Youth homelessness in Philadelphia illustrated: ‘They are invisible’

The artistic piece was created by Philadelphian Gabby Rodriguez in three different mediums — color pencil, watercolor, and marker.

An illustration depicts two people at a bus stop

This illustration of youth homelessness in Philadelphia was created by Gabby Rodriguez, 19, a Northeast Philadelphia native. The 20x20 inch rendition was created with colored pencil, watercolor and marker. (Gabby Rodriguez/WHYY)

This story is from Young, Unhoused and Unseen, a podcast production from WHYY News and Temple University’s Logan Center for Urban Investigative Reporting.

Find it on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Gabby Rodriguez, 19, is experiencing a gap year after graduating from the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts in June. They were commissioned to create an artistic interpretation of unhoused youth in Philadelphia by WHYY News and came up with a powerful image that captures what passersby might see everyday — the invisible homelessness crisis at a SEPTA bus stop.

“I travel a lot within the city and I also take a lot of public transportation — whether regional, train, or bus. There are a lot of places that we don’t recognize that have a large homeless population,” Rodriguez said.

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“Some people have to sleep at the bus stop to get shelter with the rain and snow and the weather.”

The artistic rendition was created in three different mediums — color pencil, watercolor, and marker.

They described it as a large piece at 20 by 20 inches first drawn on a bristol board with color pencils. Minor digital touches were made after it was complete.

They don’t have a title for the piece yet, but Rodriguez shared it might eventually be called “Homelessness in Winter.”

Relatability is how Rodriguez described their work.

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“You never know what’s going on in someone’s life. I know friends who have got kicked out of their house and had to experience homelessness for a while. I see these things around me often, but I often don’t think about it,” said Rodriguez.

“When I was drawing, I really realized how many times I see people sleeping at the bus or different places because they need a place to rest. It was a sad feeling when I was doing the piece because of everything that was going on in Philly and that realization of what I don’t recognize often.”

They described the juxtaposition in the art and why the body and face go against the otherwise colorful piece.

“They are invisible. You don’t know until you really think about it.”

That’s why Rodriguez blacked out the faces in the piece, they said.

Rodriguez, of Northeast Philadelphia, is a former participant of the WHYY Media Labs and WHYY Youth Employment Program. They are planning to attend Drexel University next fall and major in psychology and minor in fine arts. Rodriguez hopes to be an arts therapist one day.

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