An exhibition of art by the homeless is being organised to counter negative attitudes to rough sleepers and to help them regain a voice and dignity. University of Brighton psychologist Bruno De Oliveira said the homeless should be treated like anyone else, people with aspirations and feelings, and not people who should be shunned and marginalised. The exhibition, he said, will go some way towards this end by demonstrating their skills and talents.
With more homeless on the streets of Brighton and Hove than in past years, Oliveria said, the need for change was greater than ever. The way society treats rough sleepers at present is a “form of violence”.
Bruno continued: “We in the UK enjoy the fifth highest Gross Domestic Product in the world yet we have people left on the streets to rot.
The homeless are more likely to die young – their average lifespan is 47, some 30 years less than for others. And one London council recently threatened to fine the homeless up to £1,000 – this is an example of how society fears and blames the homeless when what we really need are ways to bring them and society closer together, to bring the two into dialogue with each other.”
He is working with the homeless, his “experts in the field and co-researchers”, and between them they have come up with the idea of an art exhibition for next year’s Brighton Fringe. He’s currently trying to raise £1,000 to provide rough sleepers with paints and canvasses.
They will work at Brighton and Hove Emmaus, the homelessness charity in Portslade, and University of Brighton art students have volunteered to help them. Some students have already been passing on their skills to the homeless at Emmaus workshops.
Third year student Lilly White explained what was important to her about engaging with the homeless: “Having the respect for each other as humans on this earth, disregarding labels, stereotypes, social class, ethnicity, age, gender… the experience made it essential that working with people, communicating as humans, not as homeless, lesbian, single, married, working class, student, adult, child, black, Asian, White etc is key.”
Bruno said: “The idea is not just to have a better understanding of homelessness but to bring social change and emancipation with the people I am working with.”
The artwork will show visitors the wealth of talent that exists among the homeless. “It will open dialogue with the community – they can engage on the same level and this empowers the homeless and gives them a voice.”
Carl Walker, Principal Lecturer in the School of Applied Social Science: “Bruno’s work with Emmaus is an exemplar of the way that co-produced work between community organisations and university students can highlight and address key issues for marginalised groups in and around our city. Bruno was central in instigating and helping to coordinate a project which has been widely praised by a range of stakeholders and laid the foundations for a fruitful partnership between the university and key stakeholders seeking to work with homeless people in Brighton.”
Bruno left his native Brazil to study psychology at the University of Brighton. He gained a Masters with merit in Community Psychology and is now exploring homelessness art-based research for his PhD. He will be talking about his work with the homeless and offering advice to would-be psychology and sociology students at an open day on 11 July at the university’s Falmer campus.