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Images of the homeless shed light on this pernicious problem. Photographers from PhotoSensitive's very first project were tasked with going into homeless shelters and food banks and onto the streets to photograph homeless families, single mothers, teens and children. Photos captured people living in desperation mixed with hope, however faint. The exhibit was called In Their Eyes .
The story behind the images
Homelessness is a problem everywhere in the Western world, in spite of the perceived affluence and progress of our culture. In the last three decades the problem has increased across North America due to a growing shortage of affordable housing coupled with an increase in poverty. Homelessness and poverty are an embarrassment in our modern era. We might hope to have eliminated these problems by this point in our culture but these issues have worsened or at least perpetuated.
Nowhere is that more true than in Toronto, as anyone who has been to the city knows. The very first PhotoSensitive project focused on the issue of the homeless in Toronto. The exhibit In Their Eyes. from 1992 stands then as a historical document. The photo exhibit was PhotoSensitive's very first project, a moving photo essay providing a stark black and white window into the lives of the hungry and homeless of the city. The project's beneficiary and prominent subject was the Daily Bread Food Bank, run at that time by Gerard Kennedy (later an MP and Liberal leadership hopeful).
The exhibit today looks back on a problem that in many respects has grown worse since that time. In 1998, it was reported that admissions to homeless shelters in Toronto had increased by 75% over the previous decade.
Homeless statistics are skewed by factors such as time of year. That is, many more people report to homeless shelters during the winter months than in April or May, for example. (A lack of reliable statistics is, in fact, a specifically Canadian problem .) In any case, it is certain that the problem has not gone away since our photo exhibit of 1992, and homelessness remains a blight on all of Canada's major cities.
PhotoSensitive's documentary photographs of homeless people drew attention to the plight of the vulnerable and disadvantaged in this city and elsewhere throughout North America but it also captured their strength, their determination and their desire for dignity. The hope of the exhibit of images was to raise awareness and if one less child went hungry because of the exhibit, it was very much worth it.
In the time since, Toronto has worked toward dealing with its homeless problem. Social housing and other programs have helped alleviate the issue somewhat, and statistics show other positive signs. For example, the peak reporting year for homeless shelters in Toronto was 2001, with over 31,000 people reporting to shelters in Toronto; in 2010, the number was 22,276. Similarly, estimates of people living on the streets in Toronto from 2006 to 2009 were also down. Dealing with the homeless problem remains a priority of many. In 2010, the city of Toronto opened its Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre (SHARC), unique to the city. This site offers rest, shelter and time to talk with onsite workers.
Children under the age of 18 account for approximately 40% of the homeless, with 5% of the urban homeless population being unaccompanied minors, according to figures from the US. Families with children comprised 23% of the homeless population, one of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population.
The exhibit captured images of homeless youth and helped alleviate some of the stigma these kids and teens face.
Many of the photos were taken at the Food Bank where young families, single mothers and others living below the poverty line come to find food, at least for a day. Photographer Dick Loek describes the photo below: "I saw this young mother holding her very young baby. I spent some time with her talking, listening really. She didn't have any money or food but the love for her child was so obvious. That's what got my heart."
Poverty has many different faces as seen in the many different images from In Their Eyes .