What I Did:
This week was very fulfilling because I met with Helen Starman, Development Director of Alpha House. I spent over an hour talking with her; we discussed the rising issue of homelessness, talked about my project, and she gave me a tour of the facility. Over 40 families are on the waitlist for the Alpha House, the most they have ever seen. Alpha House recently hired someone who is solely dedicated to reaching out to the families on the waitlist. Probably the most heartbreaking, memorable thing Helen said was that some families who are on the waitlist sleep in hospital Emergency Rooms because it is open 24/7 and they can blend in with the environment. An image of an exhausted child in a fluorescent-lit hospital waiting room immediately surfaced in my head.
After the meeting, while it was fresh in my mind, I sat down for 30 minutes writing down everything Helen and I talked about.
For another hour this week, I talked with Jack Harrington, a contact I received from Carol Jacobsen. After my meeting with Carol last week, she gave me Jack’s number because she heard he was working on a project with the homeless. He is looking for a photographer because he wants to photograph portraits of homeless families and then give the families the prints. A NYC artist, Dayna Brown, who photographs portraits of homeless families and gives them the photos, was Jack’s inspiration; he wants to do something similar in Detroit in mid-November so homeless families can have a picture of their family. A family portrait is such a simple possession we take for granted, yet so many families are without this. I agreed to photograph and collaborate on this project and although I am not sure right now how this will relate to my project, it may spur more ideas.
I spent two hours reading more about this subject. CNN.com published a sad article yesterday about the sudden increase in tent communities.
I took another hour to think about the other participants of “family homelessness” besides the actual families. I wrote down a list of people (example: social workers, family psychologists, foreclosure workers, teachers, principles). I thought about how all of these people have multiple perspectives on the issue. Maybe it would be interesting to photograph and interview them throughout the year as well.
I spent another two hours researching successful campaigns. My favorite is the “Meth Project”, a groundbreaking non-profit campaign that changed the way teens view drugs. See my last blog post for more about the project.
Spent another 20 minutes reading about the controversy surrounding Gwen, the newest American Girl Doll. She is portrayed as a homeless young girl who learns about friendship. People are upset for two reasons: (1) a homeless child could never afford a $95 doll, and (2) none of that $95 goes toward any homeless organization. This doll provides a first step towards raising awareness; however, the company needs to donate a portion of the profit towards helping the issue.
What did you accomplish, discover, encounter?
Meeting with Helen Starman was extremely helpful. I learned about the shelter’s source of funding (50% private funds, 50% government) and that because of the economy, government funding is decreasing significantly. The shelter's food & supplies are donated weekly from different religious organizations. Most of the shelter's money goes towards the hiring of specialists & psychologists. Helen mentioned the rate of people who enter permanent housing after staying at the Alpha House was very good, over 60%. Because of the economy, this percentage has decreased because people are entering the shelter in a much worse state than ever before.
Helen is now talking to the director to see if I can have access to photograph & interview the families. She is going to get back to me by early next week, so I am very anxious. But, even if the director does not allow me access, I am glad I had a great conversation and learned more about the seriousness of this issue.
I also created my two sentences:
What: I want to bring family homelessness, a major crisis in America, to life through multi-media storytelling.
Why: I want to generate awareness for this increasing type of homelessness, by educating the viewer through a new visual perspective, creating a highly memorable and emotional impact.
What Should I Do Next?
I am still waiting to hear back from Helen, but in the meantime I am going to move forward and ask other shelters for access. I am also going to “make something.” Because I am interested in creating a campaign, I might create some kind of poster that targets a specific audience.
Another option: I could visually map out the different participants in family homelessness and why they are involved. For instance, teachers. Why? Teachers would have firsthand experience with homeless children. Children who are homeless are significantly more likely to underperform academically, repeat a grade, and much less likely to complete high school.