A Touch of Humanity Behind the “Out in the Cold” Art Exhibit
The Betty Meyer Gallery
64 Hancock Street, Auburndale, MA 02466
Hours: Daily, 9 am to 3 pm
by Evan RJ (17)
A year ago, homeless individuals in the Waltham area were given disposable cameras and asked to photograph, “A day in your life,” and write a caption to go along with it. This project, which was initiated by the former director of the Community Day Center of Waltham, Marilyn Lee-Tom, gained a lot of publicity, with articles appearing in the times and displayed across the town of Waltham. To learn more, I interviewed Marilyn’s successor, Carolyn Montalto, the current executive director of the Community Day Center.
The Community Day Center services the chronically homeless, those individuals who do not expect to ever find a permanent place to call their own. 75% of the people Montalto saw when she started in July are still at the center. One man has been coming for 20 years. Some people do turn around, finding homes and new jobs, but the percentage is very low. Day Center guests range in age from 45-60 years old, and many come to the center angry and embittered by the unfair life they felt they’ve been dealt. Many feel victimized by uncontrollable circumstance[s].
The Center and its staff deal with unpacking the “layers of pain” these individuals bring with them every day. Many of them are still holding on to grief experienced much earlier in life. The photography and stories the Waltham individuals have shared show offer an important touch of humanity. You can see that in these pictures. There is a “beating heart” behind each photograph. Montalto calls out to her community, as well as ours not to be afraid. She beckoned me with these words: “Come! Listen to the stories they will tell you. There is a man here named Bicycle Bob. He’s 74, he’ll tell you the best stories. Now, I ask you, why are these people ostracized?”
One image from “Out in the Cold” which stuck-with Montalto was a photo of a man sleeping on the floor of an ATM booth. To her, this summed up the hopelessness that these people feel. According to Montalto, the man featured in the image has since died from drug overdose. There are nearly 250 victims of homelessness in Waltham. To highlight the extent of this divide, Montalto points out the irony of Moody Street, which is centrally located in Waltham boasting fifty-two restaurants, where people sleep on sidewalks eat only at soup kitchens like the Day Center.
When she first came to this job, Montalto tried to make the center a place where people could come to be happy. She wanted to offer more than just the food which individuals received at soup kitchens. One such endeavor was “12 Days of Christmas;” each day there would be a fun craft such as decorating Christmas cookies. Nobody showed up. Montalto learned that a local pastor was holding Blue Christmas services at the same time, services which admit to the sadness many people fill during holidays. Day Center guests were in full attendance there. Montalto realized that what these struggling individuals craved was not necessarily happiness, but hope.
In pursuit of this goal, Montalto actually took the “Out in the Cold” installation down. She wanted to create a safe, comfortable space, and felt that continuing to look at the pictures only deepened despair. When Pastor Doug asked to display the show at the Betty Meyer Gallery, Montalto had to remove the show from boxes, and she is glad she did. It is important to see how victims of homelessness see the world. We need not shield ourselves so entirely from the problem that we forget it’s there. Montalto admits, “I’m still learning… I don’t know if we can find the sparks of happiness.” Her work at the Community Day Center of Waltham is striving towards that goal.
The Community Day Center of Waltham relies heavily on donations to sustain their mission:
The Community Day Center of Waltham supports homeless individuals and those in need to shape and meet their life goals. We accept and respect people where they are, and seek to help them access the necessary tools and services to move toward stability.
They receive small grants from the city, but mostly call on churches and kind neighbors for help. Montalto herself is very invested in the work the Center is doing, even writing a Christmas card this year, seeking support. Visit the CDC website to learn how best to support the Community Day Center of Waltham, http://communitydaycenter.org/support.html.
The Betty Meyer Gallery at the United Parish of Auburndale displays the exhibit “Out in the Cold” throughout the month of January, seven days a week, from 9am to 3pm. The mission of the Gallery includes leveraging local artists, offering opportunities for reflection and response.
For more information about The Community Day Center of Waltham,visit www.communitydaycenter.org
16 Felton St., Waltham, MA 02453 (781) 392-6311
Hours: M-F 1:30 to 4:30 and 7:30am to 9am (winter only)