On Sunday evening Kootenay resident Lorna Gould stood before those gathered at the Nelson United Church for the release of the calendar project Nelson: Poverty in Modern Times and shared the story of the first time she was forced to panhandle.
“I myself don’t know how many times before this happened to me that I walked into Safeway, saw the panhandler sitting there, and walked right by them. I wouldn’t even think about it,” Gould said, an emotional strain in her voice. “Then one day I found myself there. Let me tell you, the first day you go out panhandling, it’s not pretty.”
But she was given reason for hope: “I was very lucky that the first person who stopped and gave me some money was a woman with a huge heart. She gave me some change, grabbed my hand and said ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this hard time right now’. Nobody had said that to me.”
Gould spent much of her testimony in tears.
“This project was very emotional for me and I want you to see the emotion involved in this. Homeless people are not scum. Everyone needs to know that. We’re just like everyone else; we just don’t have any money. We’re just like everyone else.”
Gould’s photographic contribution to the calendar is an image, taken at 4 a.m., of a woman pushing a shopping cart through the parking lot near Chahko Mika Mall. Along with the other pictures, which include kids in sleeping bags camping out in the grass and a double rainbow arcing across the sky, the calendar captures both the bleak reality and the beauty of the participants’ lives.
Another contributor who shared her life story with those gathered was Bernadette White, who said she’s in the process of moving from “surviving to thriving.”
“Let me state the obvious: whether you’re young or old, poverty sucks,” said White. “If anyone is really interested in the miasma of poverty I highly recommend the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. The information in these pages ignited a life-changing understanding for me.”
She believes many are ignorant of the challenges impoverished people face.
“I don’t think it’s necessary, and it really saddens me,” she said. “There is another level of people who exist below the middle class, and they may lack the financial resources to make a difference but we do have more than two brain cells to rub together.”
White was thrilled and flattered to have her images chosen for the calendar, and she believes the creativity on display in the calendar demonstrates what a unique and multi-faceted community we have here in Nelson.
“I believe there’s a vast, untapped wealth of creativity and resourcefulness that’s awaiting instruction. You can see it on the walls right now.”
She encouraged those present to “judge less, accept more”.
Photographer Chris Keats spoke out against the current state of the country, expressing his anger at being forced to live in “substandard shelter” because “my landlord doesn’t want to put money where it needs to go.”
“Affordable housing isn’t just for people with low income. There are families in this country who can’t put a roof over their heads, who have to move out of big cities and make sacrifices,” he said.
“I would like to see equality here where actual housing is being built instead of condo development everywhere. There’s no reason for rent prices to be what they are here and in the surrounding areas.”
He encouraged everyone present to stand up to the government.
“I find it highly disgusting to live in a country where we live with a form of apartheid and genocide. Being half-aboriginal, I see it through the aboriginal population and now I see it with seniors. I think it’s time to stand up and say: enough is enough.”
Keats also expressed his disgust with Nelson’s proposed panhandling bylaw.
“We can’t criminalize and marginalize people because they’re homeless and poor. Making it illegal to exist is an inhumane thing to do and violates anyone’s right to dignity, which is a universal human right.”
Photographer Shelly Samerson thanked those present for their support, and spoke about her image of Cottonwood Falls Park: “I took two pictures of the falls because I go there when I want my own space and I think it’s a peaceful place. I’m quite proud of myself,” she said.
The evening was made possible by a group of Nelson United Church volunteers who modeled the project after Vancouver’s Hope in Shadows project.
Organizer Morgan Gould said they were amazed with the results.
“They astounded us. These images are just remarkable.”
City councillor Michael Dailly, who with the rest of council will consider third reading on a panhandling bylaw tonight, said the project has moved him.
“I look at these pictures on the wall, and in this calendar, and I think it brings an amazing awareness of the people who are out there on the street. You can’t look at these photos and not get the message: there’s a really beautiful person behind that camera who deserves our help.”
The calendar is now for sale at multiple locations in the Kootenays. All funds from the calendar will go towards supporting the locally impoverished.
The photographers present at Sunday night’s exhibition are proud of their work and their community. Pictured here are (top row) Chris Keats, Kenneth Constable, Lucas Davis, outreach worker Vanessa Alexander and (bottom row) Henry Native Junior, Michael Donaldson, Shelly Samerson, Bernadette White and Lorna Gould.