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Photo: Katherine Taylor for the Boston Globe
Eureka Ensemble, whose mission is to nurture social change, launched a Women’s Chorus that welcomes women experiencing severe poverty and homelessness.

How does one write a headline for a story like this? It’s not exactly about music giving homeless people hope. It’s more that focusing on music — music performed for you and music you make — activates a positive side of who you are. It’s that positive things can lead to other positive things.

During the 2018 Christmas season, there was quite a bit of comfort and joy being spread by music in the Greater Boston homeless community. Zoë Madonna wrote about it at the Boston Globe.

“The CASPAR homeless shelter, a low-slung brick building, crouches on Albany Street in Cambridge. When percussionist Jennie Dorris wheels her marimba through the front door, half of a large central room has been cleared, and a line of grizzled men sits at a long row of tables, watching. An enthusiastic older man in a Boston Strong T-shirt marches up, introducing himself as Danny. ‘Finally, the marimba’s here!’ he exclaims, grinning. ‘I wait all year for this.’…

” ‘What compels me is to take music where it’s needed and treat everyone with respect,’ says founder Julie Leven, a violinist. This year, its eighth, Shelter Music Boston has mounted scores of concerts in shelters throughout the Greater Boston area, including a full schedule in the days leading up to Christmas.

“It’s not the only music group focusing on the homeless around Boston. Eureka Ensemble, whose mission is to nurture social change, launched a Women’s Chorus that welcomes women experiencing severe poverty and homelessness. …

“Eureka’s most ambitious project, according to cofounder and conductor Kristo Kondakci, was a commissioned composition, Stephanie Ann Boyd’s ‘Sheltering Voices.’ Auditions for choral fellowships for women were held at Pine Street Inn and Women’s Lunch Place, says Kondakci, a recent graduate of New England Conservatory who has worked with the homeless since his student days at Boston College High School. Around 15 took part.

“Carrie Jaynes and Rottisha Mewborn are friends who met at Pine Street Inn. When they saw the audition sign-up sheet, they were initially skeptical, they say — they’re used to well-meaning outsiders putting in a few hours and then disappearing. But they went to the audition in March, in a room where the heater was going haywire. To cool it down, Kondakci threw open the door of a nearby freezer.

“And that, Mewborn says, put them at ease. … As Eureka Fellows, Jaynes and Mewborn rehearsed weekly with Kondakci, learning ‘Sheltering Voices.’ They were never treated as anything less than important and independent, they say.

“ ‘We became so desensitized at Pine Street that we forgot how we can be treated like a normal person,’ says Jaynes. At the rehearsals, she says, ‘we knew that we were in this together. We knew that we were all right . . . we could be human again. We could show emotion and not be judged if we cried, or laughed, or showed a softer side of us.’ …

“Shelter staff say that after Shelter Music Boston concerts, the atmosphere is more peaceful, and nights are more restful, notes Leven, who also plays with Handel and Haydn Society and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. …

“As for the Eureka fellowships, Jaynes and Mewborn say their experiences were powerful. ‘Having Kristo say “We’ll get you there no matter what” built up our trust and our safety,’ Mewborn says. Because Pine Street Inn has a daily lottery, she explains, she never knows if she’ll have a bed to sleep in each night. There’s little in her life she can truly count on. ‘So just having this little safety — even if things are going crazy out here, we can get there — it’s amazing.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Simon Buckley
Grandad, an artist who has experienced homelessness, is one of 33 people behind the “Doodle on Ducie Street” mural, part of the International Arts and Homelessness Festival and Summit in Manchester, UK. The event used art as part of a holistic approach to tackling homelessness.

So many initiatives to address the world’s problems feel like a drop in the bucket, but I have to believe that the bucket can be filled — even if it’s only one drop at a time, even if some drops spill out along the way and have to be replaced. Little things mean a lot if they hit a person just at the moment of receptivity.

In England, a homelessness summit last fall tested the potential of art to spark conversations between haves and have-nots and also to give homeless people a reason to get up in the morning. Helen Lock has the story at the Guardian.

“Two armchairs are facing each other in the Whitworth art gallery in Manchester. Denise Harrison, a mental health blogger with past experience of homelessness, is sitting in one of them, waiting for questions.

