Homelessness & Poverty

The morning of June 13th began much earlier than what I had grown accustomed to during the past semester and the couple of weeks of "summer vacation", much earlier. Although I had spent time the weekend before planning to wake up to an unwelcoming alarm at 6:30, take the Circulator from 33rd at 7:15 to E. Fayette Street, and step into the office a comfortable 15 minutes before 8:00 am, I couldn't have planned for what the first day had in store. Thankfully, my irrational fear of being thrust into a corner cubicle to fill out Housing First voucher forms dissipated within the first half hour. Similarly, I appreciate my expectation of being viewed as the summer intern who would spend half the summer simply learning how to navigate Coordinated Access and the other half constantly asking questions that constrained the flow of the referral and matching process was swiftly corrected. Immediately I was included into the Housing Policy workgroup as I attended meetings to prepare for the HMIS committee meeting the following day, interacted with potential partners to discuss what they have to offer to the Coordinated Access system, and reassured that my days would not be spent typing away in front of a computer screen. At the conclusion of my fourth day in the office, it’s evident that my fears of attending to duties that full-time employees felt wouldn’t challenge the intern or that wouldn’t have much responsibility can be discarded. Yes, I have little to no experience in this field and environment, but my fellow co-workers see that as an asset rather than handicap. With that in mind, my excitement and curiosity for what the summer has in store grows with each day I spend in the MOHS as a member of the homeless services program. My initial assigned projects might be small in size and importance, but I already have found my niche and do not have any sense of unimportance or uselessness in the office. As many of the other interns are certainly discovering as well, the fears we had for the summer did not develop haphazardly. My fear of only being present in the organization took root from the fact that I know very little of local government policy regarding homeless and have never spent time in an “office” environment. However, as I previously stated, my fears dissipated and were replaced with realistic expectations of being a productive, dynamic member of the MOHS team.

 

Sam Paek - YOUTH EMPOWERMENT SOCIETY, WEEK 1

I could not have found a better placement than Youth Empowered Society. To be honest, I was initially a little freaked out; I had never worked directly with youth suffering from homelessness before, although I had often come across them at home. While most of my previous engagement with homeless youth came as simply greeting them and handing out food, at YES I am almost forced to come face to face with them for three hours a day. Not that this is in any way a bad experience; working with the youth has been an absolute pleasure for me this past week, but that initial fear being the "new guy" on the block had me on the ropes for sure.

I'm not even saying that it was easy to transition into the new job; Monday consisted of trying to introduce myself to all the youth that come by at YES, building rapport and trust while also trying to meet all of their needs for that day. It really reminded me about how privileged I was to be able to eat three meals a day, to have a place to shower and sleep; one youth in particular admitted to us that he had slept in the Ynot lot the previous night.

It really amazes me how many of the youth maintain such positive attitudes. Despite their situations, they choose to remain optimistic, often coming in to find housing and job assistance, trying to find a way to better themselves despite having almost nothing to begin with. It was also quite amazing how they quickly accepted me despite being the new guy at work; some of them even know my name already!

While so many youth in Baltimore struggle with homelessness, it is an area that receives little attention in government funding and in mainstream media. Many of the youth do not have parents with them, or have been disowned due to their sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.; I have heard stories about parents simply kicking their kids out once they turn 18, the only reason being that they were adults and should fend for themselves. With so little parental support, many youth are forced to turn to other sources of support, which often leads down to a life of drugs, violence, incarceration, and a cycle of constant poverty. Caught up in a system that refuses to give second chances, they are often left with no options in their life.

Going to work often gets emotional for me. I don't show it outwardly of course, but inside I am a tangled mess of empathy, compassion, frustration, and confusion--struggling to find a peace of mind when so many youth my age are suffering from homelessness. I am clearly not better than them in any way, so why am I enrolled in college and they struggling on the street? Coping with the injustices I witness daily is difficult, and I constantly feel insignificant and useless. However, I believe strongly that the youth that come to YES drop-in every day have the potential to turn their lives around, to find housing, jobs, and stability in the future.

Here's to more great weeks at YES.

 

Victoria Lui - THE FRANCISCAN CENTER, WEEK 1

If I said I wasn’t nervous, I would be lying.

This week marked the first week of my CIIP Internship at the Franciscan Center, a non-profit organization that serves as a “one-stop shop” that serves the homeless in order to help them get back on their feet. They provide everything from food to computer skills to clothing appropriate for interviews and jobs. This past week, I spent a day in each of the different departments in the Center in order to gain a global perspective of what the organization does as a whole. I can say that I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience this past week, but it definitely wasn’t easy.

The first day of work, I was extremely nervous. Even though I had already gone in for a tour of the organization the week prior, my heart thumped faster and faster as I got closer to the Center. My palms got sweaty and my breaths got shorter and faster. But that quickly went away when I arrived.

