'A Day in the Life' Project: Photographs by Street Youth of their Animals, 2012
Art for Animals’ Sake(AFAS) hosted a series of workshops serving some of the most vulnerable members of our community, street youth and their animal companions. With plastic disposable cameras and guidance from mentors and professional photographers, the participants of all ages created photographs over the course of several weeks. Street youth and young adults captured the unique bond they share with their trusted animals while also learning to explore creative expression applying fundamental critical thinking and developing technical skills to use toward future toward career goals.
The end result was a poignant portfolio of photographs articulating empathy for animals through, with exhibits at Peace for the Streets offices and West Seattle’s Mind Unwind Gallery.
Homeless youth often adopt puppies and kittens as surrogate for familial love and to create sense of support that is often absent on the street. Whole families often find themselves suddenly homeless with no place to go. The recent economic downturn put increased pressure on families and their trusted companions in jeopardy. Most family shelters and transitional housing facilities do not allow animals to accompany their residents.
AFAS collaborated with Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets (PSKS) an organization on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, which provide support and services to area homeless youth and young adults. “Our committed efforts are targeted at providing stepping stones to transition youths from the streets to self-sufficiency and productive roles in community”. (http://www.psks.org/) Unlike most organizations, animals are welcome in their daytime drop in facility. Participants were enlisted through former monthly art workshops at PSKS and in association with Nickelsville, a homeless encampment in West Seattle. Nickelsville as since been disbanded in 2013.
Several residents of varying ages contributed to the project showing a unique existence through the resident’s own point of view.
The images created reveal the relationships, environments and greater community the homeless and their allies share with animals. See below a portfolio of the beautiful photographs created during the workshops.
Exposing Talents and Changing Lives
The intent of this project was to focus on the relationship homeless families have with their animal companions. Nickelsville was a unique homeless encampment where at any given time it housed approximately 100 displaced families and their animals in a collection of tents, wooden sheds and makeshift structures. Among the residents were numerous dogs, cats and two very beloved goats. The animals in the camp were supervised by a revolving member of the camp serving as an animal caregiver with special attention paid to the goats, especially by Diane, a long time resident.
Diane lived at Nickelsville with her two sons and three cats. After a series of failed housing situations, she moved into the encampment with her thirteen-year-old son Trent. Diane could not contemplate giving her extended feline family away. However, most traditional housing projects and shelters do not allow pets to accompany the residents.“ They(cats) provide us with unconditional love and we often feed them before ourselves.” The stipulation that people must give up the one remaining constant in a life of impermanence is often not recognized by housing authorities.
Leslie Irvine, a University of Colorado sociology professor and author of “My Dog Always Eats First: Homeless People and Their Animals,” said animals provide a unique relationship for homeless people, who are often ignored by society. “To feel loved and needed by another being just the way you are really goes a long way when you’re in a situation when society has completely devalued you,” Irvine said. The connection from a continual 24-hour/ seven-day a week existence creates bonds that go well beyond simple pet ownership. The intense loyalty transcends the question of acquiring an opportunity of temporary housing, a situation that may evaporate, to the loss of this constant companionship. Where traditionally pets are left for hours every day at home, these relationships are forged out of a continual reliance, which forges an intense emotional connection and stable relationship.
Preferring to stay where she felt a sense of community, Diane often looked for work while other residents helped to watch her children and pets. Her son Trent was particularly adept at grabbing his donated plastic camera and became an eager student. During the workshops, he quickly produced several powerful images. Many were made early in the morning as the sun rose over the tents of the encampment or at those quite times just before bed. The interior of their 10’ x 8’ wooden shed serving as a refuge for their small family, against the Seattle elements.
The “A Day in the Life” photography exhibit drew attention from several local media outlets with Trent and Diane becoming the emotional center of the project. After one TV report, a very generous donator stepped forward and donated a brand new digital camera with all the accessories to Trent. The anonymous donor wanted to enable Trent to continue to develop his craft. With the hope that it would lead to a life long love of photography, he hoped Trent would develop useful technical skills and so “he could have the opportunities that my kids sometimes take for granted.”
A simple gift of a camera could change Trent’s chances of a future. On the last visit AFAS made to see Diane and Trent, he had been busy producing images with his new camera and had learned to upload them to a computer.
Nickelsville has since been removed from its West Seattle location by the City of Seattle. The residents have separated into three different homeless encampments throughout the city. AFAS is planning a future digital camera workshop after a successful campaign to collect used digital equipment.