Beaumont woman offering artistic respite from the heat

Beaumont woman offering artistic respite from the heat | Pro Club Bd

Barbara Wilson recalls encountering the work of Purvis Young – an artist who worked and lived in an abandoned building in her hometown of Miami.

He was discovered by renowned art collector and owner of the Miami Art Museum, Bernard Davis.

Like most of Davis’ discoveries, Young grew big and landed on the radar of up-and-coming artists like Wilson.

“When I understood the meaning of his paintings, I was amazed,” she said. “If you just walked by and saw him, you’d think, ‘He’s just a homeless man,’ but he was spotted.”

It inspired her to help others like Young—unexplored artists, new discoveries, or those who simply benefit from the healing properties of the arts.

In May, she started a twice-weekly art therapy group for people who filled the streets of downtown Beaumont, particularly around Some Other Place, Henry’s Place and the new Salvation Army shelters that line McFaddin Street near Forrest Street.

They became Wilson’s neighbors when their antiques and resale business moved to Calder Avenue at Forrest Street last year.

See also: Mayor’s Homeless Coalition, which addresses homelessness

“I thought it would be cool to start something that would benefit these homeless neighbors in a new way. I talk to them, learn their stories and what they already need, and this could be one of the ways to address their needs,” she said. “Art is therapeutic; you just never know what you might discover.”

Wilson has discovered much as a business owner in such an environment, becoming involved in groups such as the Mayor’s Homeless Coalition and the Beaumont Community and Homeless Refuge.

Through these and her own interactions, she has developed a broad understanding of the complexities of homelessness.

“It’s not just ‘Get a job,'” Wilson said, noting that homelessness is like a giant spider web — complicated, with lines crossing in the most inconvenient places, with few maps to navigate the terrain.

It’s a problem for the likes of Tim McAtee, who is nearing the end of his 30-day stay at the Salvation Army shelter.

He only needs $30 to pay the application fee for a low-income apartment, which is already available once he’s processed the application, but he’s had trouble getting help to secure the funds.

Juan Zuniga needs help solving an identity theft that arose after his vehicles were stolen three years ago.

He wasn’t always the good guy, Zuniga admitted. “I was a gangster,” but he changed his life, got a pass that allowed him to work in certain secured environments, and found jobs on various construction sites, sometimes as a foreman.

He had a house, two trucks, a Camaro, and jewelry. He lived life.

Zuniga discovered the problem after he applied for a job at a Port Arthur refinery and was told there was a previous record of a drug test failing at a job he’d never had in a place he’s been to had never been.

This rot in his record means he can’t get a job now.

“I gradually lost everything,” until his world just collapsed, he said.

He’s staying with the Salvation Army now.

See also: The Salvation Army opens new emergency shelters

“It’s my first time in a place like this,” Zuniga said. “I don’t even want to tell my family because they would freak out. We have all always worked.”

Now he’s just trying to deal with homelessness and repair the damage left by identity theft.

But it was difficult to find this help. Zuniga isn’t sure where to start or who to contact.

“There are so many groups with so many different ideas (how to help people who are homeless),” Wilson said. And all too often, individuals who could benefit from such services are unaware of the resources available.

She is hoping for the new software program “Unite Us”. It will be integrated with the Mayor’s Homeless Coalition website and will allow them to link to other service organizations to consolidate a list of regional resources.

But she said one big problem remains.

“They need more volunteers at The Salvation Army, Henry’s Place and Some Other Place. That’s the problem — they don’t have enough volunteers to keep the facilities open,” she said, especially when temperatures soar into the triple digits.

Access to a reliable website was difficult early on in Wilson’s art therapy project due to these staffing issues.

Eventually, James Boucher, director of the recently refurbished Henry’s Place, agreed to let her have his facility every Tuesday and Thursday after hours.

Her first day at Henry’s Place was scorching hot.

Wilson unlocked the door and called out an invitation to those resting nearby in the shade of the trees. Her thoughts were more focused on providing shelter from the heat than on art.

Most of those who came did just that while picking up their crayons and doodling in the air-conditioned room for the two-hour breather.

A respite from the afternoon heat brought Archie Mills to Wilson’s class that day.

Unlike McAtee and Urriza, the Dallas native rarely had a traditional home in his adult life.

Mills said he is a nomad who has criss-crossed the country numerous times, has been to nearly every state over the past 25 years, and has no intention of settling into a traditional way of life with a fixed home and work place.

“I bounce around like a basketball — I zigzag,” he said. “I see everything. I see it while I’m walking and I see it while I’m standing still. I only stay in one place for about a month.”

Mills says he will do so until he is too old to continue traveling.

Jacob Gallet, on the other hand, just wants to go home.

The New Orleans native left last spring to work in Victoria during the crab season.

When it stopped due to the weather, the 30-year-old didn’t earn enough to make it back.

He made it to Beaumont with the money he had and has been living on the town streets for over a month.

See also: Some Other Place offers Thanksgiving meal to those in need

Gallet wants help getting into rehab and eventually finding his way home.

Wilson listened as they drew, taking notes on the needs of Gallet and others and offering advice where she could – connecting her spirit as an artist and a compassionate neighbor.

“I feel blessed,” Wilson told the group at the end of the session.

“Despite the difficulties, I also feel blessed,” Gallet replied.

Wilson hopes the art therapy sessions will help make a difference, and she’s moving toward a more focused approach to the sessions.

Last Tuesday, Wilson cut a picture out of a magazine into squares and then distributed them with a blank piece of paper and a roll of crayons. She instructed the group to focus on recreating the shapes and colors of their square. In the end, they would put their pieces together and see the big picture.

“Most people say ‘I can’t draw,’ but if you just focus on the shapes and colors and not how you want it to look, you’ll be amazed at what you can do,” she explains.

Zuniga grabbed his pencils and tried to focus on the shapes and colors of his puzzle piece, but his mind was overwhelmed by his situation.

He leafs through old cell phone photos, looks back at his cars, his jewelry, the car trips he has taken.

He ponders what he lost, how to get it back, and all the confusion that stands in between.

Related: Slow Food Beaumont focuses on food deserts

But for Johnetta Franklin, two hours of art was a perfect respite from the streets. She and her two daughters — Theresa, 12, and E’Shauni, 13 — joined Wilson’s class after hearing about it from friends.

They were among a group of almost a dozen who had gathered in Henry’s Place that afternoon.

Franklin, who likes to draw, squinted to make out the puzzle piece Wilson had assigned her – and focused on her tiny square. She joked with her daughters and others nearby while filling her blank page with colors, shapes, and lines.

“That’s great. It will distract you from other life issues,” she said.

Since Franklin and her daughters are left homeless, she’s been trying to find ways “to redirect these little ones’ minds.”

“We go to the library and try to find a good book; we paint and just try to use their creativity to take their mind off things they shouldn’t have been doing as a kid,” she said.

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