A crowd gathered at the Old City Jewish Art Center on a bright Sunday afternoon to view its most recent exhibit, “Homeless but not Hopeless.” The audience was captivated by an array of prints and mixed media pieces done jointly by two prominent local artists, Diana Taflin Myers and Genny O’Donnell. This amazing and powerful presentation was part of a larger campaign that occurs the week before Thanksgiving – National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Like many of the other activities across the country that participate in this program, National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week encourages people to take time to consider what they’re thankful for and donate some of their time, attention, and resources to others.
The individuals in the images were all residents of Coordinated Homeless Outreach Center (CHOC) in Montgomery County. The CHOC emergency shelter is operated by Resources for Human Development in Norristown, Pennsylvania. As the images effectively portrayed, homelessness has many faces and is an “equal opportunity” tragedy. Despite the ravages so often associated with homelessness, the subjects of these images clearly showed elements of hope about their future. In fact, both Myers and O’Donnell commented, “While homelessness is absolutely life altering, the good news is that 95 percent of the subjects in our exhibit have since left the shelter and now live in their own homes.”
“In addition,” Myers said, “most currently hold jobs in their communities.”
A guest speaker, Ms. Michelle Sheppard, made clear that homelessness need not be a permanent situation. Ms. Sheppard had been homeless for a number of years. “I wasn’t always homeless but when I lost my job and couldn’t find work I started selling drugs to pay the bills,” she told those gathered at the event. “When I started using those drugs I lost everything—my home, my kids, my friends, and my family. I lost hope and I lost myself. I went to jail and then back on the street. I didn’t like my life being homeless, but I was too proud to ask for help.”
Ms. Sheppard went on to tell the crowd at the Jewish Art Center, “While ‘hope’ is an important part of anyone realizing a dream, so are social supports and housing assistance. When help was offered, and when I was willing to accept it, I began to make progress with my life. I learned that some people really cared about me. The people at Resources for Human Development have really helped me. I hope that by telling my story that I can help other women like me get back on their feet.”