“Imagine I Don’t Exist,” is made with old corrugated steel, blue plastic tarp, and a photo my old friend Tom Simon took in 1980. It sold as a gift for someone who had lived “invisibly” and would recognize the piece as an effort to see and testify to his experience.
Tom and I edited a college newspaper together in 1980. He did a story on “transits,” the term of art at the time for people in transit between places or stages of life. Paul Gareau was 58, living with a variety of mental health and substance challenges, working in the wood yard and bedding down at night at the Open Hearth Mission in Hartford Connecticut. He agreed to be interviewed and photographed by Tom, and Tom gave me permission to use that image.
Growing up, I remember being advised when visiting NYC from the ‘burbs of CT, “don’t look at the homeless people on the streets.” Apparently the tender sensibilities of that era equated homelessness with visually obvious medical conditions or other evidence of individual uniqueness it was considered impolite to comment on – or even to see. Even now, we often look away from the results of systemic economic imbalance and imagine there isn’t a problem because we “don’t see it.” Racism? “I don’t see color.” etc.
But pesky facts keep tripping us up. Today’s homelessness is more visible than in 1980, and typically younger, less white, and more family-scale. Root causes have evolved and worsened, but being “invisible” behind a curtain of denial persists. And in case you haven’t gotten the memo, racism also still exists… if you don’t see it, you’re not paying attention.
Fortunately, organizations like Community Outreach, Inc. are working for change, and imagining a time when the problem no longer exists at the scale we all suffer with today.
I am so pleased all three of my donations quickly benefitted COI by finding homes.