Portrait and Oral History Project
A multi-media exhibit of 40 portraits featuring formerly homeless individuals paired with recordings of participants’ personal stories.
” You can’t judge a book by its cover. I’ll be at a bus stop and there will be some people waiting for the bus and they see some homeless people sitting on the ground and they get to thinking about them and I be like, well I was homeless too. ” – Patricia
The subjects photographed have experienced homelessness and significant health issues prior to finding their current home in supportive housing communities operated by DISH. Their stories about how they got here are laced with challenging themes – struggles with trauma, neglect, substance use and the corrosive effects of poverty and racism.
Yet in addition to their challenges, these stories are also rich with many other compelling themes – pride in accomplishments, resiliency in the face of obstacles, hopes for a brighter future, and unbridled love for our unique city. From master’s degrees in the arts and sciences, to expressive musical talents, to business expertise, and years of dedicated service in the armed forces, these often ignored members of our community have amazing histories, engaging life experiences to share, and significant contributions to make. The goal of this project is to highlight the gap in understanding between public perception of San Francisco’s homeless population and the actual rich and compelling history of our fellow San Franciscans.
Come listen to these fantastic stories of struggle and heart, witness incredible portraits of incredible people and experience a piece of SF’s supportive housing community in a new light.
” No matter how sad I am or what I think I can’t get through, I know I will overcome it. ” – Juanita
In 2014, two artists (Elizabeth “Liz” Gjelten and Christine Young) brought a Story Circle workshop to our tenants. In 2014, Liz returned as part of a new collaborative partnership with the Triangle Lab of California Shakespeare Theatre Company that took the basis of writing workshops and added in portrait sessions. The photos in this exhibit stemmed from that partnership. The signs held in many of the portraits featured are a result of the writing workshop prompt, “What is home to you?”
In 2016, DISH was a recipient of the California Stories Grant from Cal Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities to expand the portrait project and provide the platform for tenants to expand their stories. The San Francisco Public Library was the first to host this exhibit.
All photography provided by Audra Miller of Miller Studies (once an intern with DISH!). Interviews conducted by Liz Gjelten and Lillianna Torres with content support from Christine Young. Audio recordings led by Colin Peden of KALW and Elliott Peltzman of The Complex Recording Studio.