In A Different Light: Youth Homelessness Art Exhibit

On Thursday, October 19, the Boston Youth Advisory Board brought a truly eye-opening and powerful artistic vision to the 10th floor of the Walker Building. Hosted by the Division of Diversity & Inclusion and sponsored by the city of Boston, In A Different Light: Youth Homelessness featured photo series, poetry, writing, and art highlighting the experiences of Boston’s youth facing the intense challenges of homelessness.

As stated on the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance website, the Boston Youth Advisory Board is a group of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 who have experienced homelessness or housing instability. The group meets to advise the City of Boston in better addressing the needs of youth who experience homelessness. The city-funded group began meeting about a year ago, and has since formed a community of young activists who have spoken at the State House and advocated for themselves and other youth dealing with homelessness.

In a 2015 census, the City of Boston found that there were 54 youth and young adults in dedicated Runaway/Homeless Youth beds. This number is a poor estimate of the reality of youth homelessness in Boston, given that many young people do not or cannot stay in shelters, and may be staying with friends or on the street. The BYAB seeks to represent a fuller picture of youth homelessness and its unique challenges by both advocating for change and telling stories that reflect personal experiences.

The BYAB works with the motto, “Nothing about us without us,” and their artwork certainly reflects that, with powerful firsthand accounts and narratives that dispel stereotypes and challenge the viewer’s preconceptions. Their art is rooted in lived experience, and allows the artists to take control of their own stories and the way they are represented. The exhibition presents a more complex understanding of youth homelessness than the average person might possess, and provokes a strong empathetic response. Though some of it is heartbreaking in its rawness, the members of BYAB seem to focus on the possibility of change. As one member said, “It’s not just a support group where we sit and say, ‘We’re homeless and that’s sad.’ We get to do things and change things.” Added another member, “Without [BYAB], I wouldn’t be the kicking and screaming youth advocate that I’ve turned out to be.”

Ayala Livny, a leader and co-facilitator of BYAB, noted that “One thing we hear from young people experiencing homelessness is the experience of being invisible.” These young people don’t typically find themselves represented in the government or the media, and in their day to day lives, others tend to act as though they don’t exist. Many people are socialized to be uncomfortable with even the sight of homelessness or poverty; our culture teaches us that these experiences are to be feared, shamed, and stigmatized. The artwork of the BYAB counteracts this invisibility, lifting back the layers of first impressions or quick judgments, allowing the artists to be seen in as little or as much detail as they want. As Livny closed the gallery’s opening, she remarked, “We hope you will leave with a little more insight and a little more empathy and a little more hope.”

In A Different Light will be on display on Walker 10 through the end of November. For more information on the Boston Youth Advisory Board, please contact bostonyab@gmail.com.

Lucie Pereira