Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Experience Homelesss--Rachel

I was very aprehensive to go into the homeless challange mostly because I didn't think people would believe that I was homless. For the first day and a half that ended up being a problem. Standing in line for food with other homless people at a park, I knew that it was obvious that I wasn't homless. That's when I got thoughts of weather it was moral or not to do this challange, because we were taking food from people that really needed it to do some kind of experiment. But I will say on the final day of the challange that's when it really dawned on me what it would be like to be homless. I was so exhausted from the wear and tear of the past few days that I experienced that feeling of desperation, where I needed something fast. So that's where me and Faduma decided to pan handel and also experience the embarassment that comes with that. To summarize, the homeless challange was a difficult experience and experiment but it was a way to see things on the other side. I'm glad I decided to take a look.

Walk a mile in my shoes

It seems like just yesterday that we were lugging our baggage behind us wondering when we would arrive at our hostel; it was a long walk from the airport and the heat was getting unbearable...but little did we know that soon this would seem like second nature. Walking became a whole different concept to me during the 48 hour challenge. It was no longer a thing to be done for the sake of doing it. Walking became something new that tasted of desperation at times; we walked to find food, to find shade, to find rest. We walked a lot. We walked until our feet felt numb and became so used to the walking..that the pain of walking became a part of us. We woke up at 5am and started our day trekking the barely awake city. I had never been outside at this time, let alone in a city I was unfamiliar with, but I found my perspective shifting with those early mornings; I was awake because I was forced awake from my place of sleep [on a bench or the front steps of Macy's], but right at that moment, there were those who were  in their warm beds in their safe houses. I began to feel that painful twinge of lacking a home but at the same time I felt the streets were my home. I was free to the quiet of the dawn; those in their homes would probably never feel this simultaneous rush of fear and calm.

There is something that I heard countless times during our stay in D.C, that is: homelessness does not come with a manual. We needed to experience a majority of things that we may not have been comfortable with in order to survive and one of those experiences was walking extremely long distances in the heat and learning how to navigate the entirety of the city of D.C. Regardless of how bad of a sense of direction I had; apparently sense of direction is an innate behavior and it was certainly one I tapped into.

More than walking, I learned how important it was to rehumanize homelessness. Although, I may not have received very similar reactions from non-homeless individuals, through acts such as panhandling as well as listening to the stories of our wonderful guides (Steve, Andre, and John) I realized how much people dehumanized homeless individuals. To lack a home is not the entirety of your identity so to judge a person based solely upon that is truly sad. I believe my perspective of homeless people from the beginning of the trip may not be different from now in certain aspects, but my understanding of them has certainly grown. Due to our increased knowledge of the homeless population as well as our 48 hour experience, my empathy towards them has become stronger; I feel a closer bond to them. My overall perspective on life has changed; it made me think of what I take for granted in my own life as well as how we can have a better Universe if we all just took the time to understand each other.


Good morning! :)

It is currently 7 am and everyone is slowly waking up to pack and clean before we leave for the airport. It's a very sad and exciting time. I can't wait to sleep in my own bed but I am also sad to leave. Due to the homeless challenge we only volunteered at two places so it's weird leaving when we've done so little. Nicole is sitting next to me treating her battle wound. She tried to fight the escalator and let's just say the escalator won that one. I hope you all have a great day! :)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Forty-Eight Hours of Homelessness

     As many of you have probably heard from various trip participants, one of the main events of this year's Homelessness in the Heart of our Country's trip was a 48 hour homeless challenge put on by the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH). From 4pm Monday, March 19 to 4pm Wednesday, March 21, we spent the days and nights on the streets of DC. The days were filled with WALKING, trying to find food, and trying to find a bathroom. The nights were filled with memories with our guides from NCH, sleeping on benches and the steps of buildings, and being waken up by the police at 5am.
   My experience on the streets of DC taught me a lot about myself, the city of Washington DC, the general public, and, obviously, homelessness. These are the highlights of what I learned from probably the most interesting 48 hours of my life:

1.     I am not qualified to be homeless. Living on the streets takes some serious skill: knowing which places serve meals, knowing when the meals are served, and knowing how to get to the places is not something one can easily figure out. And meal time is only one of many things homeless people have to think about on a daily basis. Furthermore, by Wednesday I was so exhausted that I did not want to get off of my butt and do ANYTHING. I was so tired of walking, so tired of not have a good night's sleep, and so tired of being dirty that I absolutely could not find the motivation within me to seek out the places that served food.

2.     After a few days of not showering, I smell. REALLY bad.

3.     Steve, who was formerly homeless and our NCH guide for the first night, informed us that the place we first slept (a bench on a sidewalk) was located in one of the "safest" places in DC, because it was located on Pennsylvania Avenue, the street that is covered with video cameras and federal security organizations. The bench that we slept on was surrounded by such buildings on every side (the FBI for example).

