Going the Distance: Homelessness, Art & Self-Sufficiency

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holiday bridge fangynug

Holiday Bridge by Fang Yung  Source: www.hospitalityhouse.org/store

On July 27th, 2014, there was a segment on the Today Show titled, “Going the Distance”. The segment was about a man named Ronny who was training to run the San Francisco Marathon. It is later revealed in the show that Ronny is homeless and one of thousands of homeless that reside in San Francisco. Ronny thanked the Hospitality House for their assistance in helping him raise money to participate in the marathon.

The Hospitality House of San Francisco was founded, in 1967, after youth flocked to the city during the Summer of Love.  As the counterculture revolution weaned at the end of the 1960s, several thousand youth found themselves homeless. Hospitality House was initially a space for homeless to reside during the night, but has transformed into an agency that offers multiple programs to help individuals regain footing.

Hospitality House has four main programs: arts, building, employment and shelter as well as two self-help centers. They have also joined forces with other organizations to provide plans to the city for addressing the issues of homelessness and poverty.  Their mission statement says:

“…Hospitality House addresses homelessness and poverty on the broader social level. We endeavor to unite our participant’s voices to educate the larger community about homelessness and poverty, to distribute power to those on the periphery of public policy making and to stimulate social change” (Hospitality House, 2014).

While perusing their website, I stumbled upon something I personally hadn’t seen a center offer – a free art studio for poor and homeless artists that provides a space for them to create and eventually sell their work. At the Annual Art Auction, Hospitality House hosts an art auction to support their artists. They also provide weekly workshops centered on art and creative writing. Furthermore, artists are invited to design greeting cards for Hospitality House to sell. The artist receives a commission and the remaining money is funneled back into the arts program.

Similarly, on the east coast in the Boston-area, artists who are disabled and/or homeless can sell their artwork online. The website artlifting.com provides a virtual space for artists to display and sell their artwork. ArtLifting was founded by Liz and Spencer Powers in 2013 who sought an outlet to “empower homeless, disabled, and other disadvantaged individuals through the celebration and sale of their artwork” (ArtLifting, 2014).


Opposing Wisdom by Elizabeth D’Angelo Source: www.artlifting.com/gallery/elizabeth-dangelo

Thomas et al (2011) posit that having programs that provide art and writing centers and workshops can provide individuals with skills to move forward, a diversion from alcohol and drugs, and relief of some mental health issues. Furthermore such programs can provide individuals with positive feedback on work, public acceptance, and increased self-image. The art studio provides a creative space for individuals to come together and create something meaningful, while discussing their work with others.

Having the Annual Art Auction is a source of public acceptance, wherein the outside public can purchase work and interact with the artist helping to erase the us versus them mentality. An added benefit of the auction is providing confidence and an improved self-image, while showing the artist that self-sufficiency is possible. Having such programs and spaces available to the homeless and disabled is beneficial on several fronts. It is the perfect intersection of assistance and individual sustainability that also increases self-acceptance.

Christle Rowe

Doctoral Student, Old Dominion University


ArtLifting. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.artlifting.com

Hospitality House. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.hospitalityhouse.org/who.htm

Thomas, Yvonne, Gray, Marion, McGinty, Sue and Ebringer, Sally. (2011). Homeless adults engagement in art: First steps toward identity, recovery and social inclusion. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 58, 429-436.

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