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Archive for July, 2013

Compassion Fatigue?

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness

We Care

Image borrowed from Reston Mom: http://mattmorgan.typepad.com/reston_mom/we-care.html

In an era when each new tragedy appears on our Facebook feeds and smartphone screens within minutes, with donating to the victims as simple as texting a five-digit number, compassion fatigue is quick to set in. The caring public, genuinely interested in helping, faces a rush of ever-changing news — hurricanes and tsunamis, chemical plant disasters, refugee crises, and on and on. It is therefore understandable that ongoing crises like homelessness and hunger may slip off the radar.

But Americans are still concerned about homelessness. A Gallup poll from March of this year found that 43% of us “personally worry about” homelessness and hunger a “great deal,” and 32% a “fair amount.” That’s a full 75% of the public. Just 25% of respondents said they worry about these issues “a little” or “not at all.”

This concern persists even with the budget deficit and the sequester at the top of Washington’s agenda. A Hart Research Associates poll this spring on behalf of the Food Research and Action Center found major resistance to cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Seven out of 10 respondents said cutting SNAP is the wrong way to reduce the deficit.

Some of this concern may be because homelessness is closer to the average American than often thought. A 2011 poll found that one in four Americans personally know someone who is homeless, with 35% of African-Americans and 32% of respondents between the ages of 18-29 having a homeless acquaintance.

In a statewide poll in Michigan in 2010, 47% of respondents said “homelessness and the risk of homelessness is a serious problem in my community,” and 71% said “being homeless or at risk of becoming homeless could happen to anyone.” In a survey conducted in central Florida a year earlier, 55% of respondents said homelessness was a “major problem.”

That Florida poll says a lot about how we view the homeless. Clear majorities said most homeless people possess “good job skills” (59%) and that “it is hard for homeless people to be safe and free from harm” (79%). Tellingly, three out of five respondents said homeless people can generally not “be identified by appearance alone,” while four out of five said it was not true that “the homeless are more likely than others to commit violent crime” and that programs to aid the homeless “are too expensive.”

Paul Toro of Wayne State University told AlterNet that compassion fatigue about homelessness is largely limited to the media, which has lost interest in the homelessness crisis even though the public has not.  But in a face-to-face encounter, things are still different. Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, who was homeless for several years, said, “The closer that poverty is to the face of people that aren’t in poverty, the uglier it is. And the unfortunate part is that often gets manifested as the person is ugly — not the poverty is ugly. And poverty is

ugly. It’s unpleasant. It doesn’t smell good.”

Welcome our Summer Interns

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy

Summer is in full swing and our interns are hard at work! From co-coordinating our National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week to cataloging our in-house library, these students are actively learning and contributing to NCH’s work. Get to know our interns and what has driven them to stand against homelessness.

*****

Intern - Brian
Brian Brazeau
Senior, College of the Holy Cross
Political Science and Italian
“I have lived in the same city in Rhode Island for most of my life and never took the opportunity to witness the suffering of those around me. While I worked for my local congressman last summer, I began to hear the stories of those impoverished in my local district, but still took very little direct action to help the situation.  During my junior year, I studied abroad in Bologna, Italy, finally leaving my New England safety net for the first time. However, what I did not realize was that I would be directly witnessing those who were truly suffering from homelessness and poverty. Throughout the day, I would see people panhandling for money and at night, the same people would be sleeping under doorways and on public benches. It was sad to know that many had been suffering in Europe and, after having been in DC, to know that there are many suffering here in our own nation.

“Now as an intern for NCH, I hope to do all I can to help those who are suffering from homelessness through my work on the Homeless Bill of Rights. While it will not completely eradicate homelessness, I believe it will be the first step in gaining collective action to provide equal rights to all who are homeless.”

 

Intern - Liz

Elizabeth Jo Mason
2nd Year, University of Maryland College Park
Masters of Library and Information Science
“Living in Baltimore, Maryland most of my life, I have always been aware of the struggle of homeless people around me. I have passed by many people in the city who needed money or otherwise looked like they were in need of shelter. However, I did not think to do something about it until a friend from high school was personally stricken with homelessness.

“I chose to become a Cataloging Intern at NCH because it would allow me to become more directly involved in the process of educating homeless people and making a difference in their lives while gaining more cataloging experience for my Masters of Library and Information Science degree.”

Intern - Keith
Keith Meyer
