Every week, Michael Reilly teaches an art class at Circle the City’s Medical Respite Center, a 50-bed facility designed to support people experiencing homelessness. But before Reilly stepped foot into the Central Phoenix facility as a volunteer, he was a patient.
Reilly, who graduated from Adelphi University where he studied literature and art, was working at a high-end cabinet company in Phoenix when he began having fainting episodes, each one more severe than the last. The third time he fainted, he landed on his arm, shattering his elbow. In addition to medical care for his injured elbow, it turned out that he needed a stent and a pacemaker, but he had no insurance.
“I left the hospital and there was nowhere else to go,” Reilly says.
He found himself sleeping on the altar at a church, which was the only place in the building where he could plug his medical device at night. After a couple of weeks, Reilly obtained a physician referral to the nonprofit community health organization Circle the City, where he stayed for 89 days. A year after leaving the Medical Respite Center and finding housing, he came back as a volunteer. He’s been teaching art classes to patients for almost three years.
Now, Reilly is helping his students sell their art at the "Inspired Soles" Exhibit & Sale at Found:RE Phoenix Hotel on Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix. The artwork will be on display for the month of November, which is National Homeless Awareness Month.
“This is probably the first time they’ve been in a gallery, and to get to see the reaction of when they see their work framed and in a professional setting is just touching,” says Found:RE cultural curator Michael Oleskow.
All of the proceeds from art sold will go back to the patient who created the work for the exhibit. Artists will be participating in a “Meet the Artist” reception on November 2 from 6 to 8 p.m., as part of First Friday.
Circle the City, which provides care for more than 10,000 people who will experience varying degrees of homelessness throughout the year, was founded in 2008 by Sister Adele O’Sullivan, a doctor who spent decades caring for the homeless. In addition to its Medical Respite Center, it operates a mobile medical clinic. In 2017, the nonprofit served more than 4,000 patients, including 430 patients at its Medical Respite Center.
In addition to displaying and selling artwork at Found:RE for the month of November, Inspired Soles will also include an intimate fundraising event. Circle the City Director of Development Kimberly Hall says that the nonprofit hopes to raise $10,000 at the event, and to find 20 volunteers out of the 60 to 75 people expected to attend.
A secondary goal is to “really allow people to see the abilities of our patients that we serve,” says Hall. “I don't think many people would think and equate someone experiencing homelessness with great art. The face of homelessness is not the person on the corner or whatnot, it’s really folks that look like you and I.”
The art display will also include a shoe drive. Found:RE is offering anyone who donates new or slightly used shoes 15 percent off of their bill at MATCH Restaurant & Lounge, a restaurant inside the hotel. The hotel will also be serving a signature “Compassion Cocktail” for the month, with proceeds benefiting Circle the City.
An estimated 22,000 people experienced homelessness in Maricopa County just last year, says Hall, and it’s projected that there will be a 15 percent increase this year.
“Phoenix is known ... as having the second-highest eviction rates in the country, which causes many people to be on the streets or in emergency shelters,” she says.
Inspired Soles Exhibit & Sale: Reception. 6 p.m. Friday, November 2 at Found:RE Phoenix Hotel, 1100 North Central Avenue; circlethecity.org.
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