Youth homelessness is an important and, unfortunately, growing issue. It was one of the focuses of mayoral candidate Olivia Chow here in Toronto when she ran last year, and many major cities around the world struggle with how to reach out and help street youth. In London, a local ad agency teamed up with Depaul charity to come up with a way to raise awareness and money. The result is “Street Stories.”
Street art has always been political down to its very core. It was once labelled as vandalism, and with it it became an inherently political act. Many artists today still follow in those footsteps, spraying walls with art that’s at once beautiful but doesn’t shy away from a message. It’s with that idea that “Street Stories” shines: it takes the political origins of street art and combines it with a call-to-action to combat youth homelessness, all by telling terrifyingly intimate stories.
Each “Street Stories” mural is focused on a real-life homeless youth, someone who was forced to run away from whatever they called home to try and escape their life situations. These reasons, contrary to popular belief, are complex and wildly diverse, so “Street Stories” tries to tell these individual stories.
Take, for example, “Katy’s Story,” possibly the most graphic of the murals currently on the streets of London. It juxtaposes a series of eyes with her story scrawled in disjointed lettering at strange angles. It tells the story of sexual violence, of a mother who chose the rapist over her own child, and we already know where the story leads. The eyes become ironic as you read the story: Katy isn’t here, disappearing into the streets because her mother decided to look away.
Another story, Joe’s to be specific, talks about the limited options available to kids who have nowhere to go. Joe’s story is of a parent who died before his time, and Joe was forced into foster care. Unhappy with the conditions, he chose the street over what little the state provides.
Each of these murals tells someone’s particular story, but they can all have happy endings. “Street Stories” murals each have a call-to-action at the bottom, a number people can call to give to a charity dedicated to helping get kids off the streets and somewhere they can feel safe and supported.
The “Street Stories” campaign is one in a long history of street art’s political uses and history, one that uses the suddenness of street art’s placement in cities to force people to react. These are murals that come upon you suddenly but beg for attention and, more importantly, a call to change. Direct, horrifying, and oddly beautiful, the stories of Joe, Katy and countless other homeless youth don’t all need to end poorly. And maybe these artistic acts can be a step on the path to eradicating a horrifying existence for people too young for such conditions.