HOME > BLOG > Community > Café Art’s annual photography competition winner on why people shouldn’t judge the homeless

Charitable organisation Café Art Australia has just announced the worthy winner of their My Sydney 2019 calendar competition. Here winner Sera tells us how the competition has inspired her vision for the future.

There are currently 116,000 people who are homeless in Australia according to latest ABS figures – a 14 per cent increase in the last five years. This includes people who are currently staying with friends, living in refuges or sleeping rough. Worryingly, in the last few years, there’s also been an increase in the number of women aged over 65 who are homeless.

A participant turns a profile picture into an interesting artistic portrait shot for the calendar.

Whilst there are initiatives around to help the homeless try to transition into their own accommodation, the issue is a complex one. One of the issues that Michael Allwright felt was being bypassed was the topic of self-esteem.

"Homelessness is not purely about getting people into a house quickly as possible because it’s not as simple as that," says the Australian founder of Café Art. "People often need time to get their head together, re-discover who they re, build up self-esteem and to connect with the community again in order to move forward in a productive way. We wanted to ignite some passion back into people’s lives and that’s how Café Art originated."

Café Art is a world-wide initiave that has been running in Australia for the last few years and is proudly sponsored by State Custodians. Every year 100 Sydney homeless people are given disposable cameras and asked to take inspiring photos reflecting life around them. This year’s pictures were featured in a competition exhibit and the top 13 were selected for the new Café Art Australia 2019 My Sydney calendar. Funds raised from calendar sales later in the year will go towards supporting the homeless and furthering the competition.

"This year’s quality of photographs has been really outstanding," says Michael. "The winning picture was particularly powerful and poignant. Many of the participants have really enjoyed the process and welcomed being a part of the community again, interacting at our events. We hope their participation has been a bright spot in their lives."

Many competition participants took pics of their pets such as this one in the calendar. The companionship of pets is often a bright spot in their lives.

Meet Sera

  • The winning shot for this year’s competition (see topmost photograph) was taken by Sera, a 50-year-old former vehicle builder who has been homeless for four years. Sera tells us more about the competition, her life and her background.

  • Congratulations Sera for your winning cover shot. Can you tell us a little more about your upbringing?

    • I was actually born in London and moved to Australia as a child with my family growing up in Sydney’s western suburbs. I was the eldest of six kids and my father owned a number of well-known pubs around Sydney.

  • How did you come to be in your current living situation?

    • So, I’ve been living in a women’s refuge in Sydney for the past few months. I’ve been homeless since 2014. Basically, I had a stroke of really bad luck. I was previously living on a large property that I own based out of the city. I worked for myself for 15 years as a vehicle builder and my business was based on my property. However back in 2013 I went through a really awful domestic violence situation. It’s a long story, but after that I was too fearful to stay at my property and couldn’t conduct my business there any longer. Given that I’ve also suffered through childhood traumas I found the stress of the situation too much. I fled to the city and have been couch surfing, staying in refuges and even the park on occasion. I’m in touch with lots of agencies and have been trying to figure out how to put my life back together and what my next move should be ever since. It’s been incredibly difficult.

  • What’s it like living at a women’s refuge?

    • It’s very challenging. At one point I went to boarding school as a child and have lived in many shared houses, so I’m used to living with people. However, my current living situation is tough. It’s frustrating having to negotiate with so many different personalities. Since I’ve been homeless my wallet’s been stolen eight times and I have to be wary of people trying to take advantage of me.

  • How did you become involved in the competition and were you surprised when you were named the winner?

    • I went to a talk about it at Sydney’s Town Hall. I hadn’t heard about it before, but decided it sounded like fun. I set myself the task of taking all the photos in one day and enjoyed the challenge and creativity. I was really surprised and delighted to win. All up I took home $300 which was much appreciated.

  • Tell us about your winning cover shot?

    • It’s a shot of George Street, usually one of Sydney’s busiest city streets which is currently being redeveloped – it’s like a wasteland now. I like water, reflections and refractions, and there was a big puddle there which looked interesting, so I called it Refractions off George Street. I had to push myself to take the photo, as there were some pedestrians around so I had to hover for a while and push through my anxiety. In the end I got the shot because I wanted to capture a desolate, empty space.

  • The competition aims to give homeless people a greater sense of purpose and empowerment – why do you think that’s important?

    • Well, everyone wants to be a part of something. You need to figure out where you fit into society so something like this is a great initiative and reminds you where your interests lie. I originally started a Diploma in Fine Arts, and I now want to really figure out how I can pursue that again. I’d like to transition eventually into another job doing something creative like jewelry making. But who knows, perhaps I’ll take up photography.

  • What do you want people to understand about homelessness?

    • That it can happen to anyone so therefore don’t judge. Never in my life did I think I’d be eating at soup kitchens and living at a refuge.

  • Where do you see yourself going from here – are you feeling positive about the future?

    • Oh yes. I do feel positive that my life will eventually turn around – I’m an eternal optimist. It’s been strange having to start my life all over again at the age of 50. However, I now finally feel like I’m getting somewhere. I just have to look at things differently and say to myself – I once had everything, but this is just a process of discovery of who I am.