What really happened to the homeless during the pandemic? We see people living on the streets as part of our daily lives, but what do we really know about the reality of surviving without a place to call home, especially during a pandemic?
For 11 days from October 27, a new immersive show, the Secret Museum, will bring to life the stories of people living on the streets and those at the sharp edge of inequality. Part theatre, part exhibition, the Secret Museum is a 0.8km trail of discovery of 12 objects from The Museum of Homelessness (MoH), all with a vivid story attached. “We wanted to give people something that is beautiful, moving and fun,” says Jess Turtle, co-founder of MoH. “We want to do justice to how people have taken care of each other, and how people have survived.”
Starting from the old Cardboard City in Waterloo (now the Imax), the journey winds through what were the deserted streets of London during the pandemic. En route, visitors find clues and hidden signs that lead them to the Secret Museum where MoH performers tell the stories behind the objects. These are the streets where the museum’s crew and volunteers – the Covid-19 homeless taskforce – ditched their museum work for seven months to distribute food and care packs to keep marginalised Londoners safe.
MoH, a charity and museum, is unlike traditional museums where you find objects inside a building. It has no bricks and mortar, no home of its own, but is a community of people that works in alternative creative ways, investigating and campaigning. Previous shows have been with the Manchester Art Gallery and Tate Modern.
“We always create our exhibitions from the point of view of people who have gone through the experiences,” says MoH co-founder Matt Turtle. “We collect real-life stories, and people give us an object, sometimes precious things, sometimes something ordinary. There is hardship in these objects but also, in the pandemic, there were these stories of community and people rallying round. We saw a lot of that in homelessness.”