ELYRIA — The stereotypical image of a homeless person may be the man sitting on the street corner with a bottle in his hand, but that doesn’t describe the hundreds of homeless people in Lorain County.
That’s what Oberlin College graduate Nikki Heyman wanted to portray with her short film, “Living Room,” which began as her senior project.
Heyman followed the lives of three homeless families in Lorain County and their struggle to secure jobs as they utilized Lorain County programs for the homeless.
Among the programs offered was the Haven Homeless Center, operated by the Neighborhood Alliance.
The Neighborhood Alliance was formed in 1927 and offers child enrichment, senior and emergency services, as well as the Haven Center, Lorain County’s only 24-hour, 365-day emergency shelter for men, women and children.
Connie Osborn, president and CEO of the Neighborhood Alliance, was on hand during Thursday’s presentation of “Living Room,” at Lorain County Community College.
Osborn said about 78 percent of those who use Haven Center’s services become self-sustaining by finding permanent jobs and housing by the end of the 90-day program.
But becoming self-sufficient was not an easy task for Shane Evans, Candi Dandrea and Kelly Taylor, who were featured in the documentary.
Evans, who was incarcerated on forgery charges and for passing bad checks, said he felt like a failure after he was unable to find a job to keep a roof over his wife and children’s heads.
“I started looking for work right away, but I couldn’t find it because of my record,” he said in the video.
Evans used the Haven Center and the Neighborhood Alliance’s services before moving to Idaho to live with his brother, where he works two jobs and has custody of his three children, according to the documentary.
Dandrea said it was difficult to find a job as well. She took her children to the Blessing House, a Lorain shelter for children, while she lived alone in her vehicle, looking for jobs and housing.
“Being in the car by myself was very scary. My son, he has a (stuffed toy) monkey, and he told me that Monkey would keep me safe. So I would take Monkey and I would take my daughter’s stuffed bear, and I would hold them,” she said, crying.
After the documentary was filmed, Taylor moved into low-income housing, works for Family Promise and is a full-time student. Dandrea also found low-income housing, although she is still searching for a job, according to the documentary.
Heyman said the project was eye-opening. She knew she wanted to work on a documentary on the homeless after a visit to Washington, D.C., but she said the rural homelessness she witnessed when she came back to Oberlin did not compare to what she saw in the city.
“I found that there were a lot more families than I expected,” she said. “Usually people’s picture of homelessness is the man sitting on the street with an empty cup, and this was just a wide variety of families in shelters and sleeping on cots.”
Heyman, who graduated from Oberlin in 2012, now lives in New York where she works as an intern for POV, acclaimed point-of-view documentary films which are aired on PBS.
Heyman said she hopes that “Living Room” will get people talking about the homeless problem. Every year in the U.S., there are more than 3.5 million homeless people, 1.5 million of which are children, she said.
“It sort of just awakened me to the realities of the world and that I have led a pretty privileged life,” she said. “It made me want to raise awareness and share these people’s stories.”