Home Cartoon characters Opake: The artist who battled addiction and homelessness

Opake: The artist who battled addiction and homelessness

Opake aimed at young people with lived experience of homelessness. Image: Eliza Pitkin/The Big Deal

Jamie moved out when he was 16 and lived in a Centrepoint hostel until he was 22. And Noor experienced homelessness at the age of 21 after a lot of instability in his life. Centrepoint supported her with her sanity, and they were the only stability during the most difficult time of her life.

Each young woman springs from the event and they seem inspired. “It’s a reminder that you’re not alone,” Priscilla said. “In my journey of homelessness, I feel very alone, apart from the support I have received from Centrepoint and other charities. It’s nice to hear from other people who have been through the same thing and to see them in much better spaces. We’ve all been through this tough time, but we’ve come out the other side.

Opake agrees, adding that he is still learning and trying to grow. “All these people sitting there in this room have a voice,” he says. “They started to open up and then the next thing you know there’s a really good conversation. They will leave here laughing.

Opake struggled with addiction and homelessness throughout his 20s, but is now a successful artist. Image: Eliza Pitkin/Big Deal

For Opake, it was by talking to his therapist and channeling his addiction to art that he finally broke out of a vicious circle of drugs, alcohol and self-harm. “Art can give us hope. 100%,” he said. “It saved my life. No bullshit, it saved my life. It’s not just about art, it’s about being creative in every way.

There is a lot of sadness in the world right now as the cost of living crisis takes off. Centrepoint found that almost half of 16 to 25 year olds had gone to bed hungry within 12 months to July. More than one in three young people (35%) had gone a whole day without eating.

“The cost of living crisis is having a devastating impact on the young people we support,” says Balbir Chatrik, policy manager at Centrepoint. “They tell us that they have to survive on one meal a day because all their profits are taken up by college or the purchase of textbooks.”

Centrepoint is calling on the government to increase benefits at least in line with inflation and change the system so that young people are paid the same as adults. The benefit system assumes that young people live with their parents, but this is simply not the case for the majority of people supported by Centrepoint.

Opake and the youngsters had a very positive conversation – and plan to work together again in the future. Image: Eliza Pitkin/Opake

“Everyone’s method and everyone’s life is so different,” says Noor as the young women reflect on Opake’s journey and their own. He managed to get out of homelessness, and so did they. “It’s inspiring. It showed me that success really can be very different for everyone.

Every young woman is inspired to use creativity – in her own way – to change her life. Priscilla loves cooking and the culinary arts, Jamie is a dancer and Noor, a newly graduated social worker, hopes to use her creativity in her work to help other young people.

“It only reinforced the truth that I already know to perfect my craft,” says Jamie. “Opake changed his addiction from drugs and alcohol to art, painting and drawing. I think I could definitely do it myself. It inspired me.

The exhibition runs at the Quantus Gallery, 11-29 Fashion Street, until November 5.