HOME > BLOG > Community > How the issue of homelessness is being tackled one photograph at a time

An inspiring new 2018 calendar featuring moving photographs taken by Aussie homeless people has just launched in time for festive season.

Whenever we think of ways to help homeless people, the urge is usually to assist them with things like food, housing and clothing. We don’t tend of think of homeless people pursuing hobbies, and how perhaps a creative outlet could greatly enrich the quality of their lives. However, one innovative organisation has embraced this notion with great success.

In a unique initiative 100 Sydney homeless people were given disposable cameras earlier this year and asked to take inspiring photos. The pictures were featured in a competition exhibit and the top 13 were selected for the new Café Art Australia 2018 My Sydney Calendar.

Proceeds raised will fund the next phases of the competition which also plans to expand to Melbourne and the Northern Territory, and will provide schemes such as a photography mentorships for the homeless.

“The quality of photos this year was amazing, our judges who are professional photographers themselves, were simply blown away by how powerful all the images were,” says Michael Allwright , founder of Café Art Australia, of which State Custodians is a proud sponsor.

We are truly heartened by the results of this project. Many of the participants have gained so much more than they signed up for, including a sense of meaning, connection to the community, and a renewed purpose to find some kind of way into secure housing.

Michael Allwright, Founder of Café Art Australia
Cafe Art Calandar

November: "Bush Camp" by Shane Ross

Meet Shane Ross

This year’s best photograph which features on the calendar cover, was taken by 50-year-old former lawyer Shane of his beloved dog Jack. Here he tells us more about his life and the competition.

Congratulations on winning the competition. Can you tell us more about your living situation and how that came to be?

  • Thanks, so I currently live on an old boat I own, which I motor around, so I’m of no fixed address. Basically, five years ago I was working in Newcastle living in a terraced house when I suffered a bad nervous breakdown. I was under a lot of stress and had neighbours stalking me. There was all sorts of weird stuff going on like one creepy woman who walked past my door every half hour to check up on what I was doing. One day I snapped and couldn’t work anymore. Soon I was forced to leave the house. With no job, and underlying mental health issues, I decided the only solution was to live full-time on my boat, so technically I’ve been homeless since then and have not worked again.

How did you hear about the competition?

  • I went to a community organised dinner for homeless people and Mike was handing out disposable cameras, so I thought why not. I used to like taking photos in my previous life, it was one of the things I loved doing before my breakdown, so it’s been really nice to get into photography again for something to do.

Tell us about your photographs in the calendar.

  • So the cover shot is of my dog Jack, who’s been my loyal companion for seven years. A lot of homeless people are close to their animals. I’ve also got another photo of an old bush camp in Brooklyn, north of Sydney, where homeless people have camped out. I’ve camped out many times myself.

One of the aims of the competition is to empower homeless people by them fostering a greater connection to the community. Why is that important?

  • It’s very easy to lose that community connection once you become homeless. In my situation I’m very socially isolated. The competition has been really great for me because I’ve been able to meet a lot of people through it and feel like I’m a part of society again.

What do you want people to know about homelessness?

  • That it’s a very complex issue. The stereotype of a homeless person is someone lying on the footpath begging for money. However, there’s all different levels. You could be living in a car, on a boat like me, or couch surfing from one friend’s house to the next. People tend to think that if you give homeless people some kind of housing then all their problems will be solved. However, they could end up in a social housing flat in a terrible neighbourhood which may only compound their personal issues even more. Everyone’s story is different and needs to be looked at on a case by case basis.

How do you think the community can help homeless people more?

  • I think initiatives like this are a great start. For homeless people to feel like they’re part of society again is just so powerful. And it’s great for them to be able to share their personal stories through the photos. There also just needs to be greater understanding of the wider issues we face in general. Homelessness can really strike at any time - you can have a sudden breakdown one day like me and suddenly find yourself in another world. Really if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.