DrawBridge programs bring homeless kids art supplies & mentors

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Wed, 28 Jul 1999 08:07:34 -0700 (PDT)


DrawBridge (415) 456-1269 http://www.drawbridge.org

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/examiner/hotnews/stories/22/home
less.dtl
FWD   San Francisco Examiner - June 22, 1999

Program brings art to homeless kids

By Anita Wadhwani
of The Examiner Staff

JEFFERY HAINES' speech is slow and slurred, and it is difficult, even for
his family, to always know what's on his mind.

Until you look at the developmentally disabled teen's paintings, that is.
They express in vivid color what Haines can't describe any other way: the
thoughts and emotions of a 17-year-old who has spent most of his life with
his family in homeless shelters.

Haines was 6 when he was handed his first paintbrush in a domestic violence
shelter, through DrawBridge, an 11-year-old program that brings
high-quality art supplies to homeless children living in Bay Area shelters.

"These kids hold so much inside of them," said Gloria Simoneaux, the
organization's founder. "We're there to make sure they feel safe so their
innermost expressions can come out."

Simoneaux, a San Rafael resident, started the program in 1989 in a San
Francisco shelter where her brother, a doctor, cared for homeless children.
"I was intrigued by their faces and their spirit," said Simoneaux.

She got a three-year grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, bought art
supplies and brought them to the children, telling them they could do what
they wanted.

"Many of these kids have no control over anything in their lives," said
Simoneaux. "I wanted to give them uninterrupted time where no one will tell
them what to do or how to do it."

The program now reaches 1,500 children between the ages of 4 and 16 in 24
Bay Area family and transitional housing shelters.

One-quarter of all homeless people are children, according to an annual
survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

"This is the first time some of these kids are encouraged to be kids," said
Ellen Rogers, who has worked with homeless children in the program for over
a year. "We tell them, "Get as dirty as you want, have fun.' You can see
the transformation happening on their faces."

"I feel happy when I draw," said Haines. "I want to be an artist."

So far, according to his mother, he is a prolific one. Haines' paintings
are stacked all over their Santa Rosa home, secured through a government
housing subsidy program, where they have lived since leaving a shelter a
year ago. He paints every day.

Some of the paintings children draw express the tumult of their lives and
the pain, anger and shame of being homeless, said Simoneaux. The emotions
they express often take their parents by surprise.

"Until I went and saw my son's paintings, I had no idea he was so
affected," said Debora Haines, who along with her three children first
became homeless in 1985 when she left an abusive relationship and went to a
shelter for battered women.

One of Jeffery Haines' first paintings is of a blue figure with red streams
of paint shooting out of its head like sun rays. He explained the painting
to his DrawBridge mentor as a mother bleeding after being punched in the
face by a father. Another painting shows hope: Haines leaning outside a
window, making a wish on a star.

His paintings and those of other children in the DrawBridge program can be
seen as part of "Through Our Eyes," an exhibit at International Children's
Art Museum in San Francisco until July 24. The exhibit has toured
nationally.

   For more information about the exhibit or the program, call DrawBridge
at (415) 456-1269. You can also view children's paintings on their Web
site: <http://www.drawbridge.org>.

END FORWARD

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