“A member of the public sits down opposite her, and tentatively asks if she thinks it’s OK to give money to people on the street, as charities discourage it. ‘It’s down to personal choice – you shouldn’t feel bad if you do or if don’t,’ replies Harrison. ‘Some worry it’s enabling addictions, but it’s also providing someone with the option to pay for shelter. On the street, someone can end up with several free McDonald’s burgers but nowhere to sleep that night.’ …

“Dialogues are part of a performance artwork called Are You Sitting Comfortably? by the artist Emma Turner, who felt the public were becoming inured to homelessness in Manchester. The official number of rough sleepers was 278 in 2017, a 41% increase on the previous year, but the true number of its homeless people – counting those in temporary accommodation – is likely to be much higher.

“As Harrison says of her time suffering with alcohol addiction and sofa surfing after the breakdown of her marriage: ‘It’s scary how quickly a situation that was so abnormal became normal, my new normal. It can happen to anyone.’

”The work was part of the inaugural International Arts and Homelessness Festival and Summit, running 12-18 November [2018], which explored a potentially contentious idea: the role of arts and culture in tackling homelessness.

“Manchester was chosen for the event because the city council’s homelessness strategy for the next five years explicitly includes a commitment to increasing access to arts, and because of how the city’s cultural sector has stepped forward to provide support for the council’s plan. …

“Third sector organisations began working together to approach the council, consulting businesses, universities, cultural organisations and the faith sector, as well as people with experience of homelessness. Their findings underpinned the new Manchester Homelessness Charter. … Officials will now work towards what is described as a jigsaw of homelessness support approaches, rather than focusing exclusively on immediate needs such as shelter and healthcare. This includes the chance to meet people, build skills and have fun. …

“But how would this approach work in practice when the crisis is so severe? Beth Knowles, an adviser on homelessness for the mayor’s office, reiterated that the call for a more holistic approach came from homelessness services themselves – even frontline providers such as the night shelters.

“ ‘I’ve spoken to some about trialling the jigsaw approach,’ she said, ‘and while it might not seem the most immediate thing when you’re trying to find beds, some see the value in maybe having some singing or photography sessions on site, because it’s worked well.

‘Of course, not every council officer is going to see this as a priority. But to do something, it doesn’t have to be a priority. It’s part of a whole package. It’s about what that individual needs and offering it.’

“[According to Amanda Croome, chief executive of the Booth Centre, a day facility for people who are homeless or at risk,] ‘We find that if you put someone into a flat and they have no support network, no interests and nothing to do, then very often in six months they’ll be back on the street. What the arts do is give people a new perspective.’

“Lawrence McGill has become an avid gardener since first becoming a regular visitor to the Booth Centre, filling salvaged containers with soil and seeds. He has also written poetry, and a song, ‘Spinning Plates,’ about juggling life’s hardships. ‘My life started the day I stepped into this place.’ ”

Read about other aspects of the festival, including a description of the “immersive opera” Man on a Bench, here.

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Photo: Mashable
Teen girls invent portable, solar-powered tent for people experiencing homelessness.

I worked at MIT in the early 2000s in the same building as a foundation that gave grants to inventors, both established inventors and young people. How the family made the money that funded the foundation is a complicated story, but this support for inventors is a big deal, so hats off for that!

Brittany Levine Beckman writes at Mashable about an invention by an inspiring group of teen girls.

“As Daniela Orozco picks off excess plastic bordering a 3D-printed box, she recalls how many homeless people she saw on her way to school when she was a high school freshman. Just one.

“Four years later, the number has multiplied. … In the San Fernando Valley, homelessness increased 36% to 7,094 people last year, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency’s annual count. Daniela and her friends wanted to help, but giving money wasn’t an option.

” ‘Because we come from low-income families ourselves, we can’t give them money,’ the high school senior says. …

“That was the starting point for their invention: a solar-powered tent that folds up into a rollaway backpack. The girls and 10 others from their high school had never done any hands-on engineering work before, but with the help of YouTube, Google, and trial-and-error, they got it done. They hope that one day, their tent will improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness in their community.

