You Just Hope…

As shelter-in-place orders began, I had recently become involved in the lives of several people in need of permanent shelter, as well as a newly emerging effort for addressing the needs of the unsheltered. It grows like a vine, based on the skills of those helping and the needs encountered. Members of the group have contacted politicians, officials, and outreach organizers, attended meetings, gathered information, brought information to encampments, organized food deliveries, pressed for hotel shelter, reached out to the public, and listened for individual needs. Our advocacy group includes people who have homes and people who do not; people with academic experience, others with career experience, with life experience and who just want to contribute however they can. I have learned so much. I want to encourage you and others to join us or do something similar in your area. Please feel free to contact me if you’d like to know more.

Detail of Tenderly, Cheryl
Cheryl, shown in this picture, has been homeless for so long that she doesn’t see herself living any other way. She is tough, guarded, and can be fierce. She is one of many living in a tent in this time when the Covid-19 virus has greatly affected all of our lives. Cheryl lives in the same town where she grew up and rode horses. I don’t know how she became homeless, but she shared this story:
Two or three years ago, she and a close friend, Ray, were encamped near each other, under a freeway. She kept hearing a high-pitched animal sound. It sounded a little like a bird, but it also sounded hurt. It continued hour. She sent Ray up to the freeway to investigate.

Ray called, “Cheryl, Cheryl, Come quick! Quick! Quick! –Here!” He said. And he dropped something into her hands. It was a newborn kitten.

“I almost dropped it,” Cheryl said. “He fit in the palm of my hand…”

Ray and Cheryl looked to see if there were more kittens, alive or dead, on or near the freeway above, but they couldn’t find any. She thought that her young pet, whom she named, “Freeway” seemed too clean to be a feral cat, and believed that a driver had abandoned him on the exit ramp. Cheryl describes being homeless as being similar to how she found Freeway:

“Someone just pulled over and threw him out the door. I heard him crying. His eyes weren’t even focused, hadn’t even changed color yet. Being homeless is like that. All the sudden you’re just here. You don’t know where you’re going to go. You’re not focused, you’re not centered. you’re not grounded. You don’t know who you are. You don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know who you’re going to run into; you don’t know what you’re going to run into. You just hope you can meet somebody you can trust.”

When Cheryl found Freeway, she had recently lost her boyfriend, Steve, who had been living with her at camp. He passed away while working at a remodeling job in a nearby city. Freeway helped give Cheryl needed comfort and a reason to look ahead again during a time of grief and darkness. Cheryl wishes people to know how important pets can be among the homeless. They are family.
As I made this picture, I considered the individual necessity that prompts the use of a tent for housing and the community necessity that prompts the use of a tent as a hospital, the serious life repercussions to being in need of either one, and the difference in the public’s response to each of them. One can go on to reflect on the housing tents used by refugees and the hospital tents used near areas of conflict or poverty and what personal associations come up for each.

This poster is part of the Tenderly Project. The Tenderly Project features digital or letterpress printed posters displaying some aspect of life I wish to hold tenderly as a meditation on the beauty and value of the subject. My personal intention in this project is to draw the subject while in a state of prayerful contemplation of the sacred beauty and dignity of the subject and a desire for their wellness or healing, extending to other beings with similar life experiences. My social intention is to nurture a collective awareness of holding the subject, as well as other beings with similar life experiences, tenderly in our thoughts, behaviors, laws, programs, and institutions, as a necessary component of supporting justice and peace in our world.


Tenderly, Cheryl
Tenderly, Cheryl – Kim Vanderheiden, 14×11″ pencil, letterpress, acrylic, & digital 2020


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