Signs for the Homeless

An exchange project for homeless people
by artist Kenji Nakayama & Christopher Hope

The mission of signs for the homeless is to raise awareness and help for the homeless through exchanging hand painted signs, and sharing the narratives of the homeless around the World.

July 2014, Cambridge, MA

Name: Edwin
1. Where are you originally from?

I was born in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico. My mother moved to Boston area in 1975, when I was 13 years old.

2. How old are you?
    I am 51 years old.

3. What was growing up like?

My Mom raised me and my siblings off of a house on Memorial Drive in Cambridge. My parents separated when I was really young because of alcoholism.

We lived a good life. I have four brothers and one sister (who passed in 1989). 

It could be tough growing up in Cambridge/Boston in the ‘70’s because of prejudice. My siblings and I had to fight just to go to and from school everyday. Being latino could get you killed, no what I’m saying? The harassment from whites didn’t stop, even when we started to go to high school. I was scared about what could happen to me. 

4Why are you homeless?

It was a emptiness. Like,” you are not worth anything” kind of emptiness. I always got the impression that I was nothing. It is no one’s fault but my own.

Alcohol was my ultimate downfall. When I was a kid, I used to get alcohol for my grandmother, running errands (she was an alcoholic). I was never told that it wasn’t right for me to drink. So I’ve been struggling with alcoholism most of my life. It runs in my family.

There have been times when I’ve been sober. I stayed sober for four years going to A.A. meetings in Boston. I even worked in landscapping then. But I had a bad back injury and went right back to alcohol.

The only thing that could help me now is going to a farm away from civilization for a few months to sober up.

Also, there was no father figure around so that got me into the street life. The street life is no joke either. You either hustle to survive, or die.

5.How long have you been homeless for?

Since I was 17. Mostly in Cambridge.

6. Any words for people reading your story?

The homeless are human beings too. Just like you. That is why I like the message of my sign, “Seeking Human Kindness.” We are already human. We all need love and support from each other to grow in a healthy way. Also, think about the consequences of your actions. I am still paying for things I did when I was kid. I wish I had someone older telling me the reality of the costs for living in the streets.

7. Do you have any dreams? 

I would like to have my own house one day! That is my dream. 

-C. Hope

It was confirmed that one of our interviewees, Colleen, has passed away from  the cold elements and a drug overdose at the tender age of 20 yrs. old this past Fall.

Colleen was a nice but broken young woman who had a desire to overcome her struggles. I personally remember her stopping in the middle of our interview and requesting prayer and Christ in Harvard Square. 

 We extend deepest sympathies to her family and loved ones. RIP Colleen

-C Hope

*The portrait of Colleen is courtesy of I Paint What I see

*homelesssignstumblr@gmail.com

On Sunday, Feb. 2nd 2014 one of our interviewees, Dana Robinson, was killed on Putnam Ave, Cambridge in the early morning. Although the details around his death are currently unclear, we want to send our deepest, warmest condolences to the family members, loved ones, and people his death has impacted.
Exactly one year ago, we met and interviewed Dana Robinson for this website. At the time, he was homeless and acting as the nursing assistant for his elderly mother. He often lovingly talked about his mother and his 19 year old son. He agreed to be a part of this project because he believed in its objective to bring greater awareness around the plight of homelessness in society. Having later been interviewed in stories related to this project on NPR (National Public Radio) and in the Cambridge Chronicle, he detailed his struggles to the public for the betterment of his fellow men and women. We honor his efforts on raising awareness on homelessness. REST IN POWER Dana Robinson.
- C Hope
*homelesssignstumblr@gmail.com

On Sunday, Feb. 2nd 2014 one of our interviewees, Dana Robinson, was killed on Putnam Ave, Cambridge in the early morning. Although the details around his death are currently unclear, we want to send our deepest, warmest condolences to the family members, loved ones, and people his death has impacted.

Exactly one year ago, we met and interviewed Dana Robinson for this website. At the time, he was homeless and acting as the nursing assistant for his elderly mother. He often lovingly talked about his mother and his 19 year old son. He agreed to be a part of this project because he believed in its objective to bring greater awareness around the plight of homelessness in society. Having later been interviewed in stories related to this project on NPR (National Public Radio) and in the Cambridge Chronicle, he detailed his struggles to the public for the betterment of his fellow men and women. We honor his efforts on raising awareness on homelessness. REST IN POWER Dana Robinson.

- C Hope

*homelesssignstumblr@gmail.com

Feb. 2014, Central Sq., Cambridge, MA

Name: Keith
1. Where are you originally from?

I was born and raised in Roxbury, MA. I grew up in Lenox Projects but then my family moved to Grove Hall when I was 13.

2. How old are you?
    I am 57 years old.

3. What was growing up like?

  I grew up in Roxbury and it was tough. I have one brother and a set of twin sisters. One of our sisters died pretty early on in my childhood. I am the oldest sibling now of 4. My father would do odd jobs, while my mother was a stay at home mom. My mom was pretty God-fearing but my pops was not so much. When I was a teenager, my siblings and I had to deal with a lot of violence and racism going to and from school everyday, so we are all very close. We run a tight ship to protect each other. We used to get jumped by different Irish gangs and harassed by the local street element growing up.

