A man dressed in an old coat, a bulky sweater, two worn-out hats and a RIPTA sign draped from his neck, presented in front of an auditorium of people in the University of Rhode Island’s Swan Hall to shed some light on what it is like to be homeless in Rhode Island.
Despite his appearance, Jan Armor is not homeless. He is an artist who dedicates much of his time helping the homeless as well as depicting their lives, struggles and successes through his art.
The presentation highlighted some of the stories of the less fortunate families in Rhode Island through photographs and short photomontage videos with voice over of the people telling their stories.
Dr. Agnes G. Doody Doody, for whom Swan Hall’s auditorium was named in 2010, was among those in attendance to see the exhibition.
As Armor was clicking through his photographs, there was a particular photo that stood out. It was a big young man staring back at the audience from the projection screen. His long scruffy and curly hair and dirty jacket made one assume his place in society on the spot. However, it was the giant smile that spread across his face that spoke volumes.
There were stories about families who had lost their homes, stories about people who were just trying to find a place to sleep and eat from day to day, stories about those who committed suicide from homelessness and even stories about individuals who had overcome poverty.
“Getting involved has also completely changed my art,” said Armor. “I started out taking pictures of girls in $7,000 dresses, perfect families in all white and a lot of posed pictures. Now my pictures are mostly candid.”
Joining Jan Armor was his wife, Kathy Armor, who was the primary reason that the couple opened their eyes to the homeless.
“We’re not experts. I had never even given homelessness much thought,” said Kathy Armor. “But a member of my family slipped into homelessness and that is when it hit home for me.”
The Armors began spending time at and working with The Mathewson Street Sunday Morning Friendship Breakfast. Â According to the event’s Facebook page, “the Mathewson Street Sunday Morning Friendship Breakfast is a combination of a meal site and a worship service, encouraging people with resources to befriend people with limited resources, including the homeless.”
“The friendship breakfast feeds the heart and soul as much as the belly; and that’s what the homeless need,” said Kathy Armor.
The presentation focused on not losing sight of the fact that many impoverished people are also good, smart and friendly people and that with a bit of help, can turn things around for themselves.
Jan Armor said that there was one phrase a homeless man said to him that he’ll always remember. According to him, the man said, “I’m homeless. I’m not hopeless.”