Local News

Events, art show focus on Oceanside’s homeless

A week-long exhibit in Oceanside is giving a glimpse into the lives of the city’s homeless community while also creating opportunities for the public to learn more about groups trying to help people on the street.

“We wanted to put on an event to humanize the ‘problem,’” said Jordan Verdin, who helped coordinate the exhibit at Hill Street Country Club, 530 S. Coast Highway. “People who are experiencing homelessness are people.”

The event kicked off Monday and continues until Tuesday at the venue, a nonprofit focused on promoting arts and culture in North County.

While the subject is serious, the events aren’t somber. The roomy space has comfortable seating for socializing, and live music, spoken word and even a comedian are scheduled for Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m.

Verdin runs Humanity Showers, a mobile shower for homeless people, and is co-creator of the exhibit with his friend Oscar Ortega, who runs Lived Experiences. which provides various programs to underserved populations. Monday’s event will be a fundraiser to help the nonprofit create a mobile laundry to operate in conjunction with Humanity Showers, and Ortega said it should be ready to launch by the end of May.

Verdin said the events have raised awareness of various area groups such as Showers of Blessing, Fill-a-Belly, Coastline Dream Center and Caring Hearts, which have been in attendance.

“I wanted it to be a space where we could collaborate with others,” he said about his long-term hope for the event. “That’s what’s missing across the board. Humanity Showers wants to work with these organizations.”

While programs start around 4 p.m., the venue opens at noon daily to showcase the 30 portraits of homeless people Verdin photographed over the past three years. Each photo was shot within one mile of the venue, he said.

The exhibit is part of a larger project of photos Verdin has taken and exhibited on his Instagram page, which can be found by searching Jordan Verdin. Visitors to the site often leave encouraging comments for his subjects, and Verdin has posted video of him reading the comments to the people he photographed, who sometimes tear up at hearing the words.

In speaking to hundreds of homeless people over the years, Verdin said the most-requested need he has heard was for access to hygiene, which was why he launched Humanity Showers.

“Outside of showers, the thing they wanted the most was to be seen and heard,” he said. “They’d say, ‘People go around us and pretended they don’t see us.’”

He began his photo project in response to that need, with each portrait accompanied by comments from the subjects themselves. Verdin said he believes the photos and the short life stories of his subjects will help break the implicit bias some individuals have against homeless people.

Portraits include a woman named Pamela Jeane, who said she became homeless because of her collapsing spine.

“The struggle I have with severe chronic pain is the most challenging aspect of being out here,” she is quoted next to her picture.

“People think we are all just scummy, drug addicts who have no goals, desires, and good thoughts or that we don’t want to work or contribute,” she said. “For me, that’s the contrary; sometimes, just surviving is a job on its own. Please take a minute to walk a mile in our shoes; see what we go through and our situation. I like helping others. My dream is to open a nonprofit that will provide services for people with disabilities.”

A subject named Danny, 60, said he doesn’t drink or do drugs, and he once had a good job but quit because he struggled with depression.

“Currently, a nice bright day makes me happy,” he said. “My dream is to get off the street and maybe get into a shelter. I can’t really see farther than that right now, I’m just taking it one step at a time.”

A man named Dennis, 62, was quoted as saying the most challenging thing about being homeless is having no foundation.

“All I have is in three bags,” he said. “When I leave in search of food or work I have to hide my bags in different places, hoping they will be there when I return.

“Unless you are really in this situation you don’t really know what it’s about,” he said. “People need to have more compassion for others; you don’t know what they’ve gone through.”