by Sheila Myers
Special to The Leaven
Kansas City, Kan. — Hope and homelessness don’t usually go hand in hand, but Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas seeks to change that.
On Aug. 3, Catholic Charities and its Committee of Young Patrons (CYP) will present an exhibit of photographs taken this summer by men from Shalom House, a homeless shelter in Kansas City, Kan.
“The interesting thing about this is the interpretation of hope is different for everyone,” said Catholic Charities executive vice president Wendy Doyle. “We want people to see how someone in [these men’s] situation sees hope.”
Catholic Charities also hopes the exhibit will provide respect and dignity for the men, who are often looked on with pity.
That is a mistake, said James Davidson, director of Shalom House.
“People feel the homeless are down-and-out men,” Davidson said. “In many cases, that’s not true. Some men were doctors or had doctorate degrees but have fallen prey to drinking, drug use or bad choices. Education is not an issue.”
Catholic Charities distributed disposable cameras to 17 men staying at Shalom House in June of this year, with instructions to take pictures of images that represented hope. The men approached their assignment with enthusiasm.
“The men were very excited and happy to help,” Doyle said.
Several weeks later, Doyle and her staff collected the cameras, then developed and framed the best images in black-and white photographs of different sizes. The names of the men have been withheld to protect their privacy.
The photographs in the exhibit are not for sale, but they might become a traveling exhibit, since some organizations have expressed an interest in displaying the photographs.
Doyle said that rather than making money, the purpose of the Aug. 3 exhibit is to create a conversation about homelessness.
It’s a conversation Manal Siam has been having for nearly two years. Siam is the volunteer coordinator for CYP. She and other CYP members prepare and serve meals to the men at Shalom House on the first Friday of every month.
The experience has given Siam the opportunity to talk with the homeless.
“I learned the notion of homelessness has many different meanings,” Siam said. “They have a larger gamut of experiences than I thought. They have assets — families, cars, cellphones — but an unfortunate turn of events put them in this position.”
The project itself proved to be an unexpected asset to the budding photographers, said Davidson.
“The project boosted their morale,” he said. “[The men] felt they were part of something bigger than themselves.”
The project also provided a welcome change in routine. Many of the men get stuck in a rut, doing the same thing every day, Davidson said.
Because of its strong connection to Shalom House, CYP is using the photography exhibit to promote itself and its mission to the broader community and to recruit new members.
CYP is a group of young adults aged 20 to 40-something supporting the mission of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. First Fridays at Shalom House is just one of CYP’s volunteer activities.
Members do not have to be Catholic. Siam herself is Muslim. She enjoys meeting with others who share her desire to give back to the community.
“I love to meet other people,” Siam said. “I connect with other volunteers, different people, people I never would have met.”
“Street Views: Finding Hope in Homelessness” is an exhibit of 17 black-and-white photographs taken by homeless men. The exhibit, coordinated by Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, will take place on Aug. 3 from 5:30 – 9 p.m. at CentricProjects, 2024 Main Street, Kansas City, Mo. (entrance on Baltimore Ave.).
Send an RSVP to: cyp@catholiccharities ks.org. For more information, visit the CYP page on the Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas website at: www.catholiccharities ks.org.