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With No Place to Call Home


With No Place to Call Home

By Harvey Brody

After the 60s and 70s, my social activism went dormant: the marches against the war in Vietnam, the demonstrations against racism and its many manifestations in housing, voting rights, hiring practices, and education and opportunities in general. Although I never lost my outrage against the exploiters for the greed and the inequalities they promoted and engendered, I stopped being an activist in order to pursue a life as an artist.  

How serendipitous that I recently met Colleen Householder, the Executive Director for North Sonoma County Services, a homeless services nonprofit. She had some drawings and paintings by a third grade class on the topic of homelessness and was looking for a place to display them. Up to that point, my knowledge about homelessness and its causes were almost nonexistent. These paintings and drawings told me much about the emotional story: how the un-homeless wanted to keep the homeless invisible (remember Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man?), how being homeless compromised a person’s dignity and health, how families with children were being evicted from their rental homes. Art by third graders had impassioned my social activism again! It moved me to say to Colleen that this artwork is a powerful tool we can use to educate the children of Healdsburg and through them, the adults, too. Thus was born the concept of With No Place To Call Home: Perspectives on Homelessness, an exhibit of artwork by Healdsburg school children.  

How great is the phenomenon of seeing something for the first time! Once a subject pierces your consciousness it is impossible to avoid. That’s how it’s been with homelessness. Now, so many conversations I have reveal people’s experiences with it – a family member or themselves, artist friends only a couple of months from eviction, couch-surfing, living in their cars. Every day brings new articles about homeless individuals and families, and about creative ways to help alleviate their suffering.

I accompany Colleen, and Rick Cafferata, the NSCS homeless services coordinator, to talk to Healdsburg’s elementary, junior high and high school students. They both have tragic stories to tell; Rick with his own battles of drug use and homelessness, and Colleen with the loss of her two brothers. Following them is like trying to follow Robin Williams at a stand-up comedy night. By contrast, I’ve led a charmed life and so probably have many of the students. It’s a lot of difficult information.  My message is simple: through expressions of art we can make connections, we can sympathize, empathize and understand. We can send messages of hope to those who have lost hope, we can dignify those who have lost their dignity, and let them know that they are seen, that they are heard.

Over the last several months other impassioned people have also joined our efforts. Three Healdsburg photographers, Sue Nelson, Gail Ginder and Pamela Moulton, have been interviewing and photographing some homeless individuals. Their collection of black and white photographs, which put together faces and individual stories that counteract the stereotypes often held and generalizations often made about the homeless, will be included in the exhibit. Marcus Cano, a Healdsburg High School film student, is filming the process and his documentary will be included as part of the exhibit. As another way to bring dignity and hope to this invisible community, we have invited any homeless person to come to the Healdsburg Library on Thursdays to make art. We provide them with art materials so they can participate and be represented in the exhibit. April 7 is our last scheduled session though we hope to find funding to keep this program going.

“With No Place To Call Home: Perspectives on Homelessness” is dedicated to the memory of Patricia Gilson, a homeless woman who died alone in a Healdsburg public restroom. The exhibit takes place at the Paul Mahder Gallery, 222 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg from May 14 through May 26. The opening reception is Saturday, May 14, from 4:00 pm to 7:30 pm. The documentary will be screened through Healdsburg Flix Mix at the Paul Mahder Gallery on Friday, May 20, and Saturday May 21, at 8:00 pm. Admission is free to all events. Please join our Facebook page at North Sonoma County Services. For more information, visit or call 707/433-6161.