“The teen girls from San Fernando High School … none of whom had coded, soldered, sewn, or 3D-printed before they joined forces, won a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program to develop the invention.

“They were recruited by DIY Girls, a nonprofit that teaches girls from low-income communities about engineering, math, and science, to go after the grant.

” ‘I knew I wanted to apply for it, but I needed a team,’ says Evelyn Gomez, 29, the executive director of DIY Girls. ‘I went back to my calculus teacher at my high school and did a hands-on recruitment activity.’ …

“Hands-on STEM education at schools, especially for girls in low-income communities, is severely lacking, Evelyn says. Women make up just 29% of the science and engineering workforce, according to the National Science Board, a federal agency. Around 6% of female working scientists and engineers are Hispanic or Latina.

” ‘I studied aerospace engineering. When I was getting my master’s degree, I was often the only girl in the class and definitely the only Latina in the class. … You’re going to represent the Latina community in a bad light if you ask a stupid question or you’re going to represent women in a bad light if you ask a stupid question, and of course that’s not true. But I felt that.’ …

“In the beginning, the team depended on Evelyn for guidance, but they quickly started doing everything on their own. If they had an issue with a solar panel not functioning properly, they watched YouTube videos. If they couldn’t figure out a stitch pattern, they Googled it. The girls even developed their own inspirational hashtag: #wegetitdone.

” ‘You’re learning new things you’ve never even heard of or even thought of,’ says Chelly Chavez, who learned the programming language C++ to get the technical aspects of the tent to behave. The tent has button-powered lights, two USB ports, a micro-USB port, and the girls have even tested a sanitizing UVC light on a countdown timer. …

“They made two prototypes of the tent, but the first one is now in shreds. They put it through the ringer during quality control tests, tearing it with a knife, dousing it with water, and stomping on it. … They destroyed their finished product, just to start again. It was yet another tough engineering lesson the girls would learn. …

“The $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program could only be used on the invention itself, not traveling to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to present the award. So DIY Girls fundraised an additional $15,000 to send the team to MIT.” More here.

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Photo: Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune, via Associated Press
Candice Payne, “a regular person,” rented hotel rooms for more than 100 homeless people in Chicago — and strangers followed her lead — as temperatures headed way below freezing.

A Chicago real estate broker, a self-styled “little black girl from the South Side,” had a moment when she just couldn’t bear to see a particular bad thing happen.

The temperature in Chicago was about to go way below zero last week, and Candice Payne started thinking about the people in the city’s homeless camp. Here’s what can result when “a regular person” realizes that empathizing while doing nothing is not an option.

Sandra E. Garcia has the story at the New York Times.

“As temperatures plunged to life-threatening lows this week, more than 100 homeless people in Chicago unexpectedly found themselves with food, fresh clothes and a place to stay after a local real estate broker intervened.

“The broker, Candice Payne, 34, said it was a ‘spur-of-the-moment’ decision to help. ‘It was 50 below, and I knew they were going to be sleeping on ice and I had to do something,’ she said on Saturday.

“Ms. Payne contacted hotels and found 30 rooms available at the Amber Inn for Wednesday night at $70 per room. …

“After Ms. Payne paid for the rooms on a credit card, she asked on her Instagram account for anyone who could help transport the homeless people. Soon she had a caravan of cars, S.U.V.s and vans with volunteer drivers.

“ ‘We met at tent city, where all the homeless people set up tents and live on the side of the expressway,’ Ms. Payne said. … She asked as many people as she could to go with her to the Amber Inn as donations were pouring in to her Cash App account. …

“ ‘We had to accommodate everyone. It was really overwhelming,’ Ms. Payne said. ‘They were so appreciative. They couldn’t wait to get in a bath and lay in a bed.’

