Richmondites tell personal stories about homelessness through arts

Hope Beyond Homelessness will be shown at 3 p.m. today at Richmond Cultural Centre Performance Hall and entry is free

A play called Hope Beyond Homelessness, which is written, played and directed by people who have experienced or are experiencing homelessness and precarious housing, will hit the stage on Saturday.

Directed by Draigh Lenoire, the play tells the story of a man who had a house and a family but lost them all after losing his job, and became homeless and addicted to drugs, before recovering.

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The play is an autobiography of Lenoire and other five actors playing in the show also had similar experiences.

“The play will help people understand homelessness from the people experiencing poverty, and will explore the real human cost of homelessness,” said De Whalen, chair of the Richmond Poverty Response Committee (RPRC).

The play is part of the outcome of a workshop the RPRC helped create, to assist vulnerable people in telling their stories and advocating for themselves “through arts,” according to Whalen.

“We have people telling us they’d love to advocate for themselves, but they don’t know how to do it, so we had the program to help them,” said Whalen.

Since January, around 10 people have attended the workshop twice a month, and here they decide what they want to do or learn about, with help from local artists.

“They are in different (housing) stages, some are precariously housed, some are in supportive housing, some live in subsidized housing and some are in regular rental housing,” said Whalen.

“They are all folks that have been there and they want to be heard. This project has given them a place to express themselves.”

Apart from producing the play, the workshop participants have also written poems with a public poet, and adapted a new song with a songwriter based on their own words.

Along with Saturday’s performance, there will also be a mini art installation on display called “Home Is…,” which is a little house-shaped venue full of pictures taken by workshop members, on their feelings about homes.

“We talked about what homes mean to all of us, and talked about feelings, feelings of being disrupted or not knowing if you have a place to sleep tomorrow,” said Whalen.

“Then we gave them all a disposable camera and they took photos of these to express their feelings.”

There will also be photos of the poems the members have written about homelessness and poverty on display, she added.

The project has received interest from the BC Alliance for the Arts and Culture, which Whalen hopes they will form a partnership with in the future.

“What they are saying is...everyone should be able to participate in being creative in whatever way they want. It’s not just for the elite or university folks," said Whalen.

"When people are allowed to be creative, amazing things can happen.

“And I think that’s what’s happening with this program – people are gaining more confidence in themselves, they are discovering creative talent they didn’t know they had, they are supporting each other in those pursuits and they are getting out there and telling their story."

The play has been shown twice to the public and received very good responses, according to Whalen.

"We have shown this for friends and family, and also for decision makers...to start to look at things through the poverty lens, to understand where people come from when they say things they say. So that's what the project is all about," she said.

Whalen said she would never have imagined the project would work out so well.

“It’s a really powerful way of getting a point across, especially to people who need to understand it in order to make a change to the system, if the system doesn’t make sense for everybody,” she said.

After tackling homelessness and poverty, workshop members will now explore food justice and the connection between food and transportation, and will express these in future performances, according to Whalen.

The play Hope Beyond Homelessness will be shown from 3 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6 c and entry is free.

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