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Breaking stereotypes of homelessness through art

Over the past 20 years, the Interfaith Network of Northwest/Northeast Philadelphia has helped 327 families transition out of homelessness and into a life of stability.

The main mission of the organization is to help families find safe housing, work with them on money management and find ways to help them avoid returning to homelessness.

This Sunday, from 12 to 5 p.m. the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center, MRAC, will be hosting Collaboration of Hope, an art exhibit and humanities program to help benefit the families of the Interfaith Hospitality Network.

Rachel Falkove, executive director of Interfaith Hospitality Network, said, “There’s tremendous community support for this work.”The concept of the event is to give people an up close experience with those who are stereotyped as being homeless.

“You don’t really think about families of our community being homeless,” said Falkove. “Walking down the block you wouldn’t know it was a person experiencing homelessness.”

‘A community of support’ 

The MRAC came to the Interfaith Network with the idea of hosting the event.

“We were really touched,” said Falkove.

The art center does a monthly art show for a different cause or nonprofit organization in an effort to have a display a broad view, beyond the art community. Then they establish a theme based on the cause of the organization.

“For us it’s about the hope that comes from communities, a community of support,” said Falkove. “It’s that hope that families get from communities to move forward in their lives.”

For Falkove, the event is about giving people a better understanding of who these people are and what they need.

“It’s a way to make us all feel responsible in some way for our neighbors,” said Falkove.

The event will be held in the MRAC’s gallery at 419 Green Lane, where individuals have the opportunity to buy the artwork.

Twenty-five percent of all proceeds will go to the Interfaith Network to help in aiding families; the rest will go to the art center. There will also be a collection box which is a free offering for individuals to donate.

One family’s path to homelessness

Proceeds will help families like the Levit family. Marilyn Levit says she had the same stigma of shelters that many people posses, but after fighting foreclosure on her home for about a year and a half, Levit was evicted and finding a shelter was her only option. 

“I didn’t want to go to no shelter, no way, with the concept you have of a shelter,” said Levit.

Her daughter’s best friend’s mother told Levit that the Interfaith Network “was a really nice one.”

“She told me that (Interfaith) wasn’t what you think a typical shelter is,” said Levit.  “It’s like a family. It’s really small and run by private organizations. It’s totally different and not what you’re going to expect.”

The Collaboration of Hope event is meant to break the stereotypes of homelessness and Levitt says she’s grateful for that.

“We are here for different reasons and I’m not here for any fault of my own which is a stigma they put on like ‘oh we can’t pay our bills’ or ‘we are lazy,’ but that’s not my case,” said Levit.  “I just want to be financially dependant and get back on my feet.”

Informing others and spreading awareness 

During the event, there will be spoken word and song presentations from 3 to 5 p.m., which will include works from the MRAC Humanities director, Peter Krok along with MRAC member and Philadelphia poet, Mike Cohen.Former and current Interfaith members will also be at the event telling their stories. 

Bianca Jones, an 18-year-old high school student, is currently in the program and will be singing during the event.

“I’m not really crazy nervous,” said Jones. “It’s mostly because I’m pressured into doing it because my dad wants me to do it.”

For Jones, the hardest part of being in the program is hiding homelessness from her friends.

“There are problems if my friends ask if they can come over to my house, I tell them ‘no,'” said Jones. “Then they ask ‘why’ and I have to think of a reason to tell them which is hard because there aren’t that many reasons to think of.” Jones said she is happy the Collaboration of Hope event is happening because it lets her know that people are interested in helping the cause.

“Basically its helping people to understand how this works and it kind of makes me feel better because it lets me know people actually care and that’s just what gets me,” said Jones. “That they care.

For more information on the event, visit http://www.mrartcenter.org.

Joseph Van Dusen and Alexis Wilkinson are students at Temple University. This piece was produced for Temple’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab in collaboration with WHYY/NewsWorks.

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