Using ART to AMPLIFY Youth Voices on Housing Insecurity

Homeless youth in Philadelphia turn camera lenses on neighborhood desolation; their authentic documentation of housing-insecurity becomes the creative medium for artists to transform a crack house into an Art House.

This Images of Health installment from the American Journal of Public Health provides background about a remarkable public health art project.

When researchers and artists set out to empower high-risk youth, they were warned to expect limited participation; many of the young people had been through the criminal justice system. To the surprise of researchers, A Place to Call Home, an arts and advocacy initiative launched by the Mural Arts Program of Philadelphia, transformed one of the city's 40,000 abandoned properties into an Art House and housing resource center. The crowd at the exhibition’s opening included city council members, media outlets, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

Key Findings:

  • For six months, 48 young people interviewed neighbors and took photos to tell their own stories of housing insecurity.
  • Artist Ernel Martinez incorporated interview transcripts into an art dining room.
  • A block-long mural united neighborhood residents and turned doubts into enthusiastic participation.

There are more than 5,000 homeless children in Philadelphia. When a group of researchers enlisted homeless youth to document their stories of housing insecurity, the result was an art exhibition attended by the city’s mayor.