“Ms. Payne bought toiletries, food, prenatal vitamins, lotions, deodorants and snacks and made care packages to help make the people feel comfortable. Restaurants donated trays of food, and many people called the inn. …

“ ‘People from the community, they all piggyback off Candice,’ said Robyn Smith, the manager of the Amber Inn. ‘Other people started calling and anonymously paying for rooms,’ she added, and Ms. Smith lowered the price to accommodate more people. What started out as 30 rooms doubled to 60, Ms. Smith said. …

‘I am a regular person,’ Ms. Payne said. ‘It all sounded like a rich person did this, but I’m just a little black girl from the South Side. I thought it was unattainable, but after seeing this and seeing people from all around the world, that just tells me that it’s not that unattainable. We can all do this together. …

“ ‘This was a temporary fix, and it has inspired me to come up with more of a permanent solution.’ ”

Talk about the Power of One! Here’s hoping that the state’s wealthy governor, who called Payne to offer his praise, gets on board with a permanent solution.

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photos: Demetrius Freeman for The New York Times
Annette Phuvan (left, with Janet Victors) said that
Amahl and the Night Visitors spoke to her of “miracles. Blessings. Generosity. Community.” She and others who have struggled with homelessness are performing the touching opera about poverty and hope.

In today’s story, two organizations that do good works all year-round have chosen an especially appropriate way to enhance the “comfort and joy” they deliver to others.

Tim Teeman writes at the Daily Beast, “The rich, collective sound of a choir warming their voices up filled the 15th-floor rehearsal room, Broadway and Times Square, a rainy, fogged-up blur outside the windows. Standing in a circle, and accompanied by a pianist, the group of tenors, basses, altos and sopranos practiced their scales, and then, as if in an urgent incantation, spoke the words of the score they would next sing.

“ ‘Free the body,’ instructed Michael A. Ciavaglia, the chorus master, eliciting much loose-limbed waving of arms, as the choir and soloists continued their preparations for On Site Opera’s production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s 45-minute Christmas Nativity opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, written for television and first performed on NBC in 1951.

“The show will be presented in the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen in Chelsea, and will feature professional musicians and vocalists alongside a chorus made up of people who have experienced homelessness and who now live at the 43rd Street site of Breaking Ground, New York City’s largest provider of permanent supportive housing for the homeless. …

” ‘The object is to find that perfect intersection of piece and place that speaks to us as producing artists and what we want to do in the greater arc of the company and then find the right place to do it in,’ said Eric Einhorn, the general and artistic director of On Site Opera. …

“They all sang in rousing unison: ‘How cold is the night, how icy is the wind.’ As formerly homeless people, they would know the meaning of those words more powerfully, and literally, than many.

“One of the choir, soprano Christine Flood, told The Daily Beast she had been a resident at Breaking Ground since New Year’s Eve 2016. She said she suffered from PTSD, resulting from ‘terrifying and violent’ childhood abuse while growing up in southern Ohio. She had been homeless in her late teenage years, and then suffered from drug and alcohol addiction. She has been sober for 12 years. …

“The opera was an excellent way to bring members of Breaking Ground together, she said, and had inspired Flood to suggest to those that run the community that she begin classes in teaching English to non-English speaking residents. ‘Language is both a big barrier, and a big invitation,’ the former teacher and dancer said.

“ ‘I’m much better than I was a year ago,’ Flood said of her general health. ‘Two years ago I couldn’t have done this opera. Last year at this time I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do it even, or this interview.’ Next, Flood wants to finish her master’s degree, and use her passion for theater and acting to ‘build positive change in my city and community.’ ”

More at the Daily Beast, here. At the New York Times, here, you can find some nice pictures of singers rehearsing for the production.

Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors is my all-time favorite — guaranteed to get me in the Christmas spirit.

From left: Kristine Flood, Wanda Ferrerias, Maya Lehmann, and Annette Phuvan join On Site Opera’s production of Amahl, thanks to Breaking Ground, a homeless-support organization in New York.

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Photo: John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Cathy Corbett got her hair cut at HER on a recent Saturday. HER is a weekly event from the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program.

When I think of all the health care I’m able to utilize (cataract surgery today, for example), my heart breaks for people who don’t have coverage. A special program in Boston aims to help homeless women get some of what they need while also lifting their spirits with fun activities.

Elise Takahama writes at the Boston Globe, “Linda Winn … sobered up six months ago, but she’s been battling homelessness for the past year. Winn, a 51-year-old Somerville native, said she’s working with a few organizations to find permanent housing, but for now, she is staying at Woods-Mullen, a South End homeless shelter.

“A few months ago, she discovered a haven of medical care — and free haircuts — just around the corner..