4.     Traditional gender norms that have been perpetuated by society (ie Male Privilege) are almost completely flipped in the world of homelessness. Men have no day centers, few places to eat, and few shelters set up specifically for males. On the flip side, women have several day centers and places to go to be off the street during the day, several shelters that are specifically for women, and places to eat that have separate rooms in which only the women can eat.

5.     I've perceived that there are two perspectives that one is subjected to during the homeless challenge. The first is the opinion of the general public, an opinion I thought much about and dreaded long before the challenge. I knew that once I was on the street, people would immediately start looking at me a different way and treating me a different way. The other perspective is one of the most profound things I took away from this experiences. The other perspective that I did not anticipate for the challenge was the perspective of the homeless population. I ignorantly never thought about what the homeless population would think of me when I attempted to blend into their community. Truthfully, the reactions I received from members of the homeless population were much more common and much more intense than those I received from the general public. I never thought about how I would possibly be invading their space and apparently so rudely be attempting to generalize their identity as homeless individuals. This realization of the looks I got from homeless individuals was a reality check for me: the homeless population was more humanized than ever.

6.     Since doing the challenge, I've found it much easier to make eye contact with people sitting on the side of the street asking for change or food. I've also found it much easier to smile and say, "Good Morning! How are you today?"

7.     Drivers in DC are among the most aggressive I have ever witnessed... they are GLUED to their horns.

8.     I am now closer to being an expert in which places have free bathrooms (you can guess how I've gained this status).

9.     Exhaustion + Dupont Circle = Dandelion jewelry.

10.    Steve Thomas (aka Big Daddy) and Andre Colter are probably two of the coolest people I have ever met.

11.    Homeless people have serious chess skills. Seriously. It's freaking intense.

12.    The US Senate is actually beginning to recognize the issues surrounding homelessness; while the rest of society still has yet to follow, I can only hope in a future of recognition and understanding of the issues that are homelessness.

13.    I learned this from Steve the first night: The top stereotypes surrounding the causes/faces of homelessness are: a) substance abuse, b) mental illness, c) laziness, d) uncleanliness. There are many people in the housed population that are: a) substance abusers, b) mentally ill, c) lazy, and d) unclean. So, Steve asked, why does homelessness exist?

14.    The police in DC do NOT care if you have had a good night's sleep or not. You ARE waking up at 5am, whether they have to bang their baton on the wall, yell in your ear, or clap in your face (I experienced the latter).

15.    During the entire challenge, I had the privilege of assuring myself that within a few days I would be able to sleep on a warm mattress located indoors, I would be able to take a shower and brush my teeth, and I would not have to worry where my next meal was coming from or where the hands that prepared it had been. Those who are homeless are not able to indulge in such luxuries; and after taking that first shower for the first time on Wednesday since Sunday, I fully realized the true value in a warm shower. I literally felt like a million dollars. I feel so sad that such small things that so many take for granted every single day can be such a far away dream for those without a home.

     Going home, one thing that I know that I can do to help out besides the obvious being aware of the issues and volunteering at service centers is keeping a list with me of shelters and locations to find food and how to get there. Homelessness in Saint Paul isn't very evident during the daytime, but if I encounter a homeless individual, I want to know that I will be able to provide him or her with a list of resources to make his or her hardship a little less painful, embarrassing, lonely, and miserable.    

     I encourage you all to reflect on what things you take for granted every day and learn to appreciate more the things that you do have. I know that I am thankful for every shower, nap, sleep, and meal that I have been given. I know that many live everyday without those luxuries, and I have learned (and am still learning) to appreciate my blessings and use my empathy and passions as a means to work towards a world without homelessness.

Until that world becomes a reality,


Three Days & Two Nights, Homeless.

Home. At times it's so incredibly easy to forget that we have a home and that many others do not. Homeless is a tough issue to deal with and an even harder for those who suffer from it. To get a better understanding of homelessness this trip we spent three days and two nights out and about on the streets homeless. It was a long and tiring ordeal being homeless, we would have to go digging through trash bins and panhandle for money if you didn't want to eat at a shelter and all we did was wander from place to place trying to stem one of the biggest problems homeless people deal with: Boredom. But for me at least it would be finding a suitable shelter at night but first I will have to tell my story.

