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Kitty Zen: My Experience with Homelessness November 18, 2016 09:32

From November 12th-20th, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week will take place. This week is meant to bring awareness to people across the country who face hunger and homelessness each day. The facts are staggering: 578,000 Americans are homeless on a typical night, 49 million are at risk of suffering from hunger, and 1 in 5 children live in poverty, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. For many of these people, being without a home can be heart-wrenching. But for some, art allows them to find a home within themselves

When I first became “Homeless”, it took me a long time to realize. Like most people, I thought of soup kitchens and bag ladies upon hearing that word.

My experience with homelessness started as a teenager.

There was a house fire in my family’s home. We never really bounced back from that. I would move around from (temporary) place to place, from hotels to friends houses, a summer rental to a camp ground, wondering when life would start to go back to what I remembered as “normal” again.

As I ended up on my own, the realities of what I was going through finally started to set in. It’s been a journey since then. Having survived a number of difficult and often dangerous situations along the way. Especially dangerous for a young person, still very much in the process of growing up.

Boston based artist Kitty Zen

Boston based artist Kitty Zen

I have looked at my self and my life with self loathing in the past, feeling crushed under the weight of social stigmas like being a “bum” or a “failure”. I have since realized the true scope of the crisis that is housing instability, and that my experience is one that is closely shared by many.

“Homeless” should never be considered to describe a person, as if it is a personality trait. Homeless is a housing status, an experience a person is enduring and with hope, surviving.

When you’re living without a safe or stable home, with no guarantee of having basic needs met, your brain operates entirely differently. You are constantly engaged in a fight or flight mentality. It adds a different level of stress to life that people should never have to become accustomed to, but one that is necessary for survival.

Simple things we take for granted like access to food or bathing become much more difficult and significant challenges in daily life. Having a complete lack of peace or privacy can make you quickly become frustrated and depressed. Being looked down on, or worse, looked through and ignored, hurts even more. This experience is universal; every one of my fellow “housing challenged” individuals have identified they would rather be told to leave or insulted than treated as if they don’t exist.

"Nebula" by Kitty Zen

A day time drop-in center for young adults I frequented when staying on the streets provided me an enormous eye opener one day. It came to me in the form of a writing prompt, asking, “What would you want people to know about homelessness and how to help solve it?” And it made me ask myself that question for the very first time.

My self hatred began to crumble under understanding, and a blossoming dream of helping to create a future in which younger generations of young people will have the help and resource they need to keep them on a clearer and safer path, and a chance to thrive.

Becoming engaged as a peer advocate has been both very empowering and humbling for me.

Having others to actually talk to about what I was going through changed my perspective greatly. It helped me to become much more aware of the bigger picture, and the unstable realities so many others also face.

Although my own story is unique, I’m not nearly the only one going through this. Seeing the way other communities have responded, especially those with the bold and so far successful plan of “housing first” helped inspire me to become engaged in a bigger way. The sad but true reality is that most of America’s working class is only one strike of bad financial luck away from facing housing instability themselves.

This cannot be realistically judged as an individual’s personal failure, but as a crisis we need to come together with compassion to help solve.

Through finding out about new issues, community concerns and needs in my work in advocacy, I found more opportunities and reasons to engage in advocacy. Often on the fly, giving an unprepared speech to an unsuspecting audience of councilors. community activists, students, others. For most people talking about personal experiences can be really difficult, painful, and draining. Sharing these things with strangers is not something fun or comfortable to do, and for me as a very naturally shy and anxious person,very difficult. By sticking it out, I began to grow, finding both my voice and myself. Ability for self expression on this level had only otherwise in my life been available through the arts.

But even more serendipitous/hope inspiring/amazing is that my work in advocacy also led me to being introduced to ArtLifting. Being able to share my voice and my vision with the world as both an effective tool of the trade and force for positive change was life altering. All this together has brought me what I can say for the first time in a very long time, a true sense of hope.

Participation and meaningful say in ones own life and decision making is crucial to being a human being, not just a homeless human being.

Make sure the people you are trying to help are engaged and welcome in the conversation. Something one of my colleagues often says is “There should be nothing about us, without us.” By changing the way we talk about the issues, and by doing so in a realistic way, it changes the way we think about how to come up with solutions for them, and helps to create solutions that truly work.

What I have seen time and time again is that being able to bring lived personal experiences to the conversation helps invaluably to show the world that not all homeless people can be contained to a stereotype.

And that for people who are here to help, to listen to our voices, or are simply passing by, that being able to engage with an open mind and heart is just as important.

