Expressing common humanity
Homeless shelter residents become artists
Stigma is about difference, [but] art connects people – it explores brokenness and expresses what’s common among people,” says Emily Loveday. After volunteering for a year to build relationships and test receptivity to her idea, the 22-year-old health sciences university student started an art program at Southridge Community Church’s homeless shelter.
Loveday discovered “beautiful artistic abilities” in people connected with the St. Catharines, Ont., multisite MB church’s 24-hour homeless shelter at the Glenridge campus. From her studies in trauma theory, she wanted to create an opportunity to “narrate trauma to bring meaning and healing,…to pull out people’s experience through art.”
“Art has the ability to express the depth of people,” Loveday says. “When someone is able to share, they connect with the viewer somehow because they’re expressing humanity.”
Participant Tony Scolaro says, “The arts program has allowed me to discover new talents and show me a different way of looking at pictures, writing, and poetry. Feedback – on my own work but also others’ work – gives a larger perspective on things.”
Art has potential to go beyond therapy to connect a viewer with the humanity of the artist, creating identification and vulnerability, breaking down walls of stigma and marginalization, says Loveday. Seeing through the artist’s eyes changes perception. The viewer realizes, “That could happen to me – I could have been homeless too.”
For the artists, creating something beautiful or healing builds dignity and purpose. “The program enables me to discover more talents within,…giving motivation and encouragement to strive for more and to make improvements on previous work and future possibility,” says Scolaro.
A core group of five former shelter residents and up to 20 others from the shelter community have met weekly for workshops and discussion since January, facilitated by Loveday and two other volunteers. They are gearing up for a public show in St. Catharines on Aug. 25.
Asking how the Southridge community could better serve the community around them, the congregation relocated from 9th Avenue to Glenridge, closer to the heart of St. Catharines, where the building became a host location for Out of the Cold (a program that allows worship spaces to be used for emergency overnight accommodation during the harshest winter nights) in 2004. Through partnership with Ontario Works, Niagara Health System, and Housing Help, the Southridge shelter was opened in 2005 as a year-round, 24/7 homeless shelter with 27 men’s beds and 8 women’s beds in dormitory-style accommodation.