It’s noon on a Thursday at the Burnside Shelter. Thursdays are a good day. The Guest Care Center door is open and art and color and the sharing of life takes place. Step inside and you’ll meet Andrew and Erin. Both on staff at Portland Rescue Mission, the two wanted to create a place where guests can come in off the street, if even for a short time, and explore art–hence, the art workshop was started.
“Every single person has talents; unfortunately, for homeless individuals they rarely have the tools or the opportunity to express those talents. So this is a way for people to create something beautiful,” said Andrew Hall, Guest Care Specialist at the Burnside Shelter.
Andrew wanted the art workshop to be an opportunity for guests to get off the street into a warm room, and participate in something engaging and positive. “Many are struggling with drug addiction or are recovering addicts … and art can be a very therapeutic thing,” he said.
“It’s amazing what can happen over art,” said Erin Fowler, copywriter and photographer for the Mission. “People are very comfortable, they’re happy, they’re at peace, and they’re resting. They come in, grab a cup of coffee, grab a snack and start opening up about their stories or about people they have loved or people they have lost. It’s a really powerful time.”
For Stewart, one of the regulars at the art workshop, it’s been life-saving and allowed for him to dream past his current circumstances. “Going through a lot of bad things in my life, this art really helps me to be stable and get back on track, it really helps me be alive,” he said. “I’ve been doing art ever since I was three. I love arts. I like combing colors, sketch, free hand, all that, but I really like painting canvas.”
Stewart continued, “I really want to have an art studio one day … have people look at my story and see where I came from.”
“Inevitably, every single person we’ve had in our art class creates out of their suffering and out of their lives, so we learn a lot about people just from them coming in and coloring or drawing or creating a poem,” Andrew said.
For art afternoon, Erin and Andrew set up five tables: one for snacks and coffee, one for adult coloring pages, one for free-hand drawing and one for writing.
“A lot of poetry and raps and songs are coming from that table, also letters that are being sent to friends and family,” Andrew said.
The fifth table serves as a featured art medium from week to week–origami serving as the first style. The hope is to eventually offer other types of art such as painting and clay.
“When you are homeless you are trying to survive,” Erin said. “You don’t have time to do what you love or what you are passionate about. And you don’t have extra money to spend on markers or pens or paper. So we supply a lot of those things and could really use a lot more resources so we can offer more.”
The workshop has been a success so far. “Stewart has come each week and he is building a relationship with us. He loves sharing what he’s doing outside of the workshop, and the workshop allows him to be in a safer environment doing his art,” Andrew said. (Stewart recently joined the Connect program as a result).
“These friends of ours don’t need to be defined by being homeless. They deserve the opportunity to tap into those gifts like everybody else does,” Erin explained. “Andrew and I wanted to empower them and make a creative space where they can explore and be encouraged.”
The art workshop happens every Thursday from 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. in the Burnside Shelter’s Guest Care Center.
If you’re interested in volunteering at the Burnside Shelter, the art workshop is just one of the many unique opportunities to do that very thing. (See the entire schedule for our Guest Care Center). And if you have any new ideas, art projects, or something else related for Erin or Andrew, be sure to reach out to them and let them know at [email protected] and [email protected].
Want to donate art supplies to the Burnside Shelter? Art supplies can be dropped off directly to our facility at 111 W Burnside St, Portland, OR 97209.
Thank you for helping us give hope and restore life.