Story and Photos by Jose Olivares for Our Town Reno
Negative Reactions on the Streets
“You’re really invisible when you’re on the streets,” Lee said during a recent interview with Our Town Reno. “You’re either really visible to everyone and people have pity or are repulsed by you – they have some sort of really negative reaction to you. Or you’re completely invisible and they’ll walk right past you. You could be bleeding on the street and they would walk right past you.”
Lee tells me this as we sit at her desk at Northern Nevada HOPES, a nonprofit community health center where she works.
“So being this identity of a repellant and being invisible at the same time, at least I had paper that was completely unbiased and nonjudgmental. I could pour my little heart out. It was very therapeutic for me.”
Writing and Collecting Memories to Keep Sane
Lee is referring to a series of notebooks on her desk. Worn out and beat up, the notebooks contain memories spanning the years from when Lee was living on the streets. As she flips through the pages and looks at the poetry, prose and drawings, a sense of nostalgia overwhelms her. Her facial expressions change as she remembers specific instances when she placed pen on paper.
“I was homeless from 18 to 26,” she explained. “Writing is my passion, it’s what’s kept me sane over the years so I wanted to share that with others.”
The Voice Project
Lee is starting a project called V.O.I.C.E., an acronym that stands for Voices of Inspiration, Courage and Empowerment. V.O.I.C.E is a writing group for people who are currently experiencing – or who have experienced – homelessness.
The first meeting of V.O.I.C.E. will be this Saturday, December 3 at noon. Previously and currently homeless individuals interested in taking part can go the first Saturday of each month on the third floor of HOPES. Although the V.O.I.C.E. project is for people who have been or are currently homeless, Lee says future open mic nights will be open to the public. She is funding the project entirely on her own.
Personal and Political Dynamics
“It’s a way for individuals who are experiencing homelessness or have experienced homelessness to bring their voices to the table,” Lee said of her VOICE initiative. “Creating a space for people who are having these experiences is super powerful on a personal level but also on a political level.”
“Most of the time it’s people in suits who are making really important decisions about [homelessness] with no knowledge or comprehension of what it’s like to actually live without a home.”
Lee remembers the therapeutic comfort she felt when writing in her journals. A lot of her possessions were taken from her while she was living on the streets, including jackets, sleeping bags and hygiene products, but she eventually made sure that didn't happen to her journals.
Lee is hoping to publish work that is produced with VOICE. She said there is value in having homeless individuals tell their own story.
“In a way, writing or art provides immortality. It lets you tell your story long after you’re gone,” Lee said. “Get to work, people. Get to writing – do whatever you can to make things right for people”
If you would like to donate writing materials (pencils, notebooks, pencil sharpeners, paper, pen) or food to the V.O.I.C.E. project, you can email Lisa Lee at LLee@nnhopes.org or call her on 775-737-3175.
WHAT: V.O.I.C.E. writing group
WHO: Anyone who has experienced or is currently experiencing homelessness
WHEN: The first Saturday every month, starting with this Saturday, December 3 at noon. Will eventually become a twice-per-month meeting.
WHERE: Third floor of Northern Nevada HOPES
Reporting and Photos by Jose Olivares for Our Town Reno