Today we drove to The National Coalition for the Homeless, which is an advocacy organization. While talking to one of the formerly homeless men about the organization, he mentioned that rather than providing direct services, they want to change the way things are and eventually end homelessness. Another main component of their campaign is to keep the civil rights of the people who experience homelessness because often times, the homeless lose their voice in society. After a brief history of the organization was given, three formerly homeless people spoke to us and told us their stories. It was extremely eye opening to see how one can become homeless almost over night, and for some, it could take many years. One story that stuck out to me was that of John. He began his story by stating, “Before I was homeless, the only thing I knew about homelessness was that it wasn’t a part of my life.” He grew up in a loving family, his family was well off financially, and he did well in school. Then instead of going to college, he got a job at a successful company. Later someone bought this company and eliminated his position, and he lost his job. He still felt stable, though, because he still had a house and could look for a job, and then his house burnt down. He did not have insurance and lived in his neighbors shed. He then worked at delivering packages, but his car broke down and got towed. He was alone in a parking lot, with nowhere to go. He mentioned that he felt scared and seemed to turn invisible, like people could walk by him like he was not even there. The hardest part about this was his unpreparedness of how people would treat him. On a bus full of people, stuffed to the edges with people standing up everywhere, there would only be one open seat. The seat next to the “dirty homeless man”, which was him. He eventually found the National Coalition for Homelessness and changed his situation and was able to eventually get his own place. Another formerly homeless man left us with this quote that related to his situation. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man a fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Rather than food being thrown at him, he wanted guidance and a little compassion. He wanted someone to take their time and spend it on him. This is just one of the many stories of how someone becomes homeless, but it was another member there, Karen, who really left me with something to think about. We see someone homeless on the street, and instead of talking to them, smiling at them, making eye contact with them, we ignore them. We dehumanize them so much, but at the end of the day, “We are all human. We have the same wants and needs, the homeless just take the long way to get there” (Karen).
By Francesca Garison
On the final night of the DC trip, we went to a park just a few blocks away from the Hostel where we were staying on N Street. Between my partner and I, we had bags of sweatshirts and sweatpants, men’s dress pants, ladies’ razors, feminine products and a few flannel shirts. I also brought the sleeping bag I had used on the trip because I already had one at home and I knew someone else needed it more than I did.
When we arrived, it was a very dimly lit park with people, mostly men from late 20s-50s, sitting at every bench in a row. I was nervous at first, because I did not know how to approach these people. Finally, I walked up to a man that seemed approachable and asked him if he needed a sleeping bag. I cannot even describe the look on his face or the glimmer in his eyes when I asked him. He looked so overjoyed and thankful when I handed it to him, almost stunned! He thanked me and told me “God bless you.” That was one of the best feelings imaginable.
After that man, it was a lot easier for me to approach people. I said hello to everyone I saw, handed out whatever clothing the men needed. I got down to a single sweatshirt that was too small for all of the men so I went searching for a woman to give it to. I finally found one lady who started talking to me and telling me that she had been on the streets for four years now. She was born and raised in Virginia, came to DC when she got married. I asked her if she was married and she told me that her husband had died a few years ago and that was the reason she became homeless because she could not make ends meet for herself. Her story touched me so much that I placed my hand on hers and told her that I hope things improve for her and wished her the best of luck for her future.
Finally, I had an experience that was less than desirable with one of the homeless men. He started to flirt with me, but the flirting quickly became persistent and a lot more personal and unnerving. I ended up having to leave the park and cross the street to get away from this man, but luckily at that point I had already met a lot of amazing people and given away all of the clothes from our bags. That negative experience did not change how I felt about doing DC Outfitters. It is not very often that I can say I went to the parks of DC late at night to give homeless people clothing. Those people give me so much hope and inspiration because so many of them remained positive, appreciative, and with a bright smile on their faces even though they are currently faced with one of the toughest times of their lives. DC Outfitters was eye-opening, exciting and a rewarding experience that I will never forget.
By Gemma O’Keefe
Tonight we talked to Josh from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. This was neat because Josh graduated from Gettysburg in 2011. He not only provided insight for our trip, but also on life as a Gettysburg student. Josh is the director of public policy for the coalition and works with congress and other political figures concerning homeless veterans around the country. They work to get veterans off of the streets and into different housing programs. Veterans make up a large percentage of the homeless population, approximately 48,000 people. This was really interesting to hear because you don’t tend to think of veterans typically when you think of homeless people. Josh told us about how it’s difficult for veterans to settle back into life when they come back from serving the country and this accounts for the high homeless population. He told us about the Obama administration’s project to end veteran homelessness that began in 2009. While veteran homelessness was not completely eradicated, it was brought down significantly and a couple of states were able to completely rid of it. The work of one administration impacted so many lives and is inspiring to keep helping the veterans. Josh talked about how it’s really difficult to change and amend laws in congress and so most of the year is spent tirelessly working to convince them to change with very little outcome. He said any outcomes they get though, make the job all the worthwhile. I think this discussion was really important to consider during our trip because it puts the homeless population in a new perspective and the least we can do for veterans returning from war is to make sure that they have housing and are not living on the streets.
