My recent visit to the Stewpot left me filled with hope, hope for people that are homeless and hope for families that are struggling to avoid becoming homeless.
I started with a walk down a hallway adorned with photography that stopped me in my tracks. Mary Ellen Mark’s photographs document the journey of “Tiny,” a young woman whose life on the streets started at age 13. The exhibit was captivating, powerful, and moving. Note: The photos have been taken down for renovation, but you can see and learn more as they are a part of a bigger exhibit from the Museum of Street Culture. Visit museumofstreetculture.org.
Next, I learned about the extensive services offered at the Stewpot. The agency is the sole meal provider at The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center, serving 1,000 to 2,000 meals per day, seven days per week. The Stewpot provides casework assistance and enrichment programs to individuals and families that are experiencing homelessness, as well as programs for at-risk children and their families.
My visit ended with a trip to the art studio, passed halls covered with drawings and paintings. Many of them were very good.
I was introduced to several artists who were eager to share their work with me. I was especially impressed with the work by Leon Pollard. I also met another man, who though no longer homeless, returns to the Stewpot to work on his art. This is by design, said Betty Heckman, art program director. The studio gives individuals a familiar place to go, a sense of community, “a beautiful community of artists,” she said.
When people are housed, many become isolated and lonely and having them come back fits with the mission of continued services for those experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Also, having the successfully-housed clients come back is an inspiration to others. Creating the art gives participants a sense of pride and self-worth.
The writer, theologian, mystic, poet, and monk Thomas Merton wrote, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” I think this applies to those creating art and those experiencing art as well.