The second I walked into the building, the staff members happily greeted me, welcoming me to the Center and asking how I was. That day, I was going to be working in the food line to serve clients lunch from 10am – 1pm. I thought to myself, “This shouldn’t be too bad. Just put food on the plate and listen to their requests. Not too bad. You can do this, Victoria.” Turns out that there was much more to consider.

Serving on the food line made me think about a lot of things that I normally don’t think about in my daily life. Growing up with more than enough, food was never an issue. I never went hungry, since I could easily go buy a snack from overpriced vending machines at school or wait until I got home to get something to eat from the cabinets. Portion sizes were dependent on how hungry I was, and if I wanted more food, I could just eat leftovers from the pot. As I was serving on the line, a staff member showed me the portion sizes for each plate. She stated as she placed the vegetables and cheese on the plate, “This is how much everyone gets. Even if they ask for more of something, you can’t give it to them. Portion sizes have to remain consistent.” There was only a limited amount of food, and we needed to be fair to individuals by giving them the same amount.

It was much easier said than done. As I started serving, the customers were fairly easy to please; they took what they got and were content with it. However, as time went on, it got more difficult. The clients that came in grew pickier and pickier. Many asked for more cheese, but because I had to keep the portion sizes the same for each plate, I couldn’t give them anymore in order to have some for everyone who comes to the Center for lunch. There were a good amount of times when the customers would yell at me for not being generous with the food. Yet I had to stand there and smile while they yelled at me for not doing my job correctly. And I took their comments to heart because I got a little hurt by them.

As the week went on, I learned that this job required me to be firm and thick-skinned, qualities that I do not have. I am normally a weak-hearted person, quiet, and a pushover. Because I was a new face at the Center, clients who have been going there for services noticed that I was a new face and tried to talk to me in order to get something they normally won’t be able to obtain had a regular staff member were there to serve them. The week of orientation didn’t prepare me at all for this, yet I can’t blame them because the fifty of us work at completely different placements, so it’s hard for them to prepare each and every one of us for our individual placements. It’s something that I have to learn for myself, but I’m up for the challenge. I may not be tough, but I hope that through my experience at the Franciscan Center, I would be able to stand up for myself more and be able to brush off the negative comments that are directed to me. I still have much to learn, but I am determined to do better.

 

Lauren Zingaro - UNITED WAY - PROJECT HOMELESS CONNECT, WEEK 1

After the unease of waking up Sunday morning to hear about the tragedy in Orlando, I was less than excited to begin a new job the following day. The week prior I was surrounded by a group of open-minded and diverse people, voicing my opinion on sensitive topics without feeling out of place. Sunday morning, I woke up in a much different reality. The harsh reality of the world around me was painfully apparent, and it left me feeling very insignificant, especially in relation to the 8-week internship I would be starting the next day. My first day working at the United Way of Central Maryland was not a 180-degree reversal of my outlook the day before, but I did leave work excited to return the following day. I spent most of the day reading literature on homelessness statistics in Baltimore, as well as best practices executed in other cities to combat poverty issues. I went home with a larger vocabulary and an enhanced ability to articulate some of the issues that make self-sufficiency nearly impossible for many people. My understanding has grown greatly in this short week and I am able to explain, with confidence, exactly what I am learning at my internship and why my project is so important.

I was surprised to learn basic office skills that I thought I had already perfected. For example, I spent the last few days sending out hundreds of emails to service providers who participated in the Project Homeless Connect event last year. When I presented the email draft to my supervisor he made edits and explained some good practices that I should keep in mind for writing future emails. Although a bit embarrassing at first, his suggestions were constructive and I feel much more comfortable writing professional emails. 

I met employees in other sectors of United Way and learned about their impact on the community. Specifically, I sat in on 2-1-1 phone calls for an hour, and was able to listen to Baltimore community members receive help from concerned United Way employees. 2-1-1 is an information hotline that connects people with assistance available around the city and the surrounding counties. Many people called with concern about a turn-off notice they received, warning that their electricity or water would be turned off shortly if their bill was not paid. The 2-1-1 aid was able to connect people with utility assistance options available in his or her area and send out applications on that person’s behalf or share contact information of organizations that specialize in certain assistance programs. I enjoyed experiencing the direct contact that United Way workers had with community members, and recognize how helpful this service is, especially for people who are unsure where to begin seeking help.

This week I expanded my knowledge of homelessness and poverty in Baltimore and met great people with real concern for community members. Although the week began at a low point and I recognize my role is a very small one, the gratitude my supervisor and other coworkers have make my place at United Way feel important. I also got to work from home on Friday, so it was a really great week!