By Kitty Zen

To read more about Kitty or view her art, click here

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Scott Benner: My Experience with Homelessness November 17, 2016 16:44

From November 12th-20th, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week will take place. This week is meant to bring awareness to people across the country who face hunger and homelessness each day. The facts are staggering: 578,000 Americans are homeless on a typical night, 49 million are at risk of suffering from hunger, and 1 in 5 children live in poverty, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. For many of these people, being without a home can be heart-wrenching. But for some, art allows them to find a home within themselves. 

became homeless after a series of events. I’ve thought a lot about these events since then and it makes me realize how easily it can happen, a lot easier than people might imagine. I often tell people it was a perfect storm of bad luck….

The beginning of the end was when the owner of my company retired. That led to a stream of new owners coming in and bringing their plans to change things that didn’t work.

My team shut down operation on Friday the 13th, 2009.

After that and without much success, I began looking for work. During this time, my wife also experienced unemployment, but for the most part she was able to keep working. We had a house and we were doing what we needed to do to hang onto it, including drawing money from my retirement.

The next blow was a two parter.

In January of 2012, I was diagnosed with a neurological condition called Horner’s Syndrome. This causes cluster headaches, periods of confusion, and exhaustion. I was in the hospital for a week and then was at home in bed for 6 weeks with oxygen and pain medication. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the end of my working days.

Scott drawing

Then around May of that year, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. I became her caregiver and we dealt with a grueling round of treatments and recovery that went on for about a year. She recovered and is doing well today. But by this point our savings were gone and we decided to sell our house and separate.

This is when I hit the street.

At first I thought I would be able to live a simpler existence and find some kind of work. However, as the summer progressed, it became apparent that I wasn’t going to be employable. As my funds dwindled, and the weather got colder, I sought shelter at Father Bill’s in Quincy Ma.

You begin to realize how much you value your personal space. You begin to realize other people want space too. A lot of people have issues or have suffered in one way or another and you can see their pain. I think that there are people who for a variety of issue are chronically homeless and a larger portion of homeless are transitioning through a series of bad events.

"Untitled 34" by Scott Benner

"Untitled 34" 

In the spring of 2014, I settled into a routine of drawing at the library during the day, since you have to be out of the shelter by 7:00 am. It’s been a hobby I’ve enjoyed since I was young. This hobby accumulated into my connection with ArtLifting.

I have to mention that I have been fortunate, l have a talent for drawing and I was blessed to have Liz and Spencer Powers turn their dream into a reality and that has changed my life. I know my situation is unique.

Reflecting on my experience with ArtLifting, it’s made me realize what it’s like to do something I love as opposed to just working. I would urge other people to be open to anything and everything, if you have a talent, find out if it can provide you with a living, it may bring you more than you ever realized. It gave me my life back, I have a purpose now.

The reason I tell that story is to point out that anything is possible and in that situation, you need to be open to anything.

By Scott Benner 

More on Scott here

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Alicia Sterling Beach: My Experience with Homelessness November 16, 2016 10:34

From November 12th-20th, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week will take place. This week is meant to bring awareness to people across the country who face hunger and homelessness each day. The facts are staggering: 578,000 Americans are homeless on a typical night, 49 million are at risk of suffering from hunger, and 1 in 5 children live in poverty, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. For many of these people, being without a home can be heart-wrenching. But for some, art allows them to find a home within themselves. 

Of all the spiritual lessons I’ve tried to embody, the most challenging has been being a ‘human being, rather than a human doing’. The problem is, my family preferred me as a caregiver and a martyr, cleaning up a mess left behind by a deceased loved one, taking care of my aging grandmother, listening to and caring for the more disenfranchised members of my extended family, paying the visits, making the phone calls, etc. My efforts and time spent were rarely reciprocated, particularly, in hindsight, financially.

Alicia Sterling Beach

When my disability caught up with me, I had to learn how to put myself first and say ‘no’ more often. But as a common saying goes: ‘when people-pleasers stop pleasing people, people aren’t pleased.’ My company preferred me on their enabling terms. At a certain point, I simply didn’t have it in me anymore. Then, a seemingly endless string of bad luck happenings befell me.

While my family rarely called me anyway, when it came my turn to ask for help, the line really went, well, dead. I became homeless. Compounding my abandonment, disability assistance, social services, and our so-called safety net proved to be, by and large, a non-existent, energy-sucking, hall of mirrors. I attained some assistance at times, but only after years of repeated attempts — sometimes riding my bike across pot-holey streets for hours to do so, even enduring horrible, physical pain throughout. Did I mention that I often didn’t even have money for the bus?

From my vantage point, it seems that many people have stigmas about those of us who find ourselves unexpectedly needing help, and assume that I am someone who has somehow fallen into an hopeless abyss of mental illness, that I am unrecoverable, don’t exercise enough faith, or am somehow manipulating the system. As if I had the energy for the latter.

