Who Are We REALLY?

FACES photo exhibit – Portraits of Dignity in the Face of Adversity. Photos by Salvador “Pocho” Sanchez-Strawbridge
FACES photo exhibit – Portraits of Dignity in the Face of Adversity. Photos by Salvador “Pocho” Sanchez-Strawbridge

In this time of unprecedented uncertainty, a frightening and deadly new disease stalks humankind. Familiar ways of living and relating with the world have been rudely yanked away and many of us feel confused and disoriented. Racial unrest in this country is back with a vengeance and deservedly so. Political turmoil is raging and homeless people living in public spaces are systematically evicted. As usual, they have no place to go.

In the midst of the mess, however, we're also presented with an extraordinary opportunity to take a moment and look at ourselves deeply! With fresh eyes, what do we see? Is there an opening for a new perspective?

Authorities all tell us "we're in this together" and many have been reaching out to help in whatever ways they are able. But if history proves out, when the Covid-19 crisis calms down, that Sonoma Strong togetherness disintegrates and we are likely to fall back into our old priorities of "me," "mine," and "them."

In Sonoma County, we have a long track record of relegating members of our community who happen to have lost their homes as "them." Our unsheltered neighbors are systematically criminalized, marginalized, dehumanized and stigmatized. They're the untouchables of this society.

FACES photo exhibit – Portraits of Dignity in the Face of Adversity
FACES photo exhibit – Portraits of Dignity in the Face of Adversity

They live lives in a revolving door of self-perpetuating misery because housing is unavailable to them. People who don't know them are fearful yet who in these times doesn't have family or friends who suffer from PTSD and other forms of mental illness - depression, bi-polar disorder and the like – and/or substance abuse? We all have such individuals in our lives but we're not afraid of them because we know them. And we always try to help them.

We have at least 3,000 homeless individuals in this county with shelter for only 1,000. We're left with 2,000 human beings who have no other choice other than to sleep on our streets every night. Yes, some are troubled but with the stability of a safe place to live and services appropriate to their needs, most get better. They need our help!

And that help can begin with a smile and a "how are you?"

People say, "we don't want any homeless villages in our community," but friends, please realize that these folks ARE our community! In this county, around 87% of those who have lost their homes lived right here before they became homeless. THEY ARE US.

The highly acclaimed FACES photo collection was created in 2019 with photographer extraordinaire Salvador "Pocho" Sanchez-Strawbridge so that people can get to know some of our neighbors who've lost their homes. The exhibit is now accessible as part of Santa Rosa's newly launched ­­InsideOutThere.com, a superb online marketplace with all manner of local art, music, food and drink, artisans and shops. FACES can be found at insideoutthere.com/art/

Please take this opportunity to look at these compelling portraits closely and deeply. If you do, I think you'll see the dignity and humanity of people even as they struggle daily just to exist under wretched circumstances. Each portrait is accompanied by the participant's first name and age, and the answer to the question asked of each of them: "What would you like to say to the world?" The answers may surprise you.

Perhaps you'll realize why housing is internationally regarded as a human right. Perhaps you'll recognize who you really are, who we really are. Let us celebrate our true selves – our beautiful shared humanity. I've been taught that all living things and indeed everything on and about this beautiful earth and universe are irrevocably interdependent. We're all us for the long haul. Are you willing to give it a try?

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. ~ HH Dalai Lama

Photos by Salvador “Pocho” Sanchez-Strawbridge
Photos by Salvador “Pocho” Sanchez-Strawbridge

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Photos by Salvador “Pocho” Sanchez-Strawbridge

The FACES photo exhibit – Portraits of Dignity in the Face of Adversity – was created by Homeless Action! to allow us all to better know our unsheltered neighbors. Look at their faces and into their eyes with an open heart and mind. If you do, I think you’ll see their dignity and humanity even as they struggle daily just to exist under terrible circumstances. Each portrait is accompanied by the participant’s first name and age, and the answer to the question asked of each: “What would you like to say to the world?” The answers may surprise you.

Please take this opportunity to recognize who you really are, who we really are. Celebrate our true selves – our beautiful shared humanity. Realize why housing is internationally respected as a human right. I’ve been taught that all living things and indeed everything on and about this beautiful earth and universe are irrevocably interdependent – We’re all US for the long haul. Are you willing to give it a try?

For more information, visit homelessaction.net

Homeless Action! Sonoma County is an all-volunteer run and the only local independent homeless advocacy organization in Sonoma County which is not beholden to funders. We are responsible only to the homeless people in our community. Our members, both housed and unsheltered, have life experiences that bring passion and dedication to our work.

We meet every Monday morning from 9:30 am to 11 am. During this time of Covic-19 social-distancing, we meet virtually by Zoom. We welcome homeless advocates as well as our unsheltered friends to join us.

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