SOUTH TOMS RIVER – They never craved the spotlight. In fact, they don’t want attention. However, they stepped out of the shadows to show people what the homeless of Ocean County really look like.
If you walked past any of them on the street, they don’t fit the stereotype. Most people picture homeless people as living in cardboard boxes. The cartoon of a hobo with all his possessions in a bag on a stick.
That’s why Shore Vineyard Church wanted to show the real faces of local homeless. These are people who are stuck with underpaying jobs in an expensive area. While most people have a support system in place to fall back on when something goes wrong, these people have less. Some combination of bad luck and missteps is all it takes to find themselves with no place to sleep at night.
Local painters were given photographs of a half dozen homeless people. In a ceremony that was part art show, part religious service, and part community event, these paintings were revealed.
Every time a portrait was unveiled, there were gasps and usually someone saying “That’s him!” or “That’s her!” They were humble, and felt strange being the subject of attention and of someone’s art.
One man, Jamie, was one of the subjects. Since it started, he restored relationship with his sister, and got a job, and is no longer homeless.
A painting of a young man named Jimmy had two versions of himself on canvas – one hiding in shadows and one smiling in the light.
One of the organizers, Taffy Spaloss, read the story of the Master Painter who didn’t paint people as they look, but as they are inside. It was a parable about Jesus finding the best in people and bringing it forward. The story says of one subject, “He had actually become the man the master had painted.”
Greg Andrus, who photographs and interviews people for his site “Portraits of the Jersey Shore,” spoke as an example of how someone can pull themselves up. He had been homeless at times in his life, and dove into drinking. A low point was when he was 28, and was shot in the head by a police officer (he had been an innocent bystander). What turned his life around was a group of volunteers who cared about him and helped him reach higher.
“Some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met were without homes,” he said.
After the ceremony, and after a meal from the church’s kitchens, the homeless were some of the first to leave. Several of them had to go to work.
How To Help
The church was selling various works of art to support homeless in the area, particularly Living Water Community Church’s work to provide a truck that has a shower in it that homeless can use.
The paintings were for sale for $300 each. Prints, 8”x10”, were $20. A 5×7 print was $10.
Anyone interested in buying these can email Taffy08731@yahoo.com.