionally,
“Robin Hood’s Board of Directors underwrites all of [their] fundraising and administrative expenses. From the rent to staff salaries to the website…it’s all paid for so your money goes to help others. [They] believe the urgent need in New York’s poor communities requires [them] to put every dollar out on the streets helping people and not in an endowment.”
What all of this means for New York residents is that more services and aid are made available to them to overcome poverty, whether that condition be the result of a self-destructive lifestyle, or the more common inability to afford the cost of living in spite of very sincere effort to make ends meet.
Much of what I read on their website reads like a landing page for a venture capital firm: “follows an extensive due diligence process to ensure that every dollar invested generates results,” and “before investing in a program…reviews its strategy, scrutinizes its financial statements, evaluates its management teams, and conducts multiple visits.” The business speak certainly is indicative of backgrounds of the successful board of directors spearheading the organization. Such an approach has proved to be highly effective, as indicated in their quarterly updates and success stories. Thank goodness since, reportedly from their website, 1 in 6 New Yorkers live in poverty.
Obviously I have contacted many non-profits and given them my pitch, but never have I had a response like the one I got from ArtBridge. Instead of the usual, “we would love to have you” I got, “we would love to have you teach our kids about portraiture.” Forget what I was after, ArtBridge was focused on their goal of bringing art to the homeless children in 8 Houston shelters.
Each year, ArtBridge programs serve more than 2,000 children whose families are indigent, in crisis, and struggling to meet their needs…They have experienced family chaos, neglect, and often, domestic abuse. Some have been abandoned and are living alone in shelters.
How do you turn down an offer like that? So I did indeed end up introducing myself to a small group of people half my size and explaining to them what “painting journalism” means. Then I asked each of them about their day and to model their mood for the person sitting across from them. Although restless 8 year olds don’t make very good models, I did eventually have a room of artistic journalists attempting to capture what they saw on paper. Short attention spans made completed pieces nearly impossibly, but there was at least a lot of dialogue about the events of the day. I was flattered to be drawn by several of the kids (proudly displayed on my fridge) and got some big hugs before I left. It was a humbling and heart-warming experience.
If you’re one of my Houston readers and have an artistic flare, I’m sure you would enjoy volunteering with this amazing organization.
Founded in 1976 by five neighborhood churches, the organization has grown fruitfully, adding new services, full-time professional staff, and a second DC location. The office I passed through was filled with a hustling staff so engrossed in their work that I, the unfamiliar girl poking around with a camera and asking questions, was hardly given a first glance. Clients waiting to see a doctor, picking up a Christmas dinner, or receiving legal assistance seemed more suspicious of my presence.
Bread for the City’s entire list of offerings is housed in two nearly adjoining buildings within DC’s urban center. I passed through a fully stocked clothing store, a long hall of social workers’ offices, a food pantry with industrial crates of goods and a walk-in freezer, a legal aid office of over 100 legal expertise volunteers, and a medical center larger than many private practices. Even those of us fortunate enough to afford these services ourselves never find them so conveniently consolidated into one location. It’s truly a unique operation that serves the DC community.
Somewhere in between rock bottom and self-sufficient, recovering alcoholics have a place to get their bearings at “Hotel California.” The small transitional living facility can assist up to fourteen men who have pushed their friends and family away with their addiction, crashed, burned, then made a turn, gone through detox, attended AA meetings, completed extensive rehab programs and are now flirting with attainment of a full recovery. You might call them “advanced recovering alcoholics.” Shortly after leaving a traditional live-in, 12 step program many find themselves very susceptible to falling prey to their demons. The learning curve seems harsh. For those that know the ropes and are determined to win the fight, a place like Hotel California is an ideal place to take a breath, take comfort in a professional support system, and take advantage of social services such as job placement.
Although requirements of the residents to stay at the facility are less rigid than traditional half-way houses, these men still must participate in classes, complete homework, check in with counselors, volunteer for the organization, and abide by a curfew. I took the picture above of a board in the common area where meetings are held. Clearly the counselors encourage the residents to focus on developing characteristics that were checked at the bar door.
Hotel California, which opened its doors in June of 2005, nearly always has a warm body in each bed. The facility was mellow and calm the rainy morning I was there. Appartently many were at work. I did sit and talk with three gentlemen who laughed at their awkward behavior as they tried to “forget about the camera.” We chatted about what other facilities they had lived in and how this one compared. Their situations were across the board, but all seemed very content to be where they were. I hope they find encouragement in that they are in a community that is closer to freedom from their addiction.
I started this painting (click here to see the image enlarged) while I was still in Oz, but just finished it yesterday at home. This part of downtown Brisbane is actually one of my favorite hot-spots in the city where you’re sure to find lively action anytime of the day or night. It’s called The Fortitude Valley, or just “the Valley” by locals. I was out wandering the sidewalks intentionally looking for an Aborigine. I knew that when I found one (which is considerably less likely than finding a minority in the American Midwest), chances were in my favor that it would be a photo opportunity for my next body of work focusing on social activism. Sure enough, I passed what looked to be a homeless Aboriginal woman, coin cup at her side, diligently painting a traditional Aboriginal design on a board. Tourists go bonkers over these earthy, narrative, pointillist-like designs. Plenty of white westerners passed the woman by; some (like the men in this painting) stopped to watch, while others whizzed past without missing a step. No one made eye contact. It was as if she were a sedate animal on display at a zoo, without the confines of a cage. I stopped to ask the woman if she would mind having her picture taken. Her response, consisting of a few mumbled words, a nod, and a quick but assertive gesture directing my attention to the coin cup, made it clear that she preferred to “work” this way.
I quickly learned during my first trip to Australia that Aborigines are not highly regarded citizens. They seem to dwell in the shadows (figuratively and literally), and oddly, neither Aboriginals nor their non-native counterparts seem not to mind. I tried to raise the issue with my Aussie friends on numerous occasions. There was not much to be said other than the fact that their race seems to be offered a multitude of opportunities in the way of scholarships and various programs to side step a predisposition to poverty and substance abuse. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that such efforts are proving to be terribly effective, largely due to a lack of interested people taking the offers. So what do you when no one seems motivated or interested? If nothing else, I wondered what this woman would have chosen to paint if she wasn’t certain her chances of selling the piece were substantially higher if a Causian walked by and thought, “Wow, a real dot painting by a real Aborigine. I bet that would look great over my sofa.”