Poudre River Library District displays the truth of homelessness

Sarah Ehrlich

In honor of National Homelessness Awareness Month, Poudre River Library District provided a raw look at the world of being homeless in Fort Collins in a photo exhibit that ran from Nov. 16 through Nov. 19.

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Despite their hard life, the homeless people of Fort Collins still manage to smile.

In partnership with the City of Fort Collins and Homeward 2020, the library created this photo exhibit in hopes to offer citizens a more personal connection to the homeless people they share this city with.

“This exhibit explores what it means to be experiencing homelessness through the lens of people without homes or shelter, the chronic homeless and the hidden homeless”, according to a press release. “For many in our community, this means not only a search for a stable home, but for supportive kindness, understanding, and maybe just a glass of water.”

This exhibit, named “Folks of Fort Collins,” is considered the first of it’s kind, where art and awareness find a happy medium together.

“The Library District’s role in the community is really to provide open access to ideas, information, and discussion,” said Paula Watson-Lakamp, Communications Manager of the Poudre River Library District. “In the case of the Folks of Fort Collins exhibit, we brought that discourse out into the community. Libraries can serve as a catalyst for addressing social issues and engaging the public.”

Watson-Lakamp also said many of the library’s exhibits aim to provide public discourse and exchange of ideas. The library has worked with local organizations to provide insight to issues such as fracking, immigration and citizenship.

The Community Creative Center was home to this exhibit, where many photos and quotes from the homeless lined the walls. Two photographers, Károl de Rueda and Mike Barry, both of Fort Collins, followed several homeless people, documenting their lives. These photos portrayed homeless people, young, old, male and female. Each group of photos provided a quote from a homeless person, describing the struggle and explaining their just regular people who happen to be down on their luck.

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Two photos of homeless people show their quiet and humble demeanor. Photo credit: Sarah Ehrlich

In addition to the photos, the exhibit provided backpacks filled with weights, to show people just how heavy and tiring it can be to carry your whole life on your back. Another section of the exhibit provided a large Rubbermaid box, asking people to imagine fitting everything you needed to live in that box.

At the end of the exhibit, sticky notes and pens were provided to the public so they could comment, critique and ask questions about the exhibit. A wall was plastered with comments, where one such sticky note asked the question, “Where are the photos of children?” This feedback helps future exhibits provide answers to the important questions that certain issues, such as homelessness, bring up.

Opportunities to help and reach out to the homeless such as a donation box and pamphlets were also provided. This exhibit not only wanted to raise awareness but also encourage people to help those in need, especially in the upcoming winter months.

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A photo and a caption show that this man is ready for his life to change, and that he never wants to go through this kind of life again. Photo credit: Sarah Ehrlich

These photos and quotes were a strong reminder to be thankful of a good living situation and to look at homeless people as normal human beings, the same as you, who just need a little extra help.

Perhaps the most powerful part of the exhibit comes from a quote on the wall that reads, “I wonder what the world would be like if everyone had to go a couple of weeks homeless at least once in their lives.”