“Notice the Water” exhibit brings awareness to homelessness in Beaufort County

Published 6:33 am Saturday, July 15, 2023

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The “Notice the Water” photography exhibit opened at the Turnage Theatre on Wednesday night (July 12). Its purpose is to shed light on homelessness in and around Washington. 

Photos in the exhibit were taken by men and women in Eastern North Carolina who are experiencing homelessness for a study called Photovoice. Participants of the Photovoice study were asked to take photos of scenes or items of significant value to them or that represent their community. They were also asked to share their opinions on either community concerns, community assets, social issues or issues accessing healthcare, according to Dr. Jennie Ann Cole, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at East Carolina University. 

Photovoice is meant to assist policymakers’ understanding of the homeless community and determine ways to make positive changes within the community that result in solutions and programs which best address issues and needs, Cole explained.  

The North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness (NCCEH) keeps a database of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January. According to last year’s data, there were 22 people in total experiencing homelessness. Of that total 21, were in an emergency shelter while one was unsheltered. There were three households experiencing homelessness – seven children either 17 years old or younger and three adults over the age of 25. There were 12 adults over the age of 25 who did not have children that were homeless. 

In Washington, there are two organizations addressing homelessness – Open Door Community Center and Zion Kitchen and Shelter. Open Door Community Center serves women and children, but Zion Kitchen and Shelter serves men. 

Established in 2019, Open Door Community Center was the first women’s shelter in Washington in many years that served women and children by providing them with temporary shelter (up to six months) and resources to help them overcome challenges in their lives. The center offers a safe place where they can sleep, shower and eat. The center has nine beds that can either serve a mother and her children or nine single women or a combination of families and single women. 

In talking about why bringing awareness to homelessness in Washington and Beaufort County is important, Love said, “Most people don’t think homelessness is a problem. It’s invisible. Unless you’re scouting around the Walmart parking lot at midnight, you don’t know that people are living in their cars,” 

“…When we help homeless people, that makes them more productive citizens. It stabilizes their families. The more stable families you have in a community, the better we are and it helps them,” Sally Love said. She is the president of the Board of Directors at Open Door Community Center. 

The photo exhibit is a way the Turnage Theater-Arts of the Pamlico is helping address homelessness in and around Beaufort County. 

Bronté Labbé, visual arts coordinator and community outreach for Arts of the Pamlico hopes people who tour the exhibit learn that “homelessness is something that should be looked at and addressed and not just ignored.” 

“Notice the Water is a photography project orchestrated by those with lived experiences to raise awareness of the unhoused population in Little Washington. Through these photos we hope to raise awareness of the barriers faced by men and women in Little Washington and beyond, who do not have access to basic human needs such as food and shelter,” Gayle Watson, Board Chair of the Arts of the Pamlico Board of Directors, read from a prepared statement by Alayna Boyer, a SECU Intern with Arts of the Pamlico.

Though the exhibit is free to tour, monetary donations are encouraged, because all donations will be given to Zion Shelter & Kitchen and Open Door Community Center. Donations will be accepted through the end of the month. The exhibit can be viewed for the remainder of this month on Thursdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Turnage Theater (150 W Main Street, Washington).