The New Face of Homelessness

Meet Agnes – A Woman Like Many Seeking Shelter At Samaritan House

The Search

In the fall of 2017 we began developing material to support the More Room for Hope Campaign set to launch publicly in February 2018.  More Room for Hope is a campaign to raise 2 million dollars to expand Samaritan House. The expansion to meet the dire need for emergency shelter for women in Nanaimo.

The most alarming change we noticed recently was the dramatic increase in the number of women over the age of 50 who are seeking emergency shelter, often for the first time in their lives. At Samaritan House more than half of the women who arrive at our door with nowhere else to go, are 50 years old or older, often with health and mobility challenges.

We needed a face that would accurately represent these women. We searched our own photos, photos from stock photo sites, and photos I had saved from searching Flickr’s creative commons database. Our team kept coming back to one photo over and over. There was something about it that moved past stereotypes of people who are homeless and conveyed the person herself. It was the photo of Agnes, a real woman who was experiencing homelessness.

The Moment

Photographer Sheree Zielke took a photo in 2010 of a woman she chatted with on the streets of London. The woman’s name was Agnes and Sheree wrote a lovely tribute to Agnes on her Flickr post that caught my attention sometime in 2015. Sheree writes about coming upon Agnes behind a church, surrounded by pigeons. The woman who was feeding the pigeons immediately reminder her of the Mary Poppins song, “Feed the Birds.” Sheree used to sing that song to her grandchildren to put them to sleep at night. She approached the woman and discovered her name was Agnes. She was a warm and engaging person who believed that, “because we are animals, we are better suited to the cold.” She told Sheree that she believes all God’s animals must be fed and cared for, and this seems often to be the case with people who find themselves in Agnes’ situation.

When we are without a home, we empathize more with the creatures of the air and field who seem to rely more than most, on the providence of God. I think of Jesus and Francis of Assisi who both expressed the feelings associated with homelessness while contemplating foxes and birds.

The Dignity

Sheree described Agnes as, “a woman of great stories and even greater dignity.” That is an important recognition when considering the best way to help someone in need. At ICCS we want to respect people’s innate dignity, and treat each person with the respect they deserve. All of us know what it is like to be hungry, scared, and worried about our future. People who have lost their home feel a level of vulnerability that few of us can imagine who haven’t gone through it.

Sheree’s photo of Agnes captures some of that vulnerability while at the same time letting us see the person experiencing the vulnerability. We hope that Agnes’ face, like so many of the faces we see at Samaritan House, will touch you so much that you will support our efforts to shelter such vulnerable women here in Nanaimo, and empower them to find and keep safe comfortable homes.

Please visit More Room for Hope to make a donation.

Special thanks to Sheree Zielke for the use of this image, and to Agnes, wherever you may be, for you humanity, compassion, and uniqueness.

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