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"Charlene," by Lina Vital, is part of the exhibit "Becoming Visible: The Face of Homeless Women in Monterey County,Ó which opens Friday at the Carl Cherry Center for the Arts in Carmel.

Unveiling the hidden beauty of Monterey County's female homeless population won't solve the women's problems, but organizers of "Becoming Visible: The Face of Homeless Women in Monterey County" hope it will reveal their humanity.

The exhibit features photography, video and narrative text to explore the lives of local homeless women. The exhibit opens with a reception at 5 p.m. Friday at The Carl Cherry Center for the Arts. It runs through Dec. 14.

"The goal of this project is to give homeless women a chance to be heard in our community," wrote the Rev. Michael Reid of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Pacific Grove. "We do not expect to solve the issue of lack of services for these women, but hope to raise public awareness and encourage the efforts of homeless providers in Monterey County."

The virtual invisibility of the population is in large part due to the necessities of survival, said Carl Cherry Center director Robert Reese.

"People don't see them, homeless women in particular, because they're preyed upon by homeless men. So what they will do is purposely make themselves invisible," said Reese. "They don't go for the same services that homeless men do. They have to be wary in a different way."

For photographer Lina Vital, 42 of Pacific Grove, the assignment became a huge learning experience. Vital works as an administrative assistant at Carl Cherry Center. This was her first exhibit. Her previous work focused on nature photography.

She said she was nervous about the prospect of intruding in the lives of strangers with such complicated lives and issues.


Her trepidation was short lived.

"I was so shocked how willing these women were to share their private lives with me," said Vital. "They were able to see it was a step toward informing the public of their situation. They said we want to participate, we want our voices heard. We want our faces seen."

Vital was moved by the stories she heard from local women.

They included a 70-year-old who lives in Seaside near a sand dune. She had previously lived under a tarp, but a recent rain storm forced her to purchase a Coleman tent for housing.

The woman is currently fighting lung cancer, and has undergone radiation treatment while homeless over the past five years.

Vital also shot a woman in her 50s from Seaside, who formerly worked in the military as well as at the Naval Postgraduate School and a local police department.

The woman is now constantly harassed by some of the officers who worked at the department at the same time she did.

Vital said she saw similarities in warmth and compassion between these women and her own mother.

"They may be hardened in some ways, but I also think they may be some of the most compassionate women I have met recently," Vital said. "I believe they have something to contribute to society."

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If you go

· "Becoming Visible: The Face of Homeless Women in Monterey County" opens at 5p.m. Friday at Carl Cherry Center for the Arts, Fourth Avenue and Guadalupe Street, Carmel. The multimedia exhibit runs through Dec. 14.