Over the summer, NLIHC hosted an original artwork competition to find an image for the cover of a special August edition of Tenant Talk, a newsletter designed to engage low-income renters and other residents in housing advocacy. The special issue highlighted the intersections of voter engagement and housing justice, and we invited artists from around the country to submit creative cover art promoting these themes, offering a $250 award to the winner – along with the chance to feature their work on the front of Tenant Talk.

The resulting submissions were overwhelming in their artistry, poignancy, and power to evoke the experience of living without a home. In this post, we share submissions from four artists – Ashley d’Amelie Poulain, Jacob D. Schrag, Rachel Litchman, and Betty Burnett – as well as their reflections on their works. We look forward to highlighting the winner of the contest in a future blog post.

Originally from the suburbs of Chicago, Ashley d’Amelie Poulain lives with her two children on Florida’s Gulf Coast, where she works from home in the healthcare industry. Over the last few years, she has also developed a small art venture on the side, creating custom works, exhibiting at local galleries, and teaching painting classes.

In her words: “I created this picture based on my own experience utilizing rental assistance. I am a single mother and a domestic abuse survivor and have given everything for my kids. Like others in Florida, rent has increased exponentially, and I cannot afford my rent along with my bills on my income and child support alone. I either needed to renew my lease – which is hard to afford – or move out and into a new place which is not possible. I live in fear worrying about how financial struggles will affect my ability to feel safe in my housing and how they will affect my custody arrangement with my children’s father. All of the thought bubbles are thoughts that raced through my own head as I desperately tried to find help. The red thought bubble coming from the woman is a phrase I said out loud to myself. The red thought bubble coming from the side of the painting is a response from my case worker, which she told me after approving me for a second round of rental assistance. These assistance programs have provided me a safety net, and relief, and they alleviated my most stressful thoughts and helped give me hope.”

Ashley can be contacted via email at moongirlmemorials@gmail.com and on Instagram at @moongirl_memorials

Jacob D. Schrag was born in rural Kansas and raised in the ways of the German Mennonite farmers. He is college-educated and a former professional athlete, having even qualified for the U.S. Olympic Tae-Kwon Do team. Living on his farmstead with his wife and son, life was perfect for a while. But then he lost his farmstead after surviving a workplace shooting. He couldn’t find work in his field of education, and then broke his ankle and was unable to attend Olympic training camp. He then became homeless and had to live in his car after his son and wife died in a tragic accident. He is currently living in a unit designated for homeless transitional families but is facing eviction, which will force him back on to the street again.

In his words: “This is a photograph I took while living homeless in a horrible place known as the ‘Dog Patch’ in Colorado. This was the most dangerous encampment I have ever been forced to be in. I saw a man get stabbed to death over his shoes here and it terrified me and sickened my soul. Amidst this horror and atrocity, in this moment, when two heroin addicts were beginning withdrawal, one held the other, comforting her in the most tender and caring way. For one instant, I saw beauty where there was none. Love, where only hate and disdain existed. A truly pure moment. I don’t know how I survived those experiences other than through the grace of God. I am still one step away from being there again. But this photograph gives me hope.”

Jacob can be reached via email at Samurai6979@gmail.com 

Rachel Litchman is a member of the Dane County Youth Action Board in Wisconsin and a consultant for Youth Collaboratory as part of its Youth Catalyst Team, where she works to translate her lived expertise into systems change. She is also an artist and writer. You can find more of her work at racheldl.com or on Twitter at @wordcalculator

In her words: “I was homeless in 2017. At 18 years old, I chose to flee my family home soon after disclosing years of abuse to a school social worker. After a call to DCFS and later, a police report, I was afraid of what would happen to me from my disclosure, and I spent the summer homeless, navigating a variety of different living arrangements (couch-surfing), and eventually, a youth shelter. This image reflects on those experiences of profound loneliness, navigating the shelter system and streets largely alone, without a car or an available friend network. I experienced homelessness in suburban (northern) Cook County, IL, a place where many assume youth homelessness doesn’t exist.”

Rachel can be contacted over email at rdlitchman@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @wordcalculator

Now retired, Betty Burnett spends her time pursuing her hobbies, which include crafting and painting. She is a self-taught artist; her preferred mediums are acrylics and marker.