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What happens when you put Art + Homeless together?

Last week I started volunteering out of a need to do something worthwhile with the time I have left in Miami. I also wanted to see a different side of the city, in contrast to the flashy cars and houses, beautiful clothes and glamourous lifestyle, because I knew it existed.

I was spending a lot of time alone, waiting for my husband to get here from The Bahamas, where he had family commitments. While I do enjoy "Me" time to work on myself, read, and for my art, I had too much time to be in my own head, After a search à la Google, I was lead to Camillus House, homeless shelter. Coincidently, the namesake, Saint Camillus, died on July 14, 1614 and my birthday is July 14! A sign, for sure! I was not familiar with the location, but I will say that as a new facility, it is very nice for a homeless shelter.

At the mandatory orientation meeting, which also just happened to be the day after I called to inquire, one of their former clients, Gary Allen, made a presentation of a sculptural piece that he created in the art room. We immediately struck up a rapport discussing his piece as well as the art program that he runs at Camillus House. Next thing you know, I am volunteering to come into his program to meet with his various groups, as a guest artist, all week. What I didn't know, was how much I would enjoy meeting each and every person who came into the room, from the clients to the staff.

Within the first few days, I met people from the substance abuse recovery program, Phoenix Group (human trafficking), and jail diversion program. I, honestly didn't know what to expect to be doing or saying until I was thrown in front of everyone. But similar to the way I do my art, it was process-based and my talk organically evolved into more of a dialogue than a presentation. I'm not particularly fond of speaking in front of a group of people, but in this case, I had fun. Their curiosity was genuine and with their limited knowledge about the art world, their questions were uninhibited and authentic. There was no one to impress in the room and I was not there to impress them either. I just wanted to make a connection with other human beings. What I, most importantly, realized is how similar we all are, rather than different. They received me with an appreciation, respect and courtesy that seems to be lost in our self-absorbed society. I was looking for a connection as much as they were. We all want to be looked in the eyes and seen. We all want our words to be not just heard, but listened to. We all have a story to tell, but how to express it in our own unique way is the challenge. We were all someone's baby, so we should take of each other. Unconditional compassion, kindness, and respect at the most basic level is equally deserved for everyone. I have found that spending a few hours of my time in a weeks, just engaging in conversation with them, makes a huge difference to their day and their life. In return, I made connections with some real people in Miami and widened my perspective of other human experiences in this world. The neat thing was, we connected through the art centre.

The arts is a universal way for anyone to connect to themselves as well as each other. It's a door that allows people to open their mind, heart, senses, and perspective. It gives us a voice whether it be through poetry/spoken word, paint on canvas, pencil on paper, song, sculpture, or dance/movement. I watched clients at Camillus House, transition from sitting on a chair, seemingly silent, to getting up and offering their words of beautiful poetry on paper or contribute to a collaborative painting with their own personal visual expression and then walk away as silent as they entered the room. It is an 'offering' when people as hurt as these clients create something. They are exposing their experience as a human being thus far in their existence, their process of suffering/healing, behind the safety of a canvas or paper or song. I do the same thing through my process based art.

The HeArt Room that Gary at Camillus House leads is a safe place for clients to incubate ideas and thoughts, process experiences, discuss and share, create through various forms of self expression, without judgement. The act of creation is a form of active meditation which provides a positive focus for the participants, a good practice in daily living. The sense of accomplishment after completing a project that came from their own hands builds confidence and pride, things that have been severely diminished in their lives. Remove the fear of creation, destruction and recreation, also known as starting, stopping and restarting, we can then extend that into our lives. I believe that inspiration to create artistically can lead clients in art programs, like this, to being inspired to creating a new life for themselves. A life where happiness is possible.

I am grateful for the connection the clients let me have with them. It came as a surprise to me when Gary remarked how much of an impact I made on the members of all the art therapy groups. All I did was show up and For them, that was more than enough.

Generosity not only enhances our own joy, but it can take someone else's day from OK to great. We see ourselves as connected to all others. Bonus reason, it is even associated with better health and longer life expectancy! For those in the Miami area, there are many ways to help Camillus House through donations or volunteering. If you'd like to help the HOPE Creativity Center, HeArt Room Arts Program contact Gary Allen .

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