50 Years of Project Renewal: A Conversation with Tedd Leibovitz

Tedd Leibovitz has long struggled with clinical depression, and as a result, he became homeless for a time. Fortunately, Tedd has found safety and security at Project Renewal, as well as a space to display his art photography. Learn more about Tedd’s story in his own words.

Photography by tedd leibovitz

Photography by tedd leibovitz

What problems and struggles were you facing before you came to Project Renewal?

Well, we can start with clinical depression. Undiagnosed and untreated. I was born in 1935. Back then, they couldn't spell it, let alone treat it. The short story is that after 26 years of marriage, it led to divorce, break of my family, loss of friends (sides were taken). I was unable to function and running out of money (economic hard times), which eventually led to eviction from my co-op apartment, and with no safety net left, I went straight into homelessness. 

This lasted approximately 10 months of 1995 into 1996. Eventually, I was found by a social worker, and on Thanksgiving Day, too! He recognized a real case of need in me. He took me to his place of employment on Webster Avenue in the Bronx, a half-way and three-quarter house, until they could put me back together, at least health and food-wise.

After some time there, they hooked me up with Jewish Family Services, where I was able to get the credentials to apply and get into Project Renewal’s Geffner House (then Holland House). These credentials (poverty, homelessness, near suicide), were like what you would need for the Harvard or Yale Club, just 180 degrees the other way.

What kind of support did Project Renewal provide for you? How are they helping you now?

Well, of course, they provided housing. They call it a “Single Room Occupancy.” I call it an apartment. There is definitely a difference for me. One is a dingy room with a 25-watt bulb, broken furniture and cockroaches. The other is a 'warm and welcoming' place of refuge and safety. I've known both and I'll take the latter, which is what I have found at Project Renewal.

The physical space is small, but like Dr. Who's British telephone booth, there’s an infinite universe behind it. I chose Geffner House because they have a social worker and medical backup, which are very important when you have no other safety net. Of course, there are rules and regulations to be followed, some people never get used to it, but still way above the 'great outdoors!'. It's an old building and has just undergone a complete renovation. It's pretty much all done, and it's nice, with new and up-to-date everything. The building is as old as I am and, I think, we're both in pretty good shape.

Tedd Leibovitz

Tedd Leibovitz

I have a small space, but it represents everything I value and need. A/C in summer, new double glazed windows, new bathroom with modern fixtures. As for me, I have an excellent stereo to play the music I need and love, a complete desk top publishing empire for my art photography, and a nice selection of cameras and lenses to go along with it. Although I am on a very limited income, I'm able to parse it out pretty nicely (being a Depression baby does help).

How would you describe your experience with Project Renewal?

The 'worst of times' has now turned into, perhaps, the 'best of times,’ to paraphrase Charles Dickens. I was in a situation of almost near disaster - homeless, from a winter into a summer and into a new winter, with no way out that I could see. When Shakespeare said, the world is a stage and we're all actors in a great play, I don't know if he meant my situation. Actors get to read scripts and eat a good dinner afterwards, and sleep under covers. I didn't have those choices, so my life was much grimmer and perhaps fatal. I would question myself, what would be the final outcome of this disaster that was my life. I had no answer. I finally had some good luck and I grabbed it and held on for dear life, literally. 

Project Renewal and Geffner House were a major player in that desperate time of my life. Because if the social worker had not come upon me and realized I was a real case of despair and near extinction, well, you wouldn't be reading this right now. Maybe somebody else's story. My story still has a ways to go, hopefully, mostly for the good. 

What is your life like now?

In a strange way, I seem to have walked into a life that I always sort of dreamed of (maybe all of us!). I do what I want, when I want and how I want. No obligations, no duties, no outside demands.

I can sleep well and eat pretty much what I want and am in very good health. As a person who has lived most of my aware life with the glass half empty, completely empty or just broken, this is a whole new take for me. Kind of awesome in a way. Live it just pretty much a day at a time. Tomorrow, tomorrow is just 24 hours away! I think I'll just leave it at that.

Can you describe your art and photography? What does your art mean to you and how has it changed your life?

I have been into art all my life. From the time my mother took to drawing lessons in the Cleveland museum of art as a small child. Art has always been a solace and a defense against an often unfriendly world.

The digital camera has become my medium and means of aesthetic expression. It is a wonderful and super toy for the little boy side of me. It takes me out on long walks to seek out new photos to be used on my computer to turn into aesthetic pictures. Then I work on the craft of digital printing; a whole study in itself. These pictures go up wherever I have free wall space. They are even on my floor. This tends to make me all open and friendly and I talk to all kinds of people very easily.

This is an almost complete change in my personality from the earlier and greater part of my life, where I could and would use my tongue like a whip if someone irritated me, and it didn't take much to do that. This whole process, from talk therapy, to having anti-depressive and mood stabilizing drugs, to taking leave of most stressful relationships and becoming my own man, perhaps for the first time in my life, has really done wonders for me, inside and out. I would just like it to continue as long as it can. Better late than never. Best of luck in your lives to all of you, Tedd Leibovitz.