A friend of mine who lives in low income housing recently mentioned to me an exhibit at The Leonardo Museum in downtown Salt Lake City. I had never been there but I’ve driven past the museum probably a hundred times. The exhibit that he wanted me to check out is titled, No Fixed Address, which invites you to look at the faces of individuals and families who live on the streets or shelters. It sheds light on the myths and realities of homelessness and reminds us of our shared humanity. Photographed by Lynn Blodgett, the exhibit is an eye opening experience.
Earlier in the month, I tried to make it to the exhibit a couple of times but uncontrollable situations prohibited me to keep my appointment with Jann Haworth who’s in charge of the exhibit. I was determined to make it today in order to film the exhibit for my upcoming documentary, NOT FOR RENT!, a film about ex-felons attempting to find housing. Though the exhibit is not necessarily about homeless ex-felons or ex-inmates, people with felony convictions do make up a percentage of our homeless population due to a variety of reasons including, mental illness, addiction, and/or lack of housing options (many landlords will not rent to an ex-felon). In addition, according to the National Reentry Resource Center, “Released prisoners with a history of shelter use were almost five times as likely to have a post-release shelter stay.” With 13,621 people in Utah alone who don’t have a place to call home, (1 in every 213 people) I felt that film footage of the exhibit was extremely important in order to bring attention to the epidemic.
As I walked into the exhibit, the large room was comfortable, peaceful and quite, for the exception of soft, beautiful piano music playing over head from a local musician. The lights dimmed about ten minutes after I arrived highlighting the sad, worn, and even beautiful, smiling faces of the homeless. There were faces of individuals, woman, children, families, and everyday people you would never think wouldn’t have a place to call home. As I walked in further, I noticed a sign that explained Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: “Shelter is one of life’s basic elements, like food, air and water. It is based on the theory that one must satisfy a lower level of the hierarchy before elevating to the next. Issues related to homelessness reinforce his work.” I pondered Maslow’s theory for a few moments as my camera was capturing an attractive, freckled faced woman’s portrait which hung as part of the exhibit. “She’s homeless?“, I thought to myself.
Jann motioned to me that the exhibit continued past the portraits and perhaps I was interested in filming the I-View Project. During the summer of 2014, The Leonardo distributed disposable cameras throughout Salt Lake City’s local support agencies and shelters. They asked clients to photograph the city as they experienced it; interesting sights and events, familiar places and people, and treasured items, and even food. This is the first time these photos have been shared with the public. I was taken back by these random, raw images. I took my camera and filmed the large wall that displayed photos of diverse people laughing, sharing, working, eating and just trying to make it on the streets of Salt Lake City with no fixed address.
Towards the end of my visit, I discovered a small craft book sitting on a table. I began to sift through it and soon realized the notes and illustrations where from children. Messages such as, “Don’t stop believing“, and “You are worth, you are wanted, you are loved” were sketched into the book. On the next page was a simple drawing of a home with the message, “Home for me is somewhere your loved and somewhere you can live your life.” A more negative message almost took up the entire following page: “Homeless sucks. You have no money. Sucks. No house (sad face)”
I came away from the No Fixed Address exhibit feeling lucky for what I do have. As I produce my next documentary film, NOT FOR RENT!, I have a feeling that the interviews that I do, the footage that I shoot and the research that I’ll present, will help me “Instill compassion, encourage action“, just like the No Fixed Address brochure reads. I hope it does for you as well.
For more information on the No Fixed Address exhibit, please visit The Leonardo Museum.