New mural visible from JFX depicts struggle for city's homeless

Project represents Health Care for the Homeless clients' path to stable housing

  • After a year, the 135 painted panels on the south wall of the Health Care for the Homeless building at 421 Fallsway are finished. The mural contains a mixture of techniques around the central theme of "everyone deserves to go home."
After a year, the 135 painted panels on the south wall of the Health… (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore…)
September 14, 2010|By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

For more than five years, Henry Bell spent most nights on a West Pratt Street bench.

But he has spent the past 18 months inside his own home, a few blocks from Druid Hill Park, and he hasn't forgotten the five years he was on the streets. "It was like a turnstile," he said about cycling in and out of housing, battling addiction after separating from his wife.

As a reminder of the struggle that Bell and other have faced in finding stable housing, the Health Care for the Homeless organization has erected a large mural on the south wall of its headquarters at 421 Fallsway.

"Everyone deserves to go home" is written across it in large letters visible to commuters from downtown heading north on the Jones Falls Expressway.

About 350 volunteers helped create the colorful mural depicting scenes of homelessness and the transition to permanent housing. One of the panels Bell helped create was of a figure lying on a park bench, which was drawn to resemble a coffin.

"Sometimes you don't think about what homelessness is," said Chris Thompson, 50, another formerly homeless HCH client who worked on the mural.

He said he too spent many nights sleeping on a city bench "counting the stars."

"I had nothing else to do," he said. Thompson said he preferred the streets to shelters because he did not like the crowds.

One side of the mural shows self-portraits of homeless people set against a night sky, with hands that appear to be reaching to help "those who have been lost," said Kevin Lindamood, a spokesman for HCH. The scene transitions to light, sunny colors and pictures of homes, representing success.

"Every time I look at it, I see something different," Lindamood said.

The project took almost a year from planning to execution. Local artist Jay Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen was chosen to lead the project, which was painted by HCH clients and other volunteers. The mural was created on 4-by-5-foot panels of parachute cloth, which were then glued to the side of the building.

The mural had been envisioned since the building was constructed last year. The project cost about $9,000 and was part of the building's $15.5 million construction budget, Lindamood said.

"It makes the building feel complete," he said.

On a steamy day last month, under glaring sunlight, Bell admired the display.

"I think it's perfect," he said. He became involved with the project through a free art class for HCH clients offered twice a week. "I saw it as a chance to grow," he said.

"I cannot draw a straight line," he said jokingly, "but in art you don't have to draw a straight line."

He said he hopes that when people pass by, they will remember that "we're all human. Do not ignore the fact it could be you — a moment away from being out on the street."

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