4. Why are you homeless?
Long story short, it has been my struggle with drugs and alcohol for the past 5 years. I was a cook for over 10 years and was really good at it. Unfortunately, what people don’t talk about often is that there is a lot of alcoholism and drug abuse in the restaurant and food industry. A lot of chefs and cooks are on that stuff man. My habit started with alcohol but then I was introduced to heroin, and after that it has been a downward spiral ever since.

5. How long have you been homeless for?

Five years. I usually stay around between North Quincy and Cambridge. I just recently got some kind of transitional housing in North Quincy so I’m happy about that.

6. How do you get through the cold winters?

I try not to leave any warm place unless I have to.


7. What is your biggest struggle being homeless?

Again, drugs and alcohol. I can’t stress to you enough how bad that shit is man. It has ruined my life, and that stuff ruins the lives of most of my friends out here. We really need HELP because we are fighting to live in these streets everyday. If people get anything from this interview, I want them to know to stay away from drugs. Run for dear life in the opposite direction! Do whatever you got to do to live.

8. Do you have any interest in working again? Job skills?

I have worked in restaurants, so I cook pretty well. I would be open in taking on a part time gig at a local restaurant if given the chance and opportunity.

*homelesssignstumblr@gmail.com

-C Hope

We have begun to accept submissions. If you have any we’d love to see them, please email at homelesssignstumblr@gmail.com     - Chris H.

(*Person has requested to not use his face online)

November 2013, Park Street, Boston, MA

1. What is your Name?

 Paul

2. Where are you originally from?

I was born and raised in Dorchester, MA.

3. How old are you?
    I am 43 years old.

4. What was growing up like?

  I grew up in Dorchester, in a middle class household. My father owned a business and my mother was a stay-at-home wife. I have one brother and two sisters, and I am the oldest. It was not that bad. Back then, it was easier to hold a steady job, and you didn’t need both parents working. But not now! You just don’t see that anymore. My father provided for all of us, and we never had a want. Since I was the oldest, I was always looking after my siblings, making sure that they were in line.

5. Why are you homeless?
I was a van driver for 20 years! I lost my job with a private transportation company after working for them for years. The lay off was a plot. They had laid off co workers over a matter of months and I had noticed it. Then they came for me. I overslept one morning and the company fired me on the spot. This was my first written offense. No warning, no conversation about it. Just a “See Ya Later!”. This was four years ago. I am disabled and suffer PTSD from my military service, so it was really hard to find another job. I had a steady and seemingly dependable thing going, and the lay off blind sighted me. It wasn’t long after that I lost my residency, and pretty much everything else. My kids stay with their mother now. Which is tough because I love them so much.


6. How long have you been homeless for?

Three years. I usually stay around the Park St. area in Boston.

7. How do you get through the cold winters?

I usually deal with the cold weather by going to the Pilgrim Church shelter. They’re pretty good. Either that, or I try to stay inside the train station where buses are pulling in and out. It is dangerous, but it is better than freezing to death.


8. What is your biggest struggle being homeless?

I am tired of people looking down on me. The reality is that most people are really only a paycheck away from being homeless. I want people to show more kindness to others. When I get negativity from people, I just let it go. You haven’t been through what I’ve been through, so please don’t judge me!

9. Do you have any interest in working again? Job skills?

I have worked in restaurants, so I do food services pretty well. I obviously have driving skills. I would be very interested in driving again. However, I would need help renewing my driver’s license.

- C Hope

*homelesssignstumblr@gmail.com

howdoyoulikethemeggrolls asked: Great shots. Any word on if and how much the signs have increased the money they get?Thanks

The first phase of this project has never been about “increasing the money” they get from the new signs. We pay them for their original signs, and I help many of them try to find housing and work in the Boston area. But in fact, many of the homeless individual’s original signs in our project are not soliciting for money. The signs become an extension of each individual’s self-expression (since they contribute to the design and we use their original text), and act as an invitation to conversation. We as a society cannot solve homelessness without first humanizing the homeless. This means recognizing they are a historically excluded group that suffers great prejudice, in addition to knowing that the experience of homelessness is dehumanizing itself.

We ask for compassion, as people learn more about the reasons why people are actually homeless. Now, there is a strong possibility that the next phase of this project may explore more direct solution-oriented programming. So please stay tuned!

-C Hope

June 2013, Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA (“The Pit”)

Name: Bobbi

Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in Cambridge, MA. 

How old are you?
  52 years old.

How long have you been homeless?

Since 2011.

How did you become homeless?

I was in a relationship where my partner was the primary bread winner, and I was a stay-at-home common law spouse. He was very abusive. After a while, the abuse got worse and worse until I finally left him. Domestic abuse is how I got here. Living outside, I found that a lot of women and teens are homeless in the Boston area because they were abused by men.

Now, I usually panhandle in Harvard Square. I’m also very passionate about Occupy Boston and the work that they do.

What is your biggest struggle being homeless?

Finding safety and shelter. I sleep outside because the shelters are nothing but stomping grounds for predators and theives. I get attacked in the shelter. My things get stolen in the shelters in Boston. So I’ve decided to stay outside.
- C Hope

( Editor’s Note: Thank you for your continued support of this art project. Please continue to spread the word! As the project grows, more artists AND subjects are actively requesting to be a part of it. For the design of Mike’s sign, we give thanks to this month’s featured guest artist, Carl Frisso from Norway! Please check out more of his work at http://www.behance.net/frisso)

April 2013, Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA

Name: Mike a.k.a. “The Pope of Harvard Square”

Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in Boston, MA. 

How old are you?
  57 years old.

What was it like growing up?

I’m adopted Ok. I was adopted through the Catholic Charities at 4 months old to the best family in the world. My father owned funeral homes and construction sites. My mother was a stay-at-home wife. I also had a sister who was adopted. My family are all dead now.

How long have you been homeless?

Since 2009.

How did you become homeless?

I always did relatively well in life. I was a construction work supervisor. In 2008 I had a mild stroke, and months later was laid off during the economic crash. I have a lot of medical bills, and because I haven’t fully recovered from my stroke, I can’t go back into the construction business again. My health is about 65% back to where it was, and I’m grateful for that. But my poor health hinders me from going back into my trade.

How do you get through the cold winters?

It is very tough. Very tough. The problem is when you wake up with 6 inches of snow on you. There is never enough space in the shelters, and you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from. Fortunately, some businesses in Cambridge allow you to sleep in the door ways of some of the stores for shelter.

What is your biggest struggle being homeless?

Maintaining interpersonal relationships. Everybody in the streets are always coming and going. You have friends that are here today but are gone tomorrow. 

I want to thank you guys for your donation of twenty dollars. It will really help me get through this week.

- C Hope

April 2013, Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA   *REST IN PEACE

Name: Colleen

Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised between Boston and Cambridge.

 How old are you?
  20 years old.

What was it like growing up?
My childhood was good. My family did provide the basics. I do remember being a kid and imagining more for my life. I did not aspire for this. No one wants to be homeless. I hope that people read this and understand… no one sets out to be on the street. Its just that life happens, and it can happen to anyone. Growing up I was told not to judge anyone, so I hope people don’t judge me.

How long have you been homeless?

I have been homeless for three years.

How did you become homeless?

I ran away from home. I don’t feel good talking about why I ran away. Speaking about it is very difficult for me.  Unfortunately, when you’re living on the street you get exposed to different things and so I started taking drugs. It is something that I constantly battle with everyday.
A few months ago, I woke up in the hospital, and my boyfriend and the doctors were looking down at me as I lay in the hospital bed. They told me that I had a drug overdose. My boyfriend is the only support that I have out here, and he also struggles with addiction. I love him a lot. But it is difficult to try and help him with his problems when I can’t even help myself. I am hoping for a miracle so that we both can get “clean” soon and get off the streets.
What is your biggest struggle being homeless?

I would say it is the bridges that I’ve burned with my family and friends. My addiction has created so many problems between me and my family. I don’t even know where to start to make amends. Every time that I think I’ve got this thing beat, I let them down. It hurts because I miss my family but I understand why they stay away.

-C Hope

April 2013, Davis Square, Somerville, MA

Name: Jimmy Sunshine

Where are you originally from?
I was born in Massachusetts but raised in Delaware & parts of Pennsylvania. My family returned to Massachusetts almost 20 years ago where we lived in Malden, MA.

 How old are you?
  31 years old.

What was it like growing up?

My Dad was a salesman and my mother was a housewife. I have one younger sister. I had pretty hippy parents, which may be one of the reasons why I am homeless now. My parents had some radical ideas about life. When we owned a farm, my parents would take in homeless men and empower them by having them work for room and board. They would stay in our barn after doing chores like mowing the lawn, or other landscape work.

I remember on one occasion when we had at least six guys living in our barn. All of them eventually got back on their feet! These experiences at a young age were my first with the homeless. They later helped shaped my ideas of homelessness as an adult.

How long have you been homeless?

I have been homeless for four years.

How did you become homeless?

I used to have my own place in Malden , and worked by driving a forklift at a warehouse for meager wages. I just got sick of shelling out money and yet, I’d still be starving. I was working for very low wages, and eventually I thought to myself, “Instead of starving inside my apartment, why not eat like a King outside?”. I decided to start living on the street since March 2009 and have not looked back ever since.

How do you get through the cold winters?

I use one or two sleeping bags. Also, I try to find cover anywhere. My favorite location to sleep is under church doorways, because they tend to be safe. No one messes with you when you sleep under church doorways. They are a safe haven for me.

What is your biggest struggle being homeless?

I would say it is harassment from the police. The police consider me an “eye sore” in the community, so they give me a very hard time. In actuality, I probably do just as much good for the community as they do.  I know who the drug addicts, the rapists, the dealers, and the convicts are. I pray for them all in the streets, and I try to live by example as a Christian. I know several people out here whom I have helped change their lives for the better. God is awesome like that!

-C Hope