The conversation central to homelessness and housing insecurity continued this week in Civic Media.
As we began to move away from statistics and facts about homelessness, I started to draw connections between these numerical figures and the more personal stories of those individuals experiencing homelessness.
Primarily, as part of a class assignment, we listened to the stories of several individuals experiencing homelessness and summarized their stories in a short power point that we would later share with the class. For this assignment, I listened to Samuel’s story. I found him particularly interesting because of his intelligent, hopeful, and peaceful spirit. The interviewer described the zen garden that Samuel created outside of his tent, comprised of various rocks and leaves.
Furthermore, Samuel described his emotional instability and experience with bipolar depression. In the attempt to stabilize his emotions, Samuel struggles to find his place in society, as well as in the workplace. However, Samuel has three wishes for the future – to find a companion to spend his life with, that his son is able to manage his bipolar depression, and that he could have another child with the capability of fully raising him / her and being fully present in his / her life.
The stories of these individuals were particularly touching to me as they reminded me of the experiences that I have had in Magis (a weekly service program). As a participant in Magis, I had a very meaningful conversation with a man experiencing homelessness at Our Brother’s Place, a men’s homeless shelter in Philadelphia. By hearing his story, I felt as though the barrier that is often placed between “us” and “them” was unraveled. Often times, society places a certain stigma and stereotype around those individuals experiencing homelessness. However, by engaging in conversation with them, their true humanity and personality comes forth.
This year, as a leader in Magis, I have had even more opportunities to engage with individuals experiencing homelessness, as well as experience with non-profit organizations that work to end homelessness. One of these organizations, Project HOME, offered me with the necessary background and facts in order to more fully engage with the issue of homelessness. As part of our visit to Project HOME, we had the opportunity to visit a store run by Project HOME that provides those individuals who have experienced homelessness with job opportunities. After speaking to one of these individuals working at the store, I more fully understood the power of conversation. In great detail, he described his gratitude for the time he spent with a group of college students throughout the week. These students would pack sandwiches and sit with him on the street, talking about anything and everything. These students, he said, reminded him of his worth and humanity.
In the future, I will challenge myself to engage with those individuals experiencing homelessness that I so often pass mindlessly on the street. In recognizing their humanity and dignity, we are one step closer to ending the problem of homelessness.
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