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The Use of Arts to Express the Struggles Experienced Amongst the Unhoused

Edited by: Diane Lee

A unique avenue of expression thrives among the relentless hustle of city life where individuals facing homelessness apply the arts to express the silent challenges they experience. Through the transformative power of the arts, homeless people can turn the canvas of adversity into a stage where their voices resonate with resilience and dignity, showcasing the unwavering humanity that persists amid the hardships on the streets. Thus, the arts not only serve as an avenue for expression but also a bridge that invites society to comprehend and empathize with individuals navigating the complexities of homelessness, particularly those affected by mental illness, substance use, and trauma (Schwaiger & Williamson, 2021).

A variety of artistic expressions span across different forms, each offering a unique channel for homeless individuals to articulate the depths of their narratives, given the personal challenge of conveying such reflective experiences through words alone (Schwaiger & Williamson, 2021). Art-based community programs are believed to foster resilience, aid in mental health recovery, enhance social connections, and contribute to overall wellness. This perspective aligns with the notion that engaging in art activities produces notable outcomes in connecting personal and interpersonal realms, creatively revealing one’s inner world to others in a manner that offers an initially safer approach to building relationships (Schwaiger & Williamson, 2021). 

The intricate challenges faced by individuals experiencing homelessness can frequently hinder their involvement with health professionals; however, art activities have demonstrated efficacy in overcoming these obstacles ((Schwaiger & Williamson, 2021). Engaging in artistic creation not only serves as a form of self-care and a health-promoting practice but also a means to cope with stress and homelessness, recover from trauma, establish ‘safe spaces,’ explore oneself, and cultivate positive self-esteem and hopefulness for the future (Schwan et al., 2018). This multifaceted approach to artistic expression is evident in dance, which has the potential to alleviate stress and enhance positive emotions, providing an alternative social discourse that fosters non-verbal communication and shared experiences transcending traditional forms of dialogue (Fortin, 2022).  

For individuals grappling with homelessness, the journey to self-discovery (insight) and establishing meaningful connections (therapeutic alliance) contribute significantly to mental well-being. In this regard, the art of storytelling emerges as a versatile tool encompassing creative expressions like descriptions, freewriting, poetry, spoken word, and more. Beyond providing shelter, acknowledging the social and functional dimensions is crucial for the comprehensive recovery of homeless individuals facing mental health challenges. Storytelling, as an impactful process, empowers people to articulate their radiant identities and navigate suppressed emotions held within (Zhang & Kteily-Hawa, 2018). 

Therefore, in the journey of self-discovery and building connections, the arts emerge as a source of strength for those facing homelessness, offering a path to healing and fostering understanding. 


Fortin, S. (2022). Dancing after homelessness. Research in Dance Education, 23(1), 5-20. https://doi-org/10.1080/14647893.2021.1980529 

Schwaiger, T., & Williamson, E. (2021). The art of mentalizing: A mentalization-based art initiative with homeless people within a psychologically informed environment. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 74, 101795-. https://doi-org/10.1016/j.aip.2021.101795 

Schwan, K. J., Fallon, B., & Milne, B. (2018). “The one thing that actually helps”: Art creations as a self-care and health-promoting practice amongst youth experiencing homelessness. Children and Youth Services Review, 93, 355-364. https://doi-org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2018.08.0002

Zhang, P., & Kteily-Hawa, R. (2018). Poetry, Prose, and Personhood: The Art of Storytelling with the Homeless. Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education, 30(2), 69-. 

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