HOMELESSNESS & POVERTY

KEENAN CASWELL - MAYOR'S OFFICE OF HUMAN SERVICES, WEEK 2

 

With two weeks at the mayor's office under my belt, my level of comfort with the environment and the projects that I am responsible for has grown considerably. The reason for such a swift transition lies in the manner in which the full-time employees have accepted me into their workgroups (divisions of Human Services that target specific social issues such as housing for the homeless population, facilitating hiring of the homeless or the at-risk population, and improving the collaboration and data sharing between the dozens of non-profits who use their resources to assist the homeless population). In particular, the discussions between the policy makers who develop the policies and procedures for the homeless programs and the social workers who interact on a daily basis with our brothers and sisters who are struggling to provide for themselves further highlighted the dire relationship Baltimore has with its homeless population. For one reason in particular, the most notable meeting I observed this past week took place at the Saint Vincent de Paul Beans and Bread Shelter on 402 S Bond Street. I walked into Beans & Bread just as they were opening their doors to the public and had to wait in line to sign in along with 25-30 other men and women. They could see from my dress shoes and button-up shirt that I wasn’t signing in for the morning meal and client engagement, but that didn’t stop them from asking my name, where I was from, and what brought me to Beans & Bread. The elderly man in line before me especially took interest in what I was doing over the summer and we ended up having a 20-minute conversation covering everything from why I grew up overseas to our expectations of the Raven’s upcoming season. However, what I’ll remember most from that morning conversation is his story. He spent most of his adult life in Guinea but around six years ago he and his wife wanted a change. It was the appeal of the “American dream” that drew them to sell all their possessions in Conakry and to make the leap of faith. They arrived on workers’ visas where he started as a security guard and she became a waitress at the local Applebee’s. They were enjoying their new life, until his wife grew sick and was eventually diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer. She passed away just a few months after her late diagnosis, but in those few months, he had to spend all they had, in addition to borrowing from the bank, to pay for her medical bills in hopes of a miracle. That was three years ago. He’s been jumping from shelter to abandoned building to park bench ever since. Yet, as our conversation came to an end he shook my hand firmly and said with a smile in French, “Son, I will be praying for you and all that you will accomplish. You will be rewarded for your hard work. May God bless you.”. That conversation constantly reminds me that the applications I am processing are far more than just PDFs and keeps me falling into a robotic frame of mind. Individuals and families in desperate situations are on the other side of the computer screen. Each day around 4:00 pm I pack up my desk and catch the circulator towards Charles Village to walk into a house with a full fridge, running water, and a comfortable bed. Where does Michelle go? Where does Deshawn go? Where do Pamela and her three children go?

 

 

VICTORIA LUI - THE FRANCISCAN CENTER, WEEK 2

I remember during freshmen orientation, I was afraid that I would be ostracized, that I wouldn’t find anyone that would accept me for who I was. I was afraid I wouldn’t make any friends being the awkward self that I was. This sentiment was replicated when I began working in the Responsive Services. I wasn’t worried about not getting along with the staff members; after almost two weeks of working together, I feel a sense of belonging and am slowly getting to know each member better and better. I was more worried about being able to interact with the clients. I felt uncomfortable interacting with them the first two days because I wasn’t sure what to say to them. Whenever they asked questions, I had no answers for them because I didn’t want to give them the wrong answer if I wasn’t fully sure. I didn’t know how to help them besides giving them mail. I felt helpless, just as I felt helpless in the midst of the 1400 freshmen class.

LAUREN ZINGARO - UNITED WAY - PROJECT HOMELESS CONNECT, WEEK 2

 

By week two I believe I have a better understanding of United Way’s impact on the community of Baltimore. I was pleasantly surprised to meet so many people who are passionate about the wellbeing of the city and its residents. I believe one of the many reasons people, including myself, have become so invested in this city is due to its size. Most of my coworkers have lived here for most if not their whole lives. That means many people can name something or someone they know from most of the communities that make up this city. The people at United Way are not far removed from the issues that afflict Baltimore, which makes their work so much more impactful, which is one of the things I enjoy most about working there.
This week I participated in United Way’s Worldwide Day of Action. We cleaned and painted the inside of the Eutaw Marshburn Recreation Center. This rec center was closed after the uprising due to lack of funding and has since been used by the adjoining school. The goal that day was to paint and revamp this area in hopes to attract donors to invest money in programming and staffing the center. A recreation center like this one could serve many uses, especially during the hot summer since it is an air conditioned facility. It was very rewarding watching the children come in and seeing the excited look on their faces when they saw this was done for them. Sadly, the other thing I experienced was a bit of hopelessness. There was only so much we could do for this area- the volunteer coordinator kept repeating, “All we can do is make it pretty”. We could not staff the area or provide event plans, so our efforts would be without reward if no one puts money into improving it. However, with the news reporters and other influential people present that day hopefully some donors will take interest and bring back this neighborhood’s much needed recreation center, and this is something I will be able to say I helped make happen.
I have also spent a lot of time this week calling dental offices to spread information about the expansion of the dental clinic at the Project Homeless Connect event in September. Doing cold calls is something I have never done before, so at first it was very nerve wracking and I was resistant to talk over the phone. After about 50 calls, I have become much more comfortable with it and realize the importance of spreading the knowledge of this event. I am also in the process of applying for a mini-grant to secure more money for the event. This has helped me to learn how to write about the event and what it is that we are doing for the Baltimore community. At the end of week 2 I am amazed I could learn almost double the amount of new skills that I learned in week 1.