By Grace Hemmersbaugh
Today, on October 10, 2016, the class spent three hours volunteering at the DC Central Kitchen Nutrition Lab. It was probably the busiest day of work on the trip so far, and everybody was occupied the majority of the time. I myself had a number of jobs to take care of, under the supervision of a very competent and very speedy supervisor named Ms. Diane. She had me lifting food items onto carts and sorting out different quantities of rations into school lunch orders. I was a little sheepish with Ms. Diane, because I’m always nervous about doing a job poorly or coming up short and not being helpful. But she was very reassuring. I organized school lunches most of the time, and was on my own for about an hour before being joined by Professor Fee and Paul Miller. When we were finished with storing the food carts in the indoor freezer, the group split up. Another staff member, Ms. Jones, asked me to neatly stack empty crates in the back lot and place them near a truck. Then I went back into the kitchen and helped three of my classmates bag slices of honeydew melon. This was my final job. Before we left, we took a group photo in front of the truck in the back. It was rewarding seeing to the inventory of the prepared food for the schools, as playing an active role in the distribution of the food was the final phase in the kitchen’s mission.
By Alex Romano
Tonight four of us went to bingo. When we showed up they pointed us in the direction of the dinning room where they eat their meals, watch TV and play games I assume. About 8 women signed up to play with us, they seemed excited to play. Something I noticed was that there was only 1 white woman. Some were very talkative and supportive to one another. One woman kept saying “you go girl” to whoever won prizes. It helped make the atmosphere really comfortable and fun. However, some kept to themselves and didn’t talk with each other. After playing for a few we asked if they wanted to switch it up by playing four corners but they said no, they like simple better, easier chance for them to win I assumed. One woman won twice and when she won the second time she said, “I think we should only be allowed one gift so everyone has a chance to win.” This was very heart warming, it was very sweet. She won again later and gave her prize to a friend that had not won yet. We continued to play and eventually everyone won, they were very excited about some gifts and not so excited about others. They did not like the bow, but they loved the lotion and hair ties, and makeup a lot. After the game ended, we went over to talk to two ladies who were very upbeat after the game. Everyone else that was playing had left at this point. We talked to them about the game, what prizes they think we should have instead next time (socks, underwear, planner, art supplies, candy, color books, puzzles, manicure sets, sizers, mirrors, water bottles, more makeup etc.) gifts more suited for older women. I thought it was interesting that after they said that, they said go to dollar general, it won’t be that expensive. This made me sorta uncomfortable for a second because it might be expensive for some of them, but for us we think that it is cheap. Something that stood out was that they said they would like art classes too some nights, along with bingo, a lot of women like that sort of thing. The two women we talked to at the end were lovely, they kept making me laugh and even opened up about their experience here so far. I was talking to one woman who has been here a month so far, she said she really liked it here, they have a lot of classes they can take like yoga, relaxation classes, therapy obviously, even walking clubs. She said, “Its really not to stay here, I mean it is hard but I can handle it, I can go out for business and be fine, not on a ball and chain.” She also said she loved the food here, which she was surprised about. They keep them busy, very busy but it is good for them. When you have a busy schedule is when you are the most successful, at least that’s what I believe. I really enjoyed being apart of this because it allowed me to talk and observe women get excited about something and hearing how they spend their time here was really interesting. It made me so happy that they felt comfortable here and were clearly working to be on their own.
By Olivia MacDonald
Today I went to a women’s shelter in D.C. with a couple other girls from the class to serve dinner. I was not really sure what to expect but I was excited to meet the women and serve them. When we first arrived we walked in with a couple of other women who were arriving for dinner. The security guards greeted us and assigned us to a floor to serve on. Myself and Molly were assigned to the fourth floor so after we signed in we quickly went upstairs. A staff member had already set up and began serving dinner. To my surprise, the dining room wasn’t very crowed. It was just a couple of women eating and gathering around the T.V. The staff member informed us that on Sunday evenings the women usually enjoyed watching a movie. Most of the women were polite yet shy. I thought they would be more talkative but they were mostly interested in just getting their food and sitting down. Some of the women did ask us where we were from and tried to make small talk, which I enjoyed. One experience that really stuck out to me was when one of the women was yelling at the T.V., then turned to Molly and I and yelled at us. We were very taken back and did not know how to react. I was not sure if she was angry with us or if something else going on. It was confusing, and made the rest of our time uncomfortable. When we got back to the hostile, we were able to talk about our experience and maybe why the women lashed out at us. We talked about how Molly and I could have been easy targets for her anger, even if we didn’t do anything to provoke her. Overall, this was a very educational experience. People aren’t always going to be open to you, even if you have good intentions. But it is important to acknowledge and accept other’s perspectives.
By Brooke Wallmark