Homelessness and Mass Incarceration
The Office of Public Witness is currently hosting an art exhibition titled “Homeless” by Presbyterian member Lucy Janjigian. These 18 paintings represent the trials and sorrows of people living with homelessness. They deal eloquently with real-life tragedies.
In this exhibition, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) member and artist Lucy Janjigian depicts the tragic plight of our homeless fellow men, women and children. Janjigian worked on these paintings for three years.
The statistics on homelessness in the U.S. are staggering. According to the National Coalition on Homelessness:
- In January 2014, there were nearly 600,000 homeless people on any given night
- Of that number, about one-third were in families and the remainder were individuals
- Nine percent were veterans
- Only fifteen percent were chronically homeless
This last statistic shows that, contrary to a generalmisconception, most homelessness is temporary and caused by traumatic life circumstances that, with help, are reversible or can be addressed.
This year Ecumenical Advocacy Days and PC(USA) Compassion, Peace and Justice Training Day are focusing on the issue of mass incarceration, one cause of which is homelessness. Janjigian has commented on the connection between imprisonment and homelessness, noting that homelessness aggravates unemployability, despair, desperation, and social alienation, driving people closer to illegal drug use and/or criminal conduct.
According to the Urban Institute, ten percent of those entering U.S. prisons for the first time have already experienced homelessness, and ten percent of those released from prison will find themselves homeless, usually early after re-entry. Accordingly, pre- and post-incarceration homelessness is one of the many factors causing the high rate of both incarceration and recidivism. Bureau of Justice Statistics shows a recidivism rate of 68 percent within three years after release and 78 percent within five years.
It is only when the nation musters the political will to end homelessness and its many causal social blights - poverty, childhood neglect, poor education with high dropout rates, unemployment, drug culture exposure, poor health care including neglected mental illness and substance abuse - that homelessness and mass incarceration in the U.S. can be eliminated.
You are invited! We hope you will come and be moved by the exhibit.
“Everyone is touched by the plight of those who are without shelter and the dignity of a place to be, a place that can be called home. These works represent the way an artist responds. I try to create images that reveal human beings keeping their hopes alive by their togetherness, however fragile.
“The small, cramped efforts of individuals huddled together calls for our help and yet their power, despite having little choice, can reinforce our own inner strength.
“The paintings speak for themselves but you will notice the shopping cart as a ‘mobile home.’ The attempt to keep personal belongings close enhances self identity. The birthday ‘celebration,’ the phone call, the park as a touch of nature, the benefits of ‘soup,’ fire, boxes, even an old car as shelter all keep hope alive. The suffering, especially of children, has to be shown and contrasted with those that have. The card game indicates the spirit of play still breathes within. The players of any game act upon a chance to win.
—Lucy Janjigian on the “Homeless” Series, April 16, 1997