HOMELESSNESS & POVERTY

KEENAN CASWELL - MAYOR'S OFFICE OF HUMAN SERVICES, WEEK 5

Over the past five weeks I have found myself explaining to friends, family, or even fellow Baltimoreans waiting at the bus stop that although I am an intern in the Homeless Services Program at the Mayor's Office of Human Services (HSP), I don't spend my days working directly with the homeless population. Rather, my role in the larger mechanism to resolve homelessness in Baltimore takes on the appearance and responsibilities as a facilitator and liaison between the community providers and the housing programs or organizations that are developing new programs. However, that doesn't constrict my opportunities of lending a hand to those who are asking for help. I, both as an intern at HSP or an undergraduate student who attends a university in Baltimore, have the ability and therefore the responsibility to take a step out of my comfort zone and try to make a difference. That difference could be impacting the lives of dozens of children through tutoring in the nearest elementary school or simply subside the hunger in one man's stomach for a day. My time in the mayor's office will come to a close in a couple of weeks, but my actions should continue to impact the people and communities in Baltimore through whichever ways I can. I don't hope to come across as inauthentic or self-righteous, but rather to remind myself and perhaps my fellow interns that opportunities to continue to impact Baltimore won't come to an end on August 6th. Our community can continue to use the skills we have gained over the summer in powerful ways. Every bus ride home when I see someone wearing tattered clothes or carrying what seems as all their earthly belongs, why can't I take the initiative to see if they have had lunch today or if they know where the nearest shelter is? The simple act of reaching out and allowing myself to put my needs or wants in reverse can go farther than we would expect. The double cheese burger and fries that James Frank Keith (a guy with three first names as he referred to himself) munched on as we talked about the unbearable heat meant he had a full stomach that day. Yes, today he might be hungry but with the outreach pamphlet he now has, James can make his way to a free lunch and possibly a case manager to begin his search for permanent housing. Just as a marathon requires thousands of steps but starts with one, the change that Baltimore is longing for and deserves will require thousands of community members to work together but could all start with one small act or initiative.

SAM PAEK - YOUTH EMPOWERMENT SOCIETY, WEEK 5

Well, I'm glad I have air conditioning.

This past week was HOT. Lol I mean I'm cool with hot (I'm from Southern California) but add the humidity and it was a crap show. Even walking back to the bus stop was physically draining: by the time I got there, I was covered in sweat and wanted to complain about the JHMI shuttle for running every 15 minutes, not 5.

And then I was reminded of our youth...many who live on the streets and often want to come into our drop-in center just to avoid the heat. I never really thought about A/C as a privilege before (I mean...it feels like its everywhere), but I need to stop taking things I have for granted and really give thanks to God for his constant provision.

Even some of the youth inspire me, when they mention how they are "blessed" despite their homeless situations. What an attitude can do to change how you think!

LAUREN ZINGARO - UNITED WAY - PROJECT HOMELESS CONNECT, WEEK 5

LaurenHS.JPG

Four. That is number of photo IDs I have in my wallet right now: my New Jersey state issued driver’s license, Bank of America debit card, Johns Hopkins University student ID, and United Way of Central Maryland access card. This is excluding my passport and other old school IDs, which I leave at home rather than carrying in my wallet.

I remember counting this number in my head as I guided the next person through the process to getting just one photo ID. The process is long and arduous, which makes getting a Maryland state ID out of the question for many homeless individuals. On Friday, however, I joined United Way of Central Maryland and the Motor Vehicle Administration to distribute vouchers for IDs to approximately 100 people who waited on line at the Franciscan Center that day.

The MVA requires a social security card, birth certificate and two pieces of mail in order to distribute these vouchers. The vouchers certify that if the individual presents this piece of paper to the MVA he or she can skip the line and pay only one dollar for a Maryland state ID. Unfortunately, not everyone has been able to hold on to all of these important documents for so many years, and they are unable to receive the voucher. For those who do not yet have enough materials to receive a Maryland state ID, we were able to distribute Baltimore City IDs. This ID has the person’s name, picture, date of birth, and an issue/expiration date, so it serves as the first step to receiving a social security card or birth certificate. This ID is also a document that can be presented to cops, which is extremely helpful for homeless people since they are often charged for loitering, public intoxication, and other minor offenses. Friday I edited, printed, cut, laminated, and distributed about 30 of these IDs, and it felt really fantastic to target a specific need and provide direct resources in order to address it.