A Heart for the Homeless

Some Johnson Countians think the homeless don’t exist here. But Sharon Rodriguez’s exhibit, currently on display at the Central Resource Library, aims to show that the homeless exist even in the middle- to upper-income suburbs.

They live in parks, in woods, on streets and anywhere else a person without a home could camp or shelter from rain, snow and heat.

Sharon says suburbanites often have a “not in my backyard” attitude toward the homeless. But she tells them, “They’re already in your backyard. They’re everywhere.”

Many homeless people are either invisible or ignored. One day on a walking trail, Sharon saw a homeless man and woman she sensed were having a problem. She approached and asked if she could help. The woman began to cry. She said no one else had spoken with them in all the time they had been there.

“The homeless are human beings just like anyone else,” she said. “They have the same needs and emotions. I don’t give them money, but sometimes I give them food or clothing. I ask them to tell me their stories.”

Sharon records the stories in handwriting and makes black-and-white photographs of the storytellers. She has featured them in two books, “Homeless Not Invisible” in 2017 and “Homeless, With Honor” in 2018. You can also see her work on her website, https://sharonrodriguezphotography.com

Sharon feels passionate about her work and can get up in anyone’s face who talks disparagingly about poor or homeless people. At a civic club meeting, a man said he was renovating an apartment complex “to get rid of the unsavory.” She spoke to him so forcefully about his lack of respect that he ended up giving her a donation for her work. She used the money to buy digital cameras for homeless people to use to record their lives and plans to feature their photos in a future exhibition. 

The work Sharon does now is a world away from her previous jobs as an IT consultant. Her artistry evolved after 2007, when she was unable to find work in the crippled economy. A mother of three, grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of 10, she is happy to spend time with her family and to continue her heartfelt work with the homeless.

Through Sharon’s stories and photos, viewers have a window into the experiences of homeless people. Other people may shy away from the conversations Sharon has, but she feels no fear, only compassion and a desire to make visible the “invisible” homeless in all their humanity.