” ‘I started coming a few months ago. I love the staff. It’s been helping with depression, helping with any problem I might have,’ said Winn. …

“In one corner, a group of women played bingo, while others danced and sang karaoke in the middle of the room. A table near the back was filled with markers, beads, and nail polish. Movies were shown in a separate room.

“All these activities are part of HER Saturday, a program that offers a medical clinic for women who have suffered abuse, are homeless, or are in need of health care services, said Melinda Thomas, the program’s associate medical director. …

“The HER Saturday program was launched in February 2016, Thomas said. When it first started, about 30 to 50 women would wander through the doors. Now, at least 100 women — sometimes up to 200 — line up at 7 a.m. every week, she said.

“The Saturday clinic not only gives the women a chance to get manicures and watch romantic comedies but also provides preventative health care services and cancer screenings, which include mammograms and Pap smears. Homeless women have higher rates of mortality from breast and cervical cancer, Thomas said. A medical provider, a nurse, a case manager, a social worker, and a behavioral health counselor are available every week.” More at the Globe, here.

Those of us who can have a medical check-up, a haircut, or a tasty meal whenever we want really should feel gratitude every day. I also feel gratitude for the people behind programs like this, which benefit us all if only indirectly.

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Photo: YouTube/Field of Vision
Karollyne, who works at the dog-rescue nonprofit founded by Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda in Brazil, is shown with one of the homeless dogs she cares for in an abandoned building.

Nothing humanizes homeless people more for us than seeing them interact with a pet. The panhandler who used to set up a blanket with his dog near Providence’s Kennedy Plaza always seemed cheerful whether he got money or not, and many passersby stopped to pat the dog and exchange a few friendly words. I haven’t seem him lately and can’t help wondering if his dog helped him to get it together and move off the street.

Consider a couple articles I’ve been reading on homelessness and the power of a pet. In the first article, reporter Candace Pires gathered the stories of four homeless people for the Guardian.

Heather, 22, told Pires, “Before we found Poppy, I didn’t feel like I had anything to wake up for. I was going through a rough time in my life and didn’t care about myself. I’d been homeless since my parents told me to leave our family house in June 2016 and was so miserable in my situation. Everywhere I go people shun me and tell me to leave.

“Then, last March, I was walking around downtown Seattle with my boyfriend when we saw a group of guys with two dogs. They were yelling at one of them and she was shivering and obviously scared. I went into a store and when I came out my boyfriend had the dog. I was confused. He said to me: ‘I made a life choice without you; we’re keeping the dog.’ He’d paid the guys $5 for her. …

“We moved from sleeping in a doorway to a tent. I stopped stealing food from stores when we were desperate; I didn’t want to go to jail for something dumb and risk losing her. I’ve applied for food stamps and now have a case manager helping me get on a housing list and get Poppy registered as a service animal so that we’re protected from being split up. …

“She wakes up so excited every morning and gets so happy about the littlest thing, like rolling around in the grass or even just the weather being nice. Seeing her like that reminds me to stay happy for simple things too. In my mind she’s a little angel that saved me as much as I saved her.”

Pires wrote up three more stories by homeless pet owners in America here.

Meanwhile, the journalist Glenn Greenwald has written at the Dodo about the dog-rescue nonprofit he and David Miranda founded in Brazil, where homeless people who love dogs are hired as caregivers.

“In the last two years,” Greenwald reported, “our work with animals has taken on a new focus: working with homeless people who live on the streets with their pets. At first glance, this situation can seem grim and depressing: Many assume that animals who live on the street with homeless companions are mistreated or deprived.

“But, far more often, the truth is the opposite: The bond that forms between homeless people and their homeless pets is often [more] strong, deep and more profound than many can imagine. The mutual need, and resulting intense devotion, that homeless people and their animals develop for one another is inspiring and can be unlike what one might find in any other context.

Leslie Irvine, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado, has devoted much of her academic career to studying this unique relationship, and even named her book on the topic, ‘My Dog Always Eats First.’ ”

Greenwald wrote more here.

Did you ever see a person you thought you couldn’t relate to until you saw the person’s relationship with a pet? I’d love to hear stories.

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