Using Photography to Give Underprivileged People a Voice

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By Doug Wood-Boyle, HomeStart

“Photo Voice: Combating Prejudice and Discrimination” is an exciting project that is being offered to HomeStart clients by volunteer worker Louise Bowler as a way to help them be empowered to start conversations with other people and advocate for themselves with legislators.

“The class looks at ways they have experienced prejudice because of their homelessness and in general how other people look at those that are homeless,” Bowler said.

Bowler has already taught one course, which resulted in some amazing pictures that were presented at the recent HomeStart 20th Anniversary Gala. She is now preparing to initiate a second class that is scheduled to start on November 10 and will be open to clients taking part in HomeStart’s Stabilization or Housing First programs.

The course runs for 10 weeks, with a presentation of the final pictures on the 11th week. It meets for one hour every 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.

Following the discussions the class members are given cameras and told to bring them back the following week. During that time the students record 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 the class “…discusses ways they can advocate (for themselves and other homeless people).

The discussions revolve around how to approach people they encounter and engage them in conversations. Just as importantly, the class discusses 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.

In follow-up classes the students take the developed photographs and write narrative captions explaining why the pictures are significant.

“For me,” Bowler said, “the exciting part is at the reception when people look at the pictures and see what has been written and then listen to the conversations that have been started.”

Bowler is a former mental health therapist who had to leave her job due to an illness. As a part of her recovery, she worked as a front desk volunteer for HomeStart for 6 1/2 years.

She learned of the Photo Voice project from a counsellor who advised her to try it. The course she took was based on mental health awareness, but Bowler was able to adapt it to themes around homelessness.

According to Bowler, any HomeStart client wishing to take the course, starting November 10, should contact their advocate. Students are not required to be in attendance every week, but, Bowler advises that each week builds off of the previous week, thus missing one will make it difficult to catch up with the course work.

Funding for course expenses comes from a grant and not from HomeStart funds.

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