Mar 16, 2015

journey2home Participants Continue to Share Their Stories

by: Shari Hersh

journey2home, Mural Arts’ socially engaged public art project about youth housing insecurity, ended last October with the dedication of Home Safe, a major public art piece in West Philadelphia. (Read and see more about journey2home here.) Butjourney2home is proving to have a ripple effect, as news outlets pick up the art and stories that came out of the project. Most excitingly, involved youth have been asked to speak at conferences in Harrisburg, Washington D.C., and Connecticut.

On Thursday, February 26, three young people from journey2home were awarded grants of $1,000 each from the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania. The grants, which are intended “to help with education, employment opportunities, or other endeavors that advance continued work in their communities,” were inspired by a presentation the youth gave at last November’s Homes Within Reach conference in Harrisburg.

Steven Smith, Brandon Stokes, and Phantazia Washington represented journey2hometo the conference as keynote speakers. The presentation mirrored the structure of the many conversations at the journey2home storefront and pop-up gathering hub, which hosted monthly community discussions and story shares. Jane Golden and I shared brief words about the project, after which the young people engaged with Scott LaMar (host of the award-winning radio program Smart Talk) in an interview/panel discussion format to highlight their stories and the many challenges they faced when homeless.

The audience of 850 politicians, advocates, service providers, and housing developers was remarkably engaged and silent, completely absorbed in the panelists. Steven spoke of the challenges his single mom faced while trying to raise her family and earn a living at the same time. Brandon, a passionate student of American politics, spoke of the gaps in educational opportunity and the impact of moving often.

Standing (L-R): Phantazia Washington, Steven Smith, Shari Hersh, Joyce Sacco, Liz Hersh. Seated: Scott Lamar, Brandon Stokes.

Now, months later, a few particular moments stick out in my memory. At one point Scott asked about the services the speakers had received and how they helped. Phantazia, who now works with homeless youth—particularly LGBTQ youth—at theBryson Institute at the Attic Youth Center, spoke about trust and the emotional damage of living with homelessness, and how even though services had helped with housing, food, and clothes—all vital—there are other struggles for which there aren’t many systems in place.

“When you’re homeless or living on the street,” she pointed out, “you don’t necessarily know who is looking to genuinely support you, and who is looking to take advantage of the position you are in. And particularly in looking at young folk who are looking to stay out of the child welfare system, which might not be the safest place, especially for LGBTQ youth, there’s a huge lack of trust in adults.

“Being in a community with other young folks of my racial group [or] my sexual orientation [who] experienced homelessness, and being able to find community, was a very healing experience with journey2home, and it helped me to personally feel less alone in my struggle with homelessness.”

When young people who have lived the almost impossible situation of being homeless in America share their story, they dignify the grit, resilience, and resourcefulness they each developed in making that journey to stability. They also inspire and dignify the experiences of youth still in the process, as well as the advocates and providers who work to address the incredible gap in resources for them.

journey2home, as an art-driven project, was designed to position youth experiencing homelessness into a powerful context—not as recipients of services but as experts, makers, and agents of change. The presentation in Harrisburg, appropriately, closed with a showing of Jon Kaufman’s short documentary of the project, which you can watch here.

As a direct result of speaking in Harrisburg, Brandon, Phantazia, and Steve were awarded grants by the Housing Alliance. They have also attracted the attention of other organizations and have been engaged to speak at the National Network for Youth’s National Summit on Youth Homelessness in D.C. later this month, alongsidejourney2home lead artists Michael O’Bryan and Jared Wood.

We thank Liz Hersh and Joyce Sacco of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, Darla Bardine at NN4y, and Joe Willard of PEC for providing the opportunities for young people to speak out.

Photos by Kristen Young

Last updated: Jan 25, 2016

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