Wednesday afternoon, the 66 men and women who live at the Stepping Stone Emergency Housing facility in Anoka were offered the chance to take part in a professional photography session, complete with pro makeup and hair. About 30 of the mostly twenty-somethings took advantage, transforming the institutional walls into a flurry of activity worthy of any upscale salon or studio.
“I’ve been here for six years, and we’ve never done this before, and after today, we’re never not gonna do it again,” said Julie Jeppson, executive director of Stepping Stone, whose dream made “Headshots for the Homeless” happen.
“Ever since I’ve been working here, I’ve wanted to do this,” she said. “Putting your image out there on the internet and social media is essential right now, and these individuals don’t have the privilege of getting the opportunity to have a really nice picture taken.
“So I talked to Aveda, and I talked to some photographers, but to get a photographer to come and do this pro bono is a lot to ask; getting makeup artists and hair stylists to do it [free] is a lot to ask; so it just never worked out — until I met Brady Whitcomb [of BW Portrait Art in Andover], who is huge into philanthropy. I asked him and he said, ‘Yes, absolutely,’ and he rallied some friends, and here you are.”
Stepping Stone is the only homeless shelter serving adults in a five-county area: Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Scott, and Washington. It has a waiting list of 250-plus names, and Headshots for the Homeless is but one of several programs at the facility that work to break the cycle of homelessness.
“Specifically in suburban homelessness, there’s a lot of barriers in people’s ways; jobs and transportation being the two biggest ones,” said Jeppson. “[Positive] image is another big barrier. Whether they see themselves today that way or a future employer sees them now online, it’s breaking that barrier for success for them.”
MinnPost took in the first Headshots for the Homeless, in words and photos:
Anthony Smith: “I’m from Blaine, but I’m originally from Canada. I’ve been homeless for about four years. I’m hoping to put this photo on my résumé so I can give people the idea I’m prepared to go to work, and show that not all homeless people look raggedy and homeless. I’m looking to work behind a desk, because I like working with numbers. Numbers are my specialty.”
Nicole Reeves: “I’ve been here at Stepping Stone a couple of times, but this time it’s been since October. I’ve been homeless since May of 2016. I’m not working at this time. I’m unable to work, but I’m hoping to be able be working within the next two weeks. I might use this photo for my résumé, I don’t know. I don’t know what kind of work I’m going to look for. I love to care for people, I love to help people, so that’s what I hope to be doing.”
Vernis Mckizzie: “I’m from the north side of Minneapolis. I live at Stepping Stone, but I’ve lived in [the northern suburbs] for 15 years now, because I’ve got kids out here. I’ve been homeless since … eight months ago. I’ve been in and out of places. Right now, I’m going to Anoka-Ramsey College and I’m studying to be a drug counselor. I’ll use the photo for my résumé.”
Drew Anderson: “I’m from Columbia Heights. I live at Stepping Stone, I’ve been homeless off and on since I was 18. I’m 30. I’m just down here to check it out; I’m not sure I’m going to get my photo taken. I’ve got a job. I’m a roofer, I’m just laid off right now.”
David Lewis: “I’m originally from Queens, New York, but I’ve lived in Minnesota for 15 years. I live at Stepping Stone now; I’ve gone through different periods of being homeless, but this last time since August of 2016. I’ve been here since then. I left for a little while but wound up coming back here because the situation didn’t work out. This is a good change of pace today. Anything that can help you get ahead in life is a good thing. I’ve been working for Coon Rapids Famous Dave’s since September 2016. You never know when you need a good picture. A good head shot is not easy to come by, and it’s not like I’m going to be at Famous Dave’s forever. I might want to get into TV. I’ve been told I’m funny, so it might be a head shot in case I get a comedy gig.”
Ashley Micheletti: “I grew up in the Coon Rapids area. I’ve been homeless for quite some time. I’m hoping to use the photo to put on my Linked In account and my Facebook page and network. Right now, I work as an office support assistant for the county, and I just applied for a full-time position. But I’m also looking at getting into school for ministry.”
Ashley Schoenrock: “I live at Stepping Stone, I’ve been homeless since April of last year. I want to send this picture to my family. I haven’t seen them in a while.”
Caramia (Olivia) Peterson: “I’ve been homeless off and on since I was 15, and I’m 18 now. I’ve worked a lot with kids. I worked with my grandma, who ran a day care. I’ve worked a little bit at Caribou, and a little bit at Burger King. I’m hoping to make a résumé with a nice professional photo. It’s been fun. I’ve never had a professional photo done. I’ve never had my makeup done by a professional makeup artist, and I don’t get my hair done too often so it’s really nice.”