Transitional Housing Program
Peter and Paul Community Services
In September of 1999, Con Christeson proposed a documentary/demonstration project to shelter director Tom Burnham in response to a significant program change involving new funding streams and client housing options. Start-up funding was sought and received from the Regional Arts Commission for what was supposed to be a 9-month /documentary program. Seven community artists began rotating facilitation of Thursday night workshops. Artists ‘taught’ clients and staff to collaborate with each other using photography, printmaking, drawing/painting, creative writing. The culminating product was an art book curated and printed by artists, hand bound by the men.
Eight years later, the director says he cannot imagine this program without the arts component. It offers a new level of relationship that goes beyond the caregiver ‘nagging’ i.e. the housekeeping and rule-keeping that was necessary but had no depth. Relationships were strengthened and authenticated.
Now he sees it as:
a way to share creativity and conversation with the men
a chance to prepare and share a meal to celebrate a holiday or an accomplishment
a way to represent the program and the agency in the community in a unique way.
a connection that lasts even when housing in the community is achieved.
The men themselves see the program as a way to connect with each other and support their recovery in a unique way. More and more we have seen alumni returning to participate in the program in an active way. One example is Ron….
Ron ‘graduated’ to a full-time job and his own apartment in North County. His job is downtown as are his AA meetings and most other contacts, but that bus ride to the county is long and arduous. At first, he attended our sessions on Thursday nights faithfully, but winter weather and bus schedules and other things began to interfere.
He missed a few times. We missed him.
A few weeks ago he arrived in style in his own car, used but very nice and with a very proud owner! That evening, during circle check-in time, he asked if he could share some thoughts. He told us what he had to go through to buy/finance the car and was anticipating getting a driver’s license. He wanted us to know that he had realized that he NEEDED that car…for transportation, yes, but more importantly for himself and his RECOVERY. He had come to realize that the collabARTive was a very important part of that recovery and the car would make it possible for him to get there on a regular basis.
An average of 20-30 men come through the transitional program each year…all ages/races/mental illness/substance abuse/situational/lots of veterans. Artists have facilitated work that has appeared in self-published books, gallery shows, community festivals, two performance art pieces, a series of posters that rotated through public bus shelters, a larger than life game installation, several video pieces including a temporary public art installation, collaborative projects with college students, press coverage in newspapers, and a national community college magazine. Presentations by artists and staff about the program include an international conference, two service learning conferences, and participation in Washington University’s annual event titled ART AND ACTIVISM.
In 2007, artists are collaborated to commemorate the shelter’s 25th anniversary staging a performance of creative writing and displaying a new series of hand-made books. The collabARTive is expanding to work within another agency program, the Positive Directions day program. These are men and women deal with mental illness, addiction, and/or HIV/AIDS.
The big question we ask ourselves each week is the same as with every sermon, every piece of art i.e. how shall we live? how do we become homeless? how do we define homelessness?
These steps use new words to describe this all too common experience:
First, DESTABILIZATION …loss of balance, compromised equilibrium, confusion.
Second, DISPLACEMENT…literal or figurative movement to an uncomfortable, even dangerous place.
Third, DISCOVERY… we all are ‘homeless’ at some time…..Is this the common thread that connects us?
How can art be used as an individual/ group discovery tool?
Sonny M. says it well about his transition, “I have been reborn in a very mundane sorta way. I’ve come to project more and more of my innermost thoughts to more than just a single person. Revealing one’s innermost thoughts to a group of individuals is a challenge as well as healing to my mind and spirit.”
Finally, RECOVERY…Sonny’s “healing of mind and spirit” is one example of the many important steps required for recovery and made possible by the experience of art process.