How art is helping homeless New Yorkers during ongoing outbreak

Coronavirus
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NEW YORK — The last several months have been fraught with challenging times: the coronavirus outbreak triggered a shutdown of our economy and there have been widespread protests and a national reckoning over racial inequality, police reform and the deaths of minority Americans at the hands of law enforcement.

It’s been a lot for any person to take and homeless New Yorkers are no different.

Mike Durkin is the recreational specialist at Two Bridges Women’s shelter in the Lower East Side, which is part of the Institute for Community Living. The organization is comprised of shelters and shared apartments. It provides rehabilitation services for some of our most vulnerable and at-risk New Yorkers. The shelter has encouraged the women they assist to channel their overwhelming feelings through their art.

“There’s all this uncertainty,” Durkin said. “There’s all this in limbo, so the art was a way to process those emotions.”

Rapper and poet Simone said she’s taken part in recent protests and she’s expressing her thoughts and feelings in her poetry.

“Black Lives Matter has been a big statement in my poetry,” said Simone.

Wallena has been singing her entire life. When it comes to the coronavirus outbreak, she’s using music to make sense of it herself and to help children understand it.

”The major concern I have is with the children,” said Wallena. “I wonder every day how they’re handling this.”

Too often, we see troubling images of people experiencing homelessness. But they are so much more than how they are portrayed.

“The folks that we engage with at the shelter are embroiled in many different endeavors, whether it’s through substance, whether it’s through mental illness,” said Durkin. “During these challenging times, that art has a way to soothe.”

They are finding an outlet where they can .

“Arts been taking me to another level of calmness,” said Simone.

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