Shirt Off My Back
Having a safe, stable place to call home has made a world of difference for WoodGreen (WG) Community Services’ client Jay Ennis.
For about nine months, Ennis has lived at the refurbished New Edwin Hotel at 650 Queen St. E. and is taking part in the First Step to Home, an affordable transitional housing program in Riverside for street-involved and homeless senior men.
“I would be homeless if it wasn’t for WoodGreen. I couldn’t imagine it,” he shared during a recent interview.
Ennis recently volunteered his time to star in a 2:59-long video called Shirt Off My Back.
The WG-produced video features inspiring WG clients who have been or are at-risk of being homeless.
In the video, Ennis stands in front of a white wall wearing several white t-shirts printed with powerful quotes from WoodGreen clients including “I would be living under a bridge talking to pigeons … if I didn’t have housing.”; “Look forward to the food bank, because my fridge is empty without it!”; “Outstanding medical team right there for me.”; “I don’t feel alone anymore; instead I felt part of a community.”; “Just to have someone listen to me makes me feel comfortable.”; and “Homelessness sucks but you can get help.”
Ennis shares the spotlight with fellow WG users Lynn Roberts and Drew Dopwell, whose photographs are featured in the video.
A moving song by The Bleeding Lights called Candle (written by WoodGreen staffer Brian Paul) plays in the background.
Kevin Hannan, another client of the 77-year-old east-end social service agency, served as the video’s videographer.
Just like Ennis, his life changed for the better once he accessed WoodGreen’s many programs and services.
“WoodGreen is good because they have support behind their housing,” said Hannan, who has lived in WG-run affordable housing near Danforth and Coxwell avenues for about two and a half years.
“Having housing is one thing, but it’s really the support behind it that makes all the difference. I’d be on the street guaranteed with heavy addiction, if it wasn’t for WoodGreen.”
Hannan, who volunteered previously on a WG photography project on food scarcity, said he feels a great sense of accomplishment to have helped create the Shirt Off My Back video.
“It’s a feeling of satisfaction,” he said.
Ennis, who was also involved in the WoodGreen photography club, said he really enjoyed working on the project.
“It was a good time and there was a good message,” he said.
Some of the other people involved in the project include photographer Whitney Smith, editor Greg Smith and director Gillian Edwards, who works at WoodGreen as a social recreation and life skills facilitator.
“It was a really beautiful collaborative piece, a really wonderful experience,” said Edwards, who runs various arts-related programming for WoodGreen.
Shirt Off My Back was created for Homeless Connect Toronto’s first one-stop-shop conference on Sunday, April 13 at Harbourfront Community Centre, 627 Queens Quay W. The one-day event is set to feature several social service organizations sharing information about the programs and services they offer.
Shirt Off My Back is one way for WG to spread the word about what it does.
“We wanted to come up with an innovative approach to get our message out. The arts are a powerful tool for social change,” said Edwards, who feels getting clients involved makes the messages even stronger.
“(Our clients) found the whole experience to be empowering. They were really so ecstatic to be part of the creative process and that their voices will help somebody else. … We’re all very proud of the end result.”
WoodGreen’s COO Anne Babcock said the Shirt Off My Back video project is a great example of out-of-the-box thinking.
“WoodGreen prides itself on being innovative and this video project is a really excellent way our staff is using innovation in their work,” she said, pointing to WoodGreen’s all-encompassing services and programs.
“Because we’re a multiservice organization, we can provide wrap around services for individuals in need so they don’t have to go to a variety of organizations. They can get all of their needs met through WoodGreen.”
Babcock said the message in Shirt Off My Back perfectly mirrors what WoodGreen is all about: “Everybody has the right to safe and affordable housing.”
The entire project, which was inspired by a story a WG client who told Edwards recently about how he’d given the “shirt off his back” to help a friend in need, took about a month to put together.
Visit www.woodgreen.org to learn more about the programs and services offered by WoodGreen Community Services.