Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Painting a Portrait of the Homeless

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Painting a Portrait of the Homeless

Article excerpt

COMMENTARY

BRADENTON -- On a slab of cracked asphalt, near a homeless camp behind a strip club, several old photo albums lie melting in the sun. The one with the hand-stitched rose on the cover is surrounded by bugs and cigarette butts.

Inside are the snapshots of someone's childhood. There are baby pictures from a hospital, proud parents at a baptism, a girl giggling next to Minnie Mouse, kids splashing in a pool, a family vacation in the snow.

There are people at a party, and a balloon in the background says: "Happy Birthday, Reach for the Stars."

Considering the location, it's possible that the photo albums once belonged to a homeless person in Bradenton. Maybe the photo albums became too heavy to lug around, maybe the memories did too, and so they were abandoned.

Ben Love, 60, sifts through the snapshots and shakes his head.

"Life ain't always what we thought it would be when we were a kid,'' he says.

Love knows this all too well. He grew up in Bradenton and has fond memories of his childhood. Of playing in the clubhouses he built, jumping on springboards, which were really just old pieces of wood atop some bricks, and stealing his grandfather's cigars when he wasn't looking.

But later in life he made some bad choices, was the victim of some unfortunate circumstances and found himself homeless off and on for five years in Bradenton.

After marrying his wife Jacki in a church, they spent their wedding night inside a tent 10 feet from the railroad tracks by the Tropicana plant. For a while they lived near the DeSoto Square Mall, and would take showers with a hose in the parking lot of a strip club.

Eventually, they got clean, secured jobs, and found an apartment near McKechnie Field, where they live now, raising a 5-year-old and volunteering at Turning Points.

Remembering better days

Love happens to be a talented watercolor artist, and when he was homeless he began to drive around Bradenton looking for remnants of his childhood to paint. …

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