Monday, January 30, 2012

One Student's View on Homelessness

I have done a lot of volunteering in the homeless community and, thus, have very strong opinions involving the homeless. First, I want to kill the myth that all homeless people are homeless because they got addicted to drugs and alcohol. Yes, some homeless people did end up on the streets that way, and others become addicted due to being on the streets, but a majority of them are trying to get back on their feet. In one volunteer experience I did, called A Day in the Life, we did everything a homeless person did for a day. It was excruciating! The heat index was well into the nineties, and the humidity was disgustingly high, but we had to walk 6 miles anyways. I ended blacking out from heat stroke before we made it to the soup kitchen for lunch. Then we went with a teenage boy to HCMC because he was in unbearable pain in his abdomen. They said his wait would be at least 5 hours because he did not have insurance. This should not be the case, no matter if someone has insurance or not they should have the same urgency to get in as anyone else. Many homeless people have jobs making minimum wage and trying to save enough for a deposit on an apartment to get back on their feet. This is truly difficult due to the lack of showers, clean clothes, and presentable clothing available to the homeless. I applaud the non-profits that help those trying their best to get back on their feet. I know that one little thing can ruin a person's whole life. Something like getting cancer with poor insurance can send someone barreling into debt and before you know it they're homeless. It's not just the poor that end up homeless, especially in this economy, anyone can end up homeless. There needs to be more done to help the homeless try and get back on their feet. More people need to reach out to help, rather than turning up their noses because they're "dirty" or "got themselves into this situation" (things I have heard people say many times). More people need to see that a homeless person is still a person, a human being with feelings and basic needs, that needs to be cared for and given a chance to feel human again.

Dani Janecek

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Returning Views on Homelessness: A Need for Clarity, Empathy, and Solidarity

While last year was not my first experience with homelessness, it was one of my first opportunities to learn about the experiences of homelessness while building relationships with people who were affected by homelessness. Since the trip last year, I have learned a lot about homelessness and oppression in general. I recently read an article by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw entitled “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.” While this article was about Feminism, it did have some interesting points about homelessness. The article told a story about a Latina woman who was living on the streets with her son. She was rejected by a shelter because of a language barrier. While her small son was able to translate, the shelter did not accommodate the woman because they thought her lack of English was too significant to admit her. This made me think of the current social attitudes towards people who are affected by homelessness. We sometimes live in a very negative society; one in which people make excuses and focus on minute social imperfections that permit us to ignore the situation that many find themselves in; we focus on language barriers instead of recognizing that someone is affect by unfortunate circumstances. Furthermore, many people lack what might be essential in order to begin to tackle homelessness: we live in a world where unusual circumstances prompt curiosity of surface details: “Where do you get food? Where do you sleep?” and often fall short of the necessary questions such as “What is it like to be homeless? What is it like to spend a day as you?” Once we reach a point past surface curiosity and approach a sincere concern for the well-being of someone affect by homelessness—this is when we can finally begin to say that we are on the path of fighting homelessness. It is my hope that on this trip, we will all have a chance to interact with people affected by homelessness and hear about their experiences so we can begin this fight in solidarity. It is, after all, in solidarity that change can occur.