They’re here. These neighbors without homes, people who share sidewalks and streets and libraries with us every day. We avert our eyes, not out of distaste, but out of our own uncertainty. Should I greet her? Will they think I’m staring? What do I do if he asks for money? We look down as we pass, wondering why we have enough and that person does not. Guilt and confusion—these are not comfortable emotions, so we avoid them. And human beings who lack homes and simply enough to live well are missed in the process. They are on our periphery.It’s unsettling to us to be confronted with not knowing what to do or how to respond. And still, there’s a discomfort to our neighbor in need as well. Averted eyes, the knowledge that their clothes and skin carry the weight of weeks without access to a shower or washing machine, and they wonder too. They wonder what we’re thinking, how we perceive them, if we’reNot Homeless, Human Recently, photographer Aaron Anderson spent time with some of these neighbors and friends of mine. He focused on them as human beings, as individuals with stories to tell. He gently asked their stories and then lifted his camera and shot photographs of their faces while they talked. Aaron didn’t ask them about being homeless as so many would be prone to do. He asked them questions about who they are. He learned of service to country, family life, and in the case of Dave even what dessert still makes his mouth water. Aaron focused on what’s true about people, not situations. The photos, on display at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, are of people. Cared for, intelligent, funny, interesting people.
In the aftermath of their brief moments of stardom, something happened. Many of the recipients of Aaron’s genuine desire for connection had a spark of hope ignite. They told the story of who they are, and change was born. Hope continued to grow as they were embraced as people with a story at the Springs Rescue Mission’s Resource Advocate Program. They stuck around the place where a famous photographer heard them and continued their conversations with compassionate advocates. Connection expanded, smiles and hope became more frequent. Even though Aaron couldn’t stay, the Mission could and still does.A Connection Sparks ChangeThat simple half hour connection began a humanizing contact where people could shed the statistics of homelessness that often represent them and the general perceptions of those living on the street, and the transformation from “I’m homeless” to “I’m this person” began. It took only a short moment of being heard and valued to show that connection is life-giving. Most of the participants of that photoshoot are still engaged with us weeks later: one is in his own apartment, one has a housing voucher and is in the joyful process of looking for a first-time real home, and many are still telling their story to the Advocates who are standing with them as they move toward the possibility of living under a roof instead of under a bridge. After having the chance to tell their story to someone who was truly interested, they’re coming back. They’re coming back to life in our community and their roles as people with stories, just like you and me. They’re leaving the periphery and returning to connection and human affiliation.You Can Connect, TooAaron started the work with listening and creating beautiful, deep, moving photographs. You can help finish it. Partner with those on the periphery in completing life change through engaging with Springs Rescue Mission as we open our doors to people with stories and budding hope for a different life. Make the short trip to the Fine Arts Center to look our neighbors in the eye and, on the way home, stop at the Mission to join the community of hope and be part of creating connection in our neighborhood.You can read Aaron’s story of connection here