Kingsley North Woodvale Eye Contact Exhibition

Anglican Parish of Kingsley North - Woodvale

Can You Look Them
in the Eye?

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A reflection on National Homelessness Week 2023 at the Anglican Parish of Kingsley North - Woodvale

Nothing. Nothing matters to me anymore … Seven.
Don’t trust anyone … Scott.
He was an alcoholic and used to bash me up … Anne.
The world is not a happy place … Graham.
I’m always restless, uneasy, unstable … Steve.
Betrayed. Hungry. Denied … Dianna.
He was a violent alcoholic … Daniel.
Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid … Jesus.

Words matter. Stories matter. Being seen, matters.

As part of our recognition of National Homelessness Week (7-13 August 2023), the Anglican Parish of Kingsley North–Woodvale hosted the EYE CONTACT exhibition. This portraiture display, commissioned by the Rotary Group of Heirisson, with photographs taken by Perth photographer, Phil England, is a challenging opportunity to look people experiencing homelessness in the eye to reflect on who they are and on their story.

One of the biggest travesties of homelessness is that those who find themselves there are so often overlooked and unseen - their wisdom, their wonder, their dignity, their struggle and their personhood - invisible to the world. Most people hurry past those who are experiencing homelessness, casting their eyes away, or simply ignoring what is a familiar sight on our streets. Sadly, they believe the problem is intractable. This attitude stymies the necessary community support for addressing the problem and percolates through to State and Federal policy.

EYE CONTACT has sought to change this with the creation of 20 larger than life portraits of homeless Western Australians, each locking viewers with an arresting gaze. This for me is the pure gift of this exhibition; the gift these courageous, vulnerable and brave individuals have given to us in allowing us to see them, to call them by their name, and to hear something of their story.

Short written snapshots of their experiences accompany the powerful portraits, enabling confrontation of the issues they face in life on the street.
The purpose of the portraits is to help viewers recognise the humanity of each person who struggles with life without a place to call home and help bring about changes in attitude in our community.

On Thursday 10 August we hosted an exhibition opening night for community leaders across parishes, agencies and local government. In attendance were ordained and lay leaders from local Anglican churches, the Precentor of St George’s Cathedral, members of the Anglican Social Responsibilities Commission, executive leadership from both Anglicare WA and St Bart’s, the local MLA for Kingsley and the deputy mayor of Joondalup.

Ms Philippa Boldy, Director of Services for Anglicare WA, offered a stirring keynote address. She highlighted the need for Christians to work in this space as part of our call to transform the unjust structures of society and work towards a better and more suitably resourced life for all people.

Cr John Logan echoed her sentiment, and shared some of what the City of Joondalup is doing to address this scourge in our local community.

Kingsley Homelessness Week 2023 1

On Friday 11 August we welcomed a group of students from John Septimus Roe Anglican Community School who were preparing to participate in the Anglicare WA School Sleep Out that evening. After an initial briefing, they had the opportunity to spend some time with the portraits, looking each person represented in the eye and considering what lies behind; reading their story and imagining themselves living through that experience; and contemplating how they would have managed if that were them. At the end of their time at the exhibition, they were invited to ‘take one of these people with you’ as their inspiration and motivation for participating in the Sleep Out.

Saturday 12 August saw members of the local community filling the space and sharing conversations about how they might get involved in this important work. It was heartwarming to hear the number of people passionate about working in this space. All funds raised through the entry donations and the Devonshire Tea sale have been given to St Bart’s - one of Perth’s leading not-for-profit providers of accommodation and outreach services for vulnerable Western Australians experiencing or at risk of homelessness, mental health challenges, trauma and hardship.

On Sunday 13 August, ten portraits were included in our worship space, allowing us to gather among those whose photographs represent the 9000+ individuals considered to be homeless on any given night in Western Australia. We rugged up in our beanies and scarves and enjoyed a hot beverage around a fire before worship commenced. As part of our liturgy, groups of worshippers gathered around each portrait to share their thoughts, and to pray with one another for the person pictured, for others who find themselves in a similar situation, for the agencies which seek to support them, and ultimately for an end to homelessness in WA.

It was beautiful and powerful and many were moved to tears. It was especially poignant privilege to welcome Thomas to our community. Thomas is a person experiencing homelessness and had woken up in our church carpark on Sunday morning. With compassion and care, he was seen, welcomed, invited, nurtured and fed. He shared conversation with some of our elders, and he received Holy Communion with them around the fire. As one of our members reflected afterwards, “I wonder if we were there for Thomas, or if Thomas was there for us.”

Neil Starkie, General Manager Strategic Partnerships and Growth at St Bart’s, wrapped up our week by sharing a reflection on the chaos that is dominant in homelessness, and the opportunity that working collaboratively offers as we seek to end this significant social problem. His passion for this work was evident in both his presentation and pastoral approach, and our parish is committed to supporting him and the ongoing work of St Bart’s – both through financial giving and through prayer - because we believe it is time to end homelessness.

Let us build a house where love can dwell
and all can safely live.
A place where saints and children tell
how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
rock of faith and vault of grace.
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome, all are welcome,
All are welcome in this place.
(Marty Haugen)
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Kingsley Homelessness Week 2023 2

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