Within the homelessness challenge we were put into groups of three so that we would be safer that way in a group. I got separated from the group in less than thirty minutes from our starting point so for the first day and a part of the night I was flying solo. During the day it wasn't so bad being homeless, it just entailed a lot of walking and a lot of "Oh what in the world do I do now?" moments. I had gotten two dollars and a mcdouble during the day and my water bottle was full to the brim so I was pretty much set for food and water. But there was a complete change when it changed from day to night. When the sun started setting people starting rushing to get home. Rather normal phenomenon right? Actually in this instance no, because I was a lost little boy in a big city which I didn't know about and had no where to go. Once the sun set and night came out it could be noted that every fifteen minutes that passed there seemed to be less people. The peak of their being no people was around say... 9 PM This was incidentally the time in which we're supposed to meet up with some guides to help us find shelter for the night in which everyone was helped with finding a place to sleep but me because I was STILL wandering around the city looking for the spot in which we were to meet. But from 9 PM on I noticed that while the streets seemed to be emptier that they started to get a little more populated, only these kinds of people weren't the working class or the high business people, they were the homeless. So I made note of this and went and talked with a few of them and their answers rather disturbed me. First they could obviously tell that if I really was homeless, this was probably my first night. Second that I had better have my back to a wall and sleep light if I still wanted my bag the next day and perhaps my life. And thirdly, beware of the crack heads. They said they all did weed, alcohol, tobacco, etc but they singled out that that whatever you do beware crack and the crackheads. After talking with a few of these guys I was starting to freak out a bit. Not only that but once I started to they said it was pretty apparent that I was scared shitless and that I shouldn't make it too obvious or that would mean I would present myself as an easy target. So it's about 11 PM now and, as I said, I was really freaking out on what to do, especially where to sleep. Eventually I decided that the best option would be to go back to the hostel as that was the only really secure location I knew. I finally got found by a group which was waiting in front of the hostel if I ever came back there. After many tears of me being found and frantic texting to everyone that I had been found the guide with the group found us a nice place to sleep in front of a Macy's and yeah. End of day one.

The main thing that I want say really from this is that I think the hardest thing that Homeless people have to deal with is really the Night. Everyone needs to sleep but as you don't have a home anymore you feel so acutely the dangers and your mind just keeps making up worst case scenarios. Not only with fear being a constant throbbing force throughout the night, but when your new to the city like I was there comes the issue of: "Am I taking someone's bed and am I gonna get beat to a pulp because I took someone's bench?". Things like these we don't take into the account simply because since we have a warm home waiting for us. But when put on the streets you just think of EVERYTHING and all at once, especially the worst case scenarios. The fear envelopes you, grips you, and never lets go.

There's an blessing which the Irish use which I find appropriate: May you always be blessed with walls for the wind. A roof for the rain. A warm cup of tea by the fire. Laughter to cheer you. Those you love near you. And all that your heart may desire.


TL:DR Read it, Please. Comment too! :3

Going Home

Generally, the title of a blog post would have little meaning. Maybe a couple of words that will tell the reader what I will be discussing. It is read, and then easily forgotten.

Home. A four-letter word that has a lot of meaning in our society.

Telling the general public about my experience has been the most surprising and eye-opening to me. While on the streets, the homeless population opened their arms and welcomed us in; telling us where we could find food, clothing, and shelter. The general public on the other hand...

We told our story to a lady from Shoreview at Senator Amy Klobuchar's office on Thursday morning. She seemed interested in who Katie and I were at the beginning of the conversation. Wanted to know where we were from, and why we were in DC. When we told her about the challenge, her attitude changed. As Katie says, "it was almost as if...we started smelling bad." Her attitude changed, she made rude remarks (i.e., "saves on the hotel bill") and we could tell she wanted out of the conversation as fast as humanly possible.

Just because an individual doesn't have a home, does not make them anyless of a person. In fact, all of the individuals that I met were stronger and more wise than most people I know. A house is not a personality characteristic nor is it something that we present to others in hopes of companionship. But as soon as someone says they do not have a home, we scoff and look the other way.

Why is that!? As soon as I figure it out, I will update you.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Becoming Connected with the Homeless

Today we had two people come and tell us about their experiences being homeless. One of them had been homeless on and off for 10 years and was currently homeless now. He was in his 3rd year in college getting his degree in business managment. He also had just applied for grad school. Another guy had been homeless while he was dealing with mental illness, but was now off the streets. After they talked we brought supplies out to two parks to give out to homeless people. We had ponchos, socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deoderant, and socks that we handed out to people and then stopped to talk to them. Nicole and I only ended up talking to one person and we were both sad when the time was up. He had become homeless almost nine years ago when his son was murdered. He was a great guy, full of life with high spirits. He loved himself and his life than I do love mine sometimes, which really made me think. He was so happy to talk to us and even sang us two Christian songs. I tried to give him a few dollars for being so kind to us and he wouldnt take it. I will remember my interaction with Walter for the rest of my life. He really put a face to a problem that is considered a numbers problem or just statistics. He was nicer to me than most housed strangers, and he has a lot of reasons to be critical about the world. I can't imagine people beating him up, cops trying to frame him to arrest him, people spitting in his face, dumping bags of feces or other bodily fluids on him, dumping hot coffee on him, calling him the "N" word, as well as the many other things I can only imagine that he faces everyday. If people took time to smile and say hi to one another, and treat one another like humans, the world would be a much better place. :)