This week I saw an exhibition of homeless art, stories and poetry that was displayed in shop windows along Carlisle Street, Balaclava and Fitzroy Street, St Kilda in Melbourne. It was both uplifting and heart-wrenching at the same time.
The ‘No fixed address’ community art project is part of National Homeless Persons Week (4-11 Aug 2014) and aims to put human faces to some otherwise anonymous, and often forgotten, members of our community. A map was available from a local cafe to encourage self-guided walking tours.*
I’ll let the works speak for themselves through a selection of excerpts and images.
“Homelessness … does not discriminate regardless of colour or social creed. The most disturbing fact is that amongst the homeless there are a larger number of elderly people and families, such as single women with children, and single fathers, with children” – from the background to ‘Shelter for all’ by Leslie Stanley.
“Have faith and trust in good people and let them speak for you, and you have a voice For if you speak for yourself, you just may talk yourself out of it.” – from Leslie Stanley’s bio.
“I was a man.” – from ‘Untitled’ by Jerry Glebicki.
“I often fantasise on how I would like things to be…” – from ‘There Underneath the Stars’ by Shannondoah Kershaw.
“Where there’s love, there’s a home.” – from ‘What makes a home that I want?’ by Anonymous.
“Bricks and mortar do not make a home. People make a home.” – from ‘Stories of a Yobbo’ by George Beverley.
“I am about to become a grandfather for the first time… Imagine the stories Grandpa Yobbo will tell him, I really can’t express the joy I feel. A year ago I felt no sense of belonging anywhere, Now I live a very contented life.” – from ‘Stories of a Yobbo’ by George Beverley.
“Art calms the beast.” – Anonymous
My favourite poem was ‘Browsing around’ by Craig Prosser (pictured), who is homeless and lives behind St Kilda Public Library:
“I’m a window shopper for houses,
I wander around all day.
I see the trucks and the clouds,
I see good people,
I’m not so bad myself.
I’m really bloody cold though.”
Creativity & homelessness
This exhibition will probably come as no surprise to readers of street papers like The Big Issue that often include a section for artwork, poems and stories done by their vendors and other people who are homeless, marginalised or disadvantaged.**
Many other community arts programs have also set out to give a voice and face to homeless people around the world, including one run by the Royal Academy in London!
The next step requires more of us to take notice and listen.
To this end, a New York artist has turned homeless people’s signs into a short video (here) – but not everyone agrees that this is ethical or desirable.
A few of the signs suggest that their authors have managed to keep their sense of humour at least:
‘My mum told me to wait here. That was 10 years ago.’
* ‘No fixed address’ is a collaboration between the Inner South Rooming House Network, the local community, community artist Katie Lockett. It was supported by the City of Port Phillip through a community grants program.
A community artist visited local rooming houses, specialist homeless services and Supported Residential Service facilities and talked with locals around St Kilda to find people who had encountered homelessness and were willing to share their stories. These were then turned into posters and displays with the help of designers, Jessica Wood and Verity Kimpton.
For more information about the project, see here.
** For more about street papers, see here. There are apparently 122 street papers published across 41 countries. They are sold by 14,000 homeless vendors and read by over 6 million people.
Sources: (Accessed 8 Aug 2014)
- ‘Is It Ethical to Collect Homeless People’s Signs as Art?‘ by Amy Crawford at the Smithsonian Institute (published March 2024)
- ‘The art club for homeless people under the Royal Academy’s roof‘ by Juliet Rix at The Guardian (published 5 Aug 2014)
Photo credits – Pip Marks (2014)