YW FACES is an initiative by image maker Michal Pasco and the YWCA Niagara Region. YW FACES raises awareness of hidden homelessness in the Niagara Region.
I’d like to tell you a little bit about how and why this campaign came to be, and after 25 years as a passionate image maker, working in various locations around the world, it was one of the most unique and challenging experiences.
I’ve seen homelessness firsthand in Toronto, Halifax, Vancouver, Europe, Los Angeles and on the surface it all seems the same. However, it wasn’t until about 4 years ago, when I volunteered at a local fund-raising event with the YWCA Niagara Region (YW) that I realized the extent of homelessness in Niagara and how much of it is actually hidden; hence the phrase the hidden homeless. The irony is that they’re not hidden at all. We see them on a daily basis but in most cases we’re just not aware. They have jobs, go to your kids’ school or even your church, but at the end of the day, they have no home to go to. Many are staying in shelters, a vehicle, or for others, even the streets.
The term the hidden homeless accurately describes the reality that many of the homeless community find themselves in. They’re somebody’s father, sister, aunt, grandparent, mother, etc. In other words, they’re just like us, not the stereotypical unclean, rough looking person pushing around a shopping cart that we’ve grown accustomed to. And because of that, we really don’t see them. They’re people whose lives took some very unexpected turns. A reminder that many of us today are just a few missed pay cheques, a devastating illness or a relationship separation away from finding ourselves in the exact same situation… homeless.
The concept for the YW FACES campaign came to me after learning more from the YW’s events, doing some research and trying to figure out how I could help further. Keeping in mind my life-long passion with photography, I felt the hidden homeless needed to be seen, they needed a face. So, I partnered with the YW and with their help spent the past year talking with people from the homeless community and shooting some close-up and personal portraits of them. It wasn’t easy for them to open up and do this, so you may find that some portraits look sad, some happy, some in-between, but they all took pride in doing this. And the important thing to remember is that they haven’t given up. They just need us to see them and understand.
So I invite you to please spend some time looking at their portraits, reading or watching their stories as some were brave enough to talk to us on camera about their situations. Our goal is to challenge the way you think of homelessness and what it truly looks like and the people/children it affects. I also invite you to take action.
Support the YW and please support one of the many other local agencies that fight poverty and advocate for change.
We hope that YW FACES might give you a whole new perspective about Niagara’s hidden homeless.