In 2013 I conceived and curated an exhibition of portraits of Sydney’s homeless taken at Sydney Homeless Connect – a charity I’ve worked with since it started 8 years ago. The exhibition ran for 10 weeks at the State Library of NSW.  I also designed a book to accompany the exhibition with stories of those homeless in the show. Listen to an interview I did with ABC’s Life Matters on the exhibition.

Curatorial Statement:

Each night in Sydney thousands of people sleep rough, couch surf or stay in temporary accommodation. They are our brothers, mothers, children and neighbours. They could be us. We walk past them every day and want to ask ‘How did this happen to you?’

We had the chance to ask that question as volunteers at Sydney Homeless Connect — an annual  day that brings together people who are homeless and at risk of homelessness in Sydney with the services and support that they need.

Since 2010 we have photographed more than 600 people at the Sydney Town Hall events. At first we thought it would be purely practical, a photo to use in job applications perhaps — but each year the queues outside our makeshift ‘studio’ grew and it became clear that the pictures meant much more. They would be used to reconnect with children, parents and families ‘to let them know I am okay’.

During the past four years managing the photography crew at Sydney Homeless Connect I’ve learnt much about homelessness; for example that drugs and alcohol are often a symptom of homelessness, not a cause.  That of the more than 100,000 homeless in Australia a quarter  are children, many very young. That abuse in childhood can lead to a lifetime of mental and emotional health challenges, and that broken hearts sometimes cannot be healed.

Above all, I’ve come to know that homelessness really is something that could happen to anyone.  Homeless people look just like you and me. They are just like you and me but with a less fortunate past perhaps, or having made different choices. There is no ‘typical’ homeless person.

You can’t know someone’s story by simply passing them in the street. A distressing history can wear a deceptively ordinary face. But a closer glance down to an arm slashed by self-harm can reveal a sadder truth. The photographs in this exhibition offer a chance to get to know some of those who face homelessness in Sydney today.

I feel privileged to have been trusted with these very personal stories that were shared willingly, with generosity and humility, in the hope that they might help others.

I would like to applaud the stunning work of photographers Angela Pelizzari and Jennifer Blau, and our writers, led by Jennifer Smart who carefully scribed the sometimes harrowing stories. Thank you to our photography crew for your support and energy.

More than just inspiring photographs and moving personal stories, these portraits are a powerful social doumentary. As a filmmaker and storyteller, I acknowledge that while each tells us something about the individual, as a collection they tell us much more about ourselves.

Let the stories speak for themselves. Let the pictures speak to you.

Felicity Coonan

Exhibition Curator,

Sydney Homeless Connect Executive Team – Photography & Communications