Mural Arts project opens storefront, fights youth homelessness

A new Mural Arts program is using a Lancaster Avenue storefront to create dialogue around the issue of youth homelessness. 

Friday the Mural Arts program journey2home opened its doors at 4119 Lancaster Ave. journey2home is a year-long initiative in which Mural Arts will work primarily with youth who have faced housing insecurity and will help those youth share their story through various creative outlets. 

4119 Lancaster Ave will serve as a hub for the program. In this storefront, youth will meet for after school programs and other events. They will tell their stories and experiment with ways to translate those stories into art forms like photography and monologues. journey2home will also invite neighbors, service providers and academics into the space to expand on the conversation and to hear the teens’ stories. 

“Telling your story is a pretty huge privilege and an amazing opportunity in how transformative it is,” said Project Manager Shari Hersh. 

The project is an extension of A Place to Call Home, a Mural Arts project that also explored the issue of youth homelessness. That project, though, was based in a house about two blocks up Lancaster Ave from the journey2home storefront.

“Last time we were in a house because it was sort of symbolic of the very thing that was so difficult for them,” Hersh said. 

This time around Mural Arts chose to work in a storefront in hopes that it will help attract more people into the space, the work and the conversation. The store will give the youth involved in the program a space to tell their story, which is critical since, as Hersh explained, “Part of [having] dialogue is actually being heard by someone.”

She said journey2home emphasizes social interaction and the storefront is emblematic of that. 

Mural Arts chose this Lancaster Ave location for journey2home in part because they are working with E3 Center and The Bridge, which are on the same block.

“We wanted to create proximity, and we also saw that it was a neighborhood that the issue resonated with,” Hersh said. 

This project is one of a growing number in which Mural Arts has chosen to work over a longer term and focus on process. Through these projects, Mural Arts is investing more time in communities than it might for its more traditional art projects, such as murals. By spending more time working with communities, Mural Arts is able to do more social practice work and use art as a tool for human development. 

Mural Arts became interested in the complexities of youth homelessness as a result of its work with high risk kids, which made program staff aware of how housing insecurity interrupts young people’s abilities to get their GEDs and get stable, Hersh said. In addition to raising awareness for this issue and helping housing insecure youth tell and recontextualize their stories, journey2home will work to connect youth, even those outside the program, with service providers. 

Current estimates count more than 5,000 homeless children in Philadelphia and find that one in 20 high school students who attend high school are homeless. 

“I think they’re under represented in these numbers, and it’s pretty unseen,” Hersh said. “I think people have an association with homelessness that is not accurate. There’s probably folks you’ve met in your life who are housing insecure… It’s very hard for young people who are in that situation to get stable and create a future.”

The storefront will have drop by hours from 10am to 6pm on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays and will be open for special events like the monthly Second Fridays. Storefront programming will conclude in August 2014.

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