Arts and Music Programmes for the Homeless in the U.S.

Arts and performance programmes can provide many benefits to the homeless community, including having opportunities for expression, generating income, improving emotional well-being, and building relationships. Some art programmes provide homeless individuals with the opportunity to create work, display it, and even sell it.

The Boulder Carriage House Community Table in Colorado, has an established weekly art programme for homeless women that involves two to three hours of instructed or free-form drawing, painting, and bonding in this daytime shelter and soup kitchen. Further, attendees can sell the art they produce through this programme as a way of generating an income (Urie, 2010). Similarly, the Open Art Programme run by Stewpot, a resource facility for the homeless in Dallas, Texas, supplies a variety of arts and crafts items for daily use by the street community and hosts art shows that allow homeless individuals to display their pictures and sell them and keep 90% of the income generated. (Light, 2014).

While providing homeless community members with arts supplies and places to sell their work is one successful approach, Spencer Powers and Liz Powers created a unique, web-based approach with similar goals in Boston, Massachusetts. sells the work of homeless and impoverished artists that craft their works as a part of Common Art, an outreach art therapy programme in Boston. Artists are able to choose their own prices for their works, and online prices currently range between fifty and hundreds of dollars (Crimaldi, 2013).

Art programmes for homeless people can also have an emotional or psychological impact. Executive Director of the Carriage House, Joy Eckstine, describes the Boulder programme as, “an outlet for people. When people are feeling down about themselves, I think it can help them start rebuilding some of their confidence” (Urie, 2010). One of the participants in the Boulder programme, Terri, calls the programme “healing for people” and finds “comfort and release” in it. The art programme acts as an escape for the street women and allows them to relax and release their creative expression with one another (Urie, 2010). Similarly, one participant in the Open Art Programme, Charles, noted, “[the programme] has brought me to understand myself and people better. It’s helped me focus. That’s always been my main problem.” The Director of Development at the Stewpot, Lee Hutchins, claims that the programme “brings a sense of stability and sense of self-worth” to participants (Light, 2014).

In addition to arts and crafts programmes, music can have a profound effect in uplifting the homeless community. Kari K. Veblen and colleagues (2012) discuss several music outreach programmes in their book Community Music Today. Concerts are one effective way to uplift and positively impact the homeless. The Music Kitchen in New York, which has a mission to “share the inspirational, therapeutic, and uplifting power of music with New York City’s disenfranchised homeless shelter population,” brings in talented musicians and hosts concerts for audiences comprised of mostly street people (Veblen et al., 2012). One member of the street community stated, “[the concert] made an impact on me greatly,” and another said, “[I felt] temporary relief…as [the homeless] endure some extremely difficult times.” The authors also highlighted occasions in which members of the homeless community directly participated in such concerts and discussed the satisfaction and excitement street participants felt after playing, even if they did not know what song they played (Veblen et al., 2012).

Music outreach programmes can also build community through an improvisational style. The 30th Street Men’s Shelter at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital has implemented music and dance therapy for men battling mental illness. The men dance and play a variety of instruments ranging from African drums to the marimba in a setting of improvisation, allowing freedom of creativity and expression. Veblen and colleagues (2012) argue that this style of therapy removes social barriers and places each individual on the same social level. The authors claim that music improvisation has had a positive impact on those who have participated, resulting in a greater sense of community and feeling of joy (Veblen et al., 2012).