A local group has commissioned me to
design a collage for a T-shirt. It was my promise to include drawings
of children in the collage that brought me to Genesis Home, a facility
that takes in homeless families.
Working with families has
turned out to be difficult in ways I hadn’t anticipated. At the Durham
Community Shelter for H.O.P.E., where I’ve been drawing and
interviewing individuals for several years, I am greeted with
enthusiasm, both by people I’ve drawn and talked to and by others who
know me only by sight. But at Genesis Home, I am not met as warmly. So
far, nobody has really opened up to me.
It is the mothers, in
particular, who seem guarded. Perhaps it is because they know so little
about me. Or perhaps they don’t want their face, name and story in a
book, broadcasting to the world that they and their children are
homeless. Maybe their guardedness springs from a desire to protect
their children. Being a mother myself, I can understand that concern,
and maybe I should respect it more. But it does leave me in a tough
spot with this project.
I did manage to persuade a few mothers
to let me interview their children in a group. When I chatted with the
mothers in the kitchen just before the interview, I felt an
undercurrent of anxiety from them concerning what I might put their
children through. In particular, they didn’t want me to use the word
“homeless” when talking to their children. They coached me to say, “Now
that you don’t have your own house . . . .”
Looking back, it
seems their anxiety had to do not only with the potential impact of my
project on their children, but also with how the children perceived
their present situation and how they, as mothers, wanted the world to
perceive their family.
All in all, I don’t think the women liked the word “homeless.”