Traverse City is known for its cherries, films, and natural beauty. But there is another side. And you can catch a glimpse this month at an exhibit in Building 50.
A brick hallway in the Old State Hospital displays photographs of human faces. Some are teenagers, others are in their 50s. There are blank stares, some smiles, some people covering their faces. What they have in common is homelessness.
“Even people that live here, they don’t think or they don’t believe or they don’t want to believe that there are people experiencing homelessness in our area, but there really are.”
I’m at the exhibit with Ryan Hannon. He’s the Street Outreach Coordinator for Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan. He probably knows many of the faces in the exhibit. He just can’t say because of confidentiality.
Below the photographs, the exhibit tells their stories.
“It’s really touching to me to see the actuality, the authenticity of what we’re looking at on the wall here. And most of the people here didn’t have anything to hide. It’s amazing because of the experience of homelessness that people go through, they want to tell other people about it not only so they’re aware, but hopefully so others don’t have to fall into homelessness.”
Ryan Hannon thinks people fear the unknown. And stories behind the faces of homeless people are often hidden.
They were to exhibit creator Alan Newton. The photographer knew little about homelessness until he started listening.
Here he recounts Matt’s story, which he learned firsthand in April.
“Working for sixty hours a week. Had his own place. He had a grand mal epileptic seizure soon after he arrived for work in Standish. Lost his ability to speak, was in the hospital for 3 weeks. His boss-he was fired after the incident. Beside his epilepsy, he was dealing with a probation violation.”
Matt ended up in Traverse City because he came looking for a job. Alan Newton says it’s a story of medical disaster that could happen to anyone.
The exhibit is called The Other Traverse City. He built the exhibit by forming relationships with twenty-three people in Traverse City, all currently homeless. He met them through Goodwill.
He started out by asking questions. But he learned that the people had a lot more to say than he expected, and he just listened after a while.
“It is not my analysis, this is their stories” says Newton.
He wanted people to hear those stories. And here’s the reaction he’s heard:
“Thank you, thank you, they are just people aren’t they?”
The exhibit, The Other Traverse City is in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons through the 31st.