Just to be really clear, nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve never even received unemployment benefits. Ever. Even through a string of countless gig-economy jobs I’ve slaved through. I’ve watched numerous employers make my life a daily living hell, so that they could get out of paying me or the IRS what they were supposed to. Of course my track record of honesty should be enough to clear my name among the critical, condemning and suspicious, but guilt is a funny thing; it makes people rationalize their own indifference, their punishing attitudes and behavior…

 

"Blue Landscape Abstraction"
"Blue Landscape Abstraction" 

Through it all, I’ve learned that my time is better spent working on my own attitude of forgiveness and keeping the focus on my solutions, not their problems. I look for the positive way forward for me. I do believe that I have everything that I need to take the next indicated step, without wasting time perpetuating a cycle of hurt and stirring up old grievances. I sincerely believe that in this regard, where there is a will, there is a way. God shows me when I ask, but I have to remember to ask first. There’s nothing like being homeless, hungry and penniless to work that faith muscle, and then actually walk the walk.

When I’ve operated out of faith, I never had to lie, cheat or steal. Not once. I had to summon the faith to get out the door and believe. That was often hard enough. I’ve had to believe that something good may happen, like finding a five dollar bill on the ground when I didn’t have the energy to go to the food pantry on my bike, it’s cold, I’m in pain, and I’m hungry. And yes, that did happen.

As far as my family of origin goes…I practice ‘Letting Go and Letting God’. My heart aches often due to their hurtful negligence, but my journey is hard enough without their judgment and persistent harshness. Thankfully, I have found abundant, supportive, spiritual resources and healing communities elsewhere. Among them, ArtLifting recently has given me a revenue stream that I had all but given up every last hope of ever attaining. I am so grateful. What a wonderful way to go. What a gift. I’ve gotten to enjoy eating pomegranates more often. I joined the YMCA and work-out to keep the pain at bay. I am studying acting again.

I also received community help along the way from a time-banking network here in Los Angeles. Using time as currency, that is — no money! — I’ve rented a bike for months when I needed one, I’ve received well-women visits and blood labs when I couldn’t pay to see a doctor, I’ve received rides when I’ve had to move countless times, and I even used a car when I had to take my poor dog far away for an operation early one morning at a Sam Simon Foundation veterinarian trailer.

Best of all, I experienced the dignity of participating in a community that valued my gifts and talents when I was broke, when I felt achingly isolated and vulnerable. I’ve earned time dollars by cutting hair, and I even sold a work of art for a whopping time dollar amount. Where other resources failed, the time-bank always came through, proving that money is not as important at the end of the day as the real sharing, giving and receiving economy.

Irregardless, after scraping up money month after month to save my art and my belongings in storage — despite chronically rising fees — even receiving emergency artist grants twice from the New York-based, Artist’s Fellowship Inc. — ArtLifting has finally come through in such a lovely and unexpected way. And I get the added bonus of participating in a larger community of ‘wounded-warriors’. I get to sell beautiful works as prints at affordable prices to everyday people…most galleries don’t do that. ArtLifting is truly exceptional.

More on Alicia and her art

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Linda King: My Experience with Homelessness November 14, 2016 14:57

From November 12th-20th, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week will take place. This week is meant to bring awareness to people across the country who face hunger and homelessness each day. The facts are staggering: 578,000 Americans are homeless on a typical night, 49 million are at risk of suffering from hunger, and 1 in 5 children live in poverty, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. For many of these people, being without a home can be heart-wrenching. But for some, art allows them to find a home within themselves. 

It takes a lot of energy and concentration to deal with the hoops you need to jump through to survive homelessness. Look a little closer and you might see someone holding on to life with everything they’ve got. Spend some time eating in a soup kitchens. As you sit around a table you may see sisters and brothers, mothers and children, aunts and uncles. Soup kitchens are humanizing places where the breaking of bread is a sacred communion of extended family.

"Art Jam" by Linda King

"Art Jam" by Linda King

Before I myself experienced homelessness, I put that part of the population in the category of alcoholics or drug users. That seems to be a pervasive misconception, and one that isn’t accurate. Poverty and a lack of resources probably play a larger role. I did not fully comprehend how interesting, creative and/or mentally ill we homeless often are.Art has given me a refuge, even when I had no place to call home. Through creating art, I have found a home within myself that can never be taken away, a restorative place that cleanses my soul everyday.

As a featured artist on ArtLifting, I have sold an original piece of art within ten days of being live on the site! That was so exciting for me. ArtLifting gives me another voice. I feel ArtLifting folks get who I am and what I can be, and that feels empowering.

