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I have a distinct memory of driving through skid row when I was 16 and seeing all sorts of people living on the streets. From families to women, to young adults all were finding the means to survive while exposed to the elements. I remember feeling so distraught and deeply saddened by what I saw. I knew I had to do something about it. I decided the best possible way I could make a difference was to become a social worker. As soon as graduated from my MSW program, I went straight to work for agencies that were at the forefront of aiding the homeless crisis. I worked on the frontlines as a clinical case manager for housing programs. In the two years of my time with homeless services, I was able to house 40 men and women. In the past 6 years, homelessness has surged 75 % (LA Times) and is continuing to grow. We are the richest Nation and State yet still have tens of thousands of people sleeping on the streets.
A sense of urgency was a must when working on the front lines especially to help people out of a vulnerable, dangerous, and traumatic situations that occurred as a result of being homeless. Due to the nature of the work, sometimes human engagement and connection got lost in the mix. Relationship building was rushed because of this sense of urgency. Additionally, people experiencing homelessness have been so ousted and shunned by society and government that they were inevitable weary and mistrustful of people trying to help them.
When I began working for Painted Brain, our director showed me an “Art Cart” he had designed and built to have a mobile way to reach people outside of our community space. Immediately, I envisioned this cart to be an incredible way to engage people experiencing homelessness. I launched the “Art Cart- a mobile homeless outreach program” to bring art to a population of people who have lost their dignity, purpose, and place in society. Art has so many benefits including “boosting self-esteem and lifting up emotional, creative, and spiritual growth”. I wanted to create a way to interact with people that were meaningful and trauma-informed. In the process of creating these relationships, we are able to connect people to agencies with various resources to help the needs. We pass out hygiene products in addition to supplying people with an opportunity to create a communal art piece on our roll out butcher paper. It all starts with human connection. Slowing down from the grind, taking the time to listen to people’s stories, and be creative together can be a remedy for those who have felt forgotten.