Out in the Open

'I absolutely believe that the past can be left, and let go'

After losing her job and then her home, Elisheva Passarello found herself homeless. Today, she’s trying to leave that past behind.
Spirituality and photography paved Elisheva’s path to recovery. (Elisheva Passarello)

Toronto's Elisheva Passarello was living in a four-bedroom house while building a career in real estate.

Then, she got laid off and downsized to a one-bedroom. Eventually, she couldn't pay rent anymore and was evicted.
(Elisheva Passarello)

"Everything was just sort of a bottoming out until I got to that point," she said.

In February 2013, Elisheva found herself somewhere she never expected to: a homeless shelter. She was allowed one suitcase and slept in a room with three beds, and no lock on the door. She said she witnessed violence, self-harm and screaming in the night.

"I wasn't sure that I would live through it," she said, "I thought I would be attacked and killed."

That climate resurfaced trauma Elisheva experienced as a child, which she thought she had already dealt with. While at the shelter, she was also learned she had post-traumatic stress disorder.

Spirituality and photography paved Elisheva's path to recovery. She began using her camera as a reason to leave the shelter and focused on capturing the natural world around her. When she brought a photograph of flowers outside the shelter back in, her fellow tenants didn't believe they were taken there.

"That's what trauma does to us. We're so focused on either surviving or taking care of ourselves, or trying to get through the day...we don't see what's around us."

Four years since entering the shelter, Elisheva's still living in the same building. But she's moved upstairs, and now pays rent for a private room in supported housing.

"I absolutely believe that the past can be left, and let go," she said. "My past was not in vain, it was for a purpose. I lived out what I lived for the purpose of helping others."

Check out some examples of Elisheva's photography: