Roanoke display aims to bring awareness to students experiencing homelessness

Published: Jun. 2, 2023 at 11:02 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Roanoke artist Jane Gabrielle wanted to bring more awareness to Roanoke City Public Schools students experiencing homelessness. Gabrielle is doing so through a project called “Heart Apples for Homeless Students.”

“Each one of these signs in southeast right now represents one of the 607 children in our school system, who are currently homeless,” said Gabrielle.

It’s hard to miss the hundreds of signs as you’re driving back into the city from southeast Roanoke toward Elm Avenue and the 581 ramps.

“This is a project that started in 2020, during the campaign season. And I wanted something that would represent the sheer numbers of kids and again, draw out people’s empathy, and increase donations,” said Gabrielle.

Though we may see adults experiencing homelessness, many residents might not know it impacts some of our youngest community members.

“We went into (the) community and had ages four to 95 paint these signs, that started growing people’s awareness of what a big problem this is,” said Gabrielle.

“Everyone knows that (if) you’re a young person, you’re not responsible for providing your own home, there’s no way you’re at fault for that if you’re living in homelessness,” said Douglas Jackson, Roanoke Arts and Culture coordinator.

The mission is to make this issue more visible and encourage the community to get involved to help solve it.

“If we can organize as a community, starting anywhere, that’s a great place to start. So even imagining how many people are going through that right now in our community, seeing the signs visually engaging people as they’re painting the signs where they’re really actively thinking about it. The arts can create a different kind of connection and help us where we weren’t able to imagine before,” said Douglas.

The signs will be up through the end of June and will be moved to the Roanoke community gardens in July.