“Homeless but not hopeless. … Homelessness has no color, creed, or origin. No age or gender. Only victims.”
Lydia, a woman who seeks support from Rochester’s YWCA, was one such victim. Her first-hand observations on homelessness accompany her photographs in Exposed: Rochester’s Hidden Victims of Homelessness, a PhotoVoice project that supplied 13 homeless and formerly homeless volunteers with digital cameras and an opportunity to share their stories. The photography exhibition, coupled with narrative statements, was on display at Nazareth College from May 15 – 31, 2012 in the Lorette Wilmot Library.
Exposed: Rochester’s Hidden Victims of Homelessness “intends to combat common misconceptions about and bring awareness to the issue of homelessness in Rochester,” said Leanne Charlesworth, Ph.D., professor of Social Work at Nazareth College and spearhead of the project.
“Rochester’s Homeless Services Network (HSN) invited individuals and families receiving services from its diverse spectrum of member agencies to participate in the project,” said Charlesworth. “Ultimately 13 individuals were intensively involved with the project taking photos, writing, and participating in workshops.” Of the 13 that signed on for the PhotoVoice project, a majority of the respondents were youth ranging from ages 10 to 20 and mothers leading their struggling families. That demographic may sound shocking, but it didn’t surprise Charlesworth.
“The individuals involved in the project are actually representative of the homeless community in Rochester,” Charlesworth said. “It is a common public perception to think of homeless persons as older individuals struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues. In fact, the growing homeless segments in Rochester and the nation are youth and mothers with children. The PhotoVoice project represents these two sectors, and hopefully changes the view of who we are talking about.”
Rochester’s HSN agencies Sojourner House, YWCA, Wilson Commencement Park, Mercy Community Services, and Center for Youth all became part of Charlesworth’s team of Nazareth faculty and community organizations that helped realize the project. “The synergy that exists when you put together an interdisciplinary team from Nazareth and community partners is exciting,” said Charlesworth.
Charlesworth also knew Nazareth faculty would be “critical to the project’s success.” Paul Porell, assistant professor in art, instructed the participants on how to use the digital cameras. Virginia Skinner-Linnenberg, Ph.D., professor of English, gave the participants tips on creative writing for their narrative pieces. Deborah LaBelle, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the information technology program, constructed a website for the project. Additionally, Director of Community Service Adam Lewandowski helped to organize transportation and childcare for the participants during their workshop sessions.
Once the participants were taught photography and writing techniques, another benefit to the project became apparent. Not only did the public have an opportunity to become enlightened, but the participants had the opportunity to develop skills they would not have been able to access otherwise.
“We were doing things I never thought I would do,” said Christopher Torres, a 21-year-old participant in the project.
When the material started to filter in from the participants, Nazareth faculty and students were astonished by its quality. Charlesworth said, “We didn’t realize the level of talent that would exist on both the writing and photography side.”
Kellibeth Perez, a young woman amazed at the opportunity with which she was presented, has high hopes that people will become more open minded, appreciate life, and consider contributing to advocacy efforts after visiting the exhibit. “That’s the thing,” said Perez. “We can help, and that’s why we took these photos.”
Carissa Risucci ’13 is a communication and media major at Nazareth College.