Michael's Story

New lens offers a voice to formerly homeless Michael

Michael Charles Bailey started “Photo Voice: Combating Prejudice and Discrimination” a project that addresses looking at his former homeless existence in a different perspective and learned to express his views in a very effective manner.

“When my advocate first told me about Photo Voices it perked my interest for two reasons,” Michael said. “The first was I was free to take the course. The second reason was it would allow me to express a message about how people stereotype the homeless and minorities.”

As a part of the project, Michael attended a series of classes on seeking and photographing symbols that would express his thoughts and send his message about his former life as a homeless person. During one class he and other participants were given cameras and sent out to take relevant photos.

In Michael’s case one of several photographs included two traffic cones. He explained, “People respect the cones because they outline something important. They don’t move the cones.”

In his comparison, Michael said, “They don’t respect the homeless and try to move them out of the way. People respect objects. They do not respect flesh and blood.”

Michael added, “This project made me more aware of homeless people in general. I used to do the same thing even though I know you’re not supposed to do that. I see people differently now. I’m more aware of my surroundings.”
The difference between racism and discrimination; prejudice; and respect were some of the life lessons Michael discerned from the 10-week course taught by HomeStart volunteer Louise Bowler. The course ran for one hour every week, with a presentation of the final pictures on the 11th week.

The first class starts with a discussion of stereotypes and how they are met with discrimination and prejudice. “We have some pretty lively discussions,” Bowler said.

The discussions revolve around how to approach people they encounter and engage them in conversations. Just as importantly, the class discussed ways to approach legislators in an attempt to advocate for themselves and educate them on why it is imperative to change the laws and funding regarding homelessness.

According to Michael, “You can have respect for someone, but not like them.”
He added, “Homelessness can hit anyone, doctors, lawyers and engineers. It has no boundaries as to who it wants to target.”

Following the discussions, the class members are given cameras and told to bring them back the following week. During that time the students recorded on film the symbols that reflect their lives or real life places and activities that show they are treated differently because of their situation.
Bowler explained that when the cameras are returned to the class the following week, where they would talk about what they had taken pictures of, “…discussed ways they can advocate (for themselves and other homeless people).”

HomeStart has the hopes of offering this course again in the future and to not only be there as a support for the homeless but as an advocate through the lens of others. “One picture at a time can really help to open the hearts of others that are willing to help with preventing homelessness.”

By Doug Wood-Boyle and Tyler Armstrong

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