The Benefits of Creativity While Experiencing Homelessness

German theatre practitioner, playwright, and poet Bertolt Brecht once said, “art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” The practice of art is so common nowadays that it becomes easy to dismiss upon encounter, and the same goes with people experiencing homeless. What needs to be realized is that art does not have any set meaning by itself and it’s the artist who has complete control over what they want their audience to see, giving those who are unhoused a chance to take back autonomy over their lives.

The perception of non-homeless individuals of people who are homeless differ from that of individuals who are unhoused. 

A common misconception is the belief that homelessness is primarily a self-generated problem that came to be as a result of the own failure of the individual. Another assumption goes as far as to say that people who are unhoused would much rather prefer to stay homeless because it’s “easier” than trying to get a job. Finally, if no one is being blamed, the general public is quick to condense the complications of homelessness to plain economic disparity.

As a result of such generalizations, non-homeless people are conditioned to believe that bare-minimum temporary solutions are the ultimate answers for solving homelessness, when they only help to slow down the inevitable if not given the proper attention it needs. These include transportation vouchers, hand-outs, job opportunities on top of the obvious immediate measures to initiate such as showers, food, and temporary shelter

The truth of the matter is that the issue of homelessness is multifaceted and at the end of the day, it has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis depending on the situations of different individuals.

In order to change these harmful narratives about their community, people experiencing homelessness can turn to various creative outlets. One of the most popular of these outlets is art therapy. 

Undergoing art therapy can help individuals dealing with homelessness find connections between their choices during the creative process and their lives, allowing them to pinpoint specific issues they are facing and acknowledge emotional baggage, which can eventually lead to resolution.

The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) is the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in the United States.

According to the AATA, people who are unhoused can use the media, the creative process, and the final result of art therapy “to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.”

This is often done through haptic perception which helps an individual process their emotions by exploring surfaces and objects, equivalent to the media used for art pieces.

For art therapist Melissa Andrews, “when people have severe trauma they are known clinically to be very immobilized and the movement stops” but oppositely “when the movement starts, the emotion starts.”

Aside from self-improvement on the artist’s end, art therapy can be used to help their audience view the issue of homelessness from the perspective of those actually dealing with it first-hand, in a way raising public awareness with the potential distribution of their completed works.

While working with individuals who were unhoused, art therapist Jenelle Hallaert found that “many of them were incredibly artistic,” indicating how much society overlooks the talent these people possess because they are in a state of homelesnness. 

“They are a resilient and creative population,” said Hallaert. “The best moments are when guests take pride in their artwork and almost always take it with them as an empowering memento to hang in their new home when they move from the shelter.”

Once the artist’s talent is recognized, the works that come out of art therapy can be a potential source of income for the individual experiencing homelessness.

Despite this, art therapy emphasizes the fact that no artistic talent is required for a creative activity to be not only effective, but empowering for both the artist and the audience.

The greatest thing about the arts is that it exists everywhere in various forms, allowing people who can benefit from it the most to have access to creative resources that can actually support one in times of trouble, such as when they are experiencing homelessness.

No matter what the means or media, visual or performing,  a creative outlet in the arts like art therapy remains necessary for those who are unhoused to have a reliable support system when dealing with the struggles of homelessness.


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