Personal Reflections on the ‘Hidden in Plain Sight: Living Homeless in York Region’ Photovoice Exhibit at YorkU – April 27 to May 1, 2009

The York Region Alliance to End Homelessness (YREAH) was formed in 1999 as concerns about homelessness were emerging in our communities. “The Alliance is a coalition of social service agencies, faith groups, interested community members and government representatives that meets regularly to understand, plan and coordinate services and supports related to homelessness in York Region”. What underlies this statement is an incredible, tireless commitment to support this work. I have had the pleasure of working with this agency as a knowledge broker at York University. The emergence of a KM unit at York in 2006 provided opportunity for this agency to seek opportunities to bolster its limited capacity to perform its work. In the summer of 2008, KM Intern Jennifer Logan (MA Candidate, Geography) worked for the Alliance to lead a Photovoice project that captured the images and voices of York Region’s homeless population. The primary goal of the project was to develop a resource to help raise the awareness of homelessness issues in York Region in helping advance policies and practices for homelessness in York Region.
I was able to visit the exhibit here at York on the afternoon of April 30 and I was the only visitor in the gallery at the time. The pictures tell stories that statistics simply cannot. Seeing those images took me back to my work in adult literacy where each person I worked with had a story to tell. The stories were not always pleasant (although some were) and unfortunately reflected a daily reality of struggle and perseverance. The images I saw brought many of the stories from my early career back to life, in a moving and extremely powerful way. I recall a quotation from Joseph Stalin that has stuck with me, “One death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic.” The exhibit I saw helped me to remember we are not dealing with numbers or statistics here, but with people. These people are part of our community.
I applaud Jennifer and YREAH for their work in giving voice to people who are not always given changes to tell their stories. The stories in that room have helped me to reflect on the importance of my work and I am grateful for that lesson!