The cafeteria at Our Place can be a bustling place–especially at lunch time– but at all times of the day there are dozens of beaming faces staring out from colourful portraits hanging on the back wall.
The paintings portray long-time patrons of what was the Open Door and is now Our Place, including people who still visit everyday and some who have come and gone.
For artist Elfrida Schragen, the call to paint the homeless people of downtown Victoria came as an overwhelming urge.
“I don’t know why I did it at first, I think because I thought they were interesting,” Schragen said. “As I got to know them and I saw each person was so different, all the assumptions I had about homeless people just went out the window.”
Between 2007 and 2014, Schragen has done over 30 portraits. She said she would simply approach people she thought were interesting, talk to them for awhile and then asked if she could paint them. She said almost everyone was very happy to have it done.
“For them they were all thrilled that somebody was paying attention to them enough to want to paint their portrait, so it made them feel good too,” Schragen said.
Schragen incorporated elements of each person’s story into their paintings; one woman believed she was speaking with angels, so she is bathed in light with angels surrounding her. Another man who suffered from hearing voices is depicted with many strange faces around him. One portrait shows a woman with three children blurred out in the background and a large crucifix nearby; it represents someone whose children were taken away as she struggled with a spiritual dependency on illicit drugs.
Schragen recalled one portrait of a man who simply liked trucks and cars. When the man passed away, the portrait was used in his obituary as it was the only likeness of him that anyone had.
Over the years the portraits were sold for fundraisers for Our Place, and most of them were then turn donated back to the Society after they were sold. In total, Schragen said the paintings have raised over $40,000.
“Everybody has their right to a place in history,” Schragen said. “It may not be what we traditionally give people a place in history about, but everyone is unique and I hope that these portraits bring out the uniqueness of the individuals.”
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