By Linda King 

More on Linda and her art

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Veteran's Stories: Stacey Williams November 14, 2016 09:12

Every year on November 11th, America honors the nation’s veterans on Veterans Day. There are 21.8 million veterans in the US, roughly 7% of the population, according to the 2014 Census Bureau. Sadly, often times the horrors of war follow the veterans home. More than 20% of troops who served in Iraq or Afghanistan have come home with PTSD, and 12% of America’s homeless are veterans. Art, for these veterans, is a place of refuge.

For me, Veterans Day is a time to say thank you for your service to other veterans. Hearing someone thank me for my service is deeply humbling.

I was a lab specialist stationed at Howard Air Force Base in Panama. My specialized training, after basic training, was lengthy. I was stationed at Shepard Air Force Base in Texas for technical training, and then at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland for on the job training. I served in Panama for two years, but eventually had to leave because I was very sick with pre-eclampsia and hypermesis gravidarum. There was no proper treatment at the base, and my health was deteriorating.

I worked for ten years at Harvard University, but was laid off during the recession. I spent months job searching in a city that was empty of jobs. I needed an outlet. Art became that outlet for me. I used some of my severance funds to take a beginners acrylic class and haven't stopped painting since. After that, I taught myself to paint portraits. It's still helping me as I continue to face the search for housing.

I continued to struggle with my health. I was diagnosed with avascular necrosis in 2014, and found out I required hip surgery. At the same time, I found myself without a job again. I decided to make use of that time, and began attending open studio art sessions in the shelter I stayed at.

ArtLifting is everything and a blessing. It’s an option I never knew I could have, and a saving grace. My art saved me and ArtLifting backed it up.

By Stacey Williams

Learn more about Stacey here

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Veteran's Stories: Barbara Barnett November 11, 2016 11:40

Every year on November 11th, America honors the nation’s veterans on Veterans Day. There are 21.8 million veterans in the US, roughly 7% of the population, according to the 2014 Census Bureau. Sadly, often times the horrors of war follow the veterans home. More than 20% of troops who served in Iraq or Afghanistan have come home with PTSD, and 12% of America’s homeless are veterans. Art, for these veterans, is a place of refuge.

Veterans Day for me and my fellow veterans is a day to thank each other for service, and remember we have each other’s back, always and first. That's the most important message for me on Veterans Day. I served during the Vietnam War, and I was deployed to the 130th station hospital medical corps in Germany for 18 months. My brother was serving in combat for two tours in Vietnam. My younger sister served Alaska, and I had an older sister who lived in Berlin during the war with her husband, who also served. It was a family tradition. My father served in Korea. We are all US army specialists in different fields. The pride of hard work, personal responsibility, and integrity, which we were raised with, especially coming from small town in New England and a big family, fit well into the military environment. We were successful in each our own ways.

In terms of my journey in art, the journey required an untangling, discovering different paths, people and institutions, who might assist me with my broken spirit from things that happened in the service. I tunneled through a lot of memories to recapture my own balance and lost of innocence, and some of the darkness engulfed me.

In my early years, I never considered painting. After I served, I worked for some 25 years as a consultant. The army time allowed me the GI bill. Unfortunately, my PTSD, which was caused by military sexual trauma at Fort Ord, forced me out of my career at age 54. I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Unfortunately, I am now 100% disabled. However, that being said, the good news is that I started painting one day in my garage. For about 3 years I painted, and painted, and painted without any lessons. At first, I wasn’t any good. But as time went on, I took some lessons with veterans who were also into the arts and got involved in types of online comradery, and my confidence grew and my work changed. One day, the women warriors really the started coming out on my canvases. And they have continued to express themselves. I might say that some of them are my alter egos and some of them are just women that have shown strength in life that I admire. I never start with a person in mind. It just unfolds until I realize who is coming out, which is really the thrill for me.

For me, ArtLifting has been a godsend. Before I was diagnosed with my disability, I was couch surfing on family members’ couches with only my social security disability. That was very difficult time for me. It took five years to get to the point where I was approved, but that was what set me free. ArtLifting, unlike some of my veteran groups, does a lot more with my work. I am so excited about the marketplace and exposure that ArtLifting brings to my talent. And it’s also been a key opportunity for me to give back to others, especially to the disabled. ArtLifting has helped me do that through its model and the choices I have made. Painting is very much apart of my behavioral and mental health well-being. Not only do I get the anti-anxiety benefits of being immersed in my art as I am painting, it’s also knowing that I am giving. It gives purpose to my life because I am a doer, and not doing takes me down a very dark road.

I am excited to continue the work I am doing, especially with a new series I’ve started. But overall, I am grateful. I am grateful for it all.

By Barbara Barnett 

Learn more about Barbara here

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First Post August 06, 2015 18:05

This is your store’s blog. You can use it to talk about new product launches, experiences, tips or other news you want your customers to read about.

You can check out Shopify’s ecommerce blog for inspiration and advice for your own store and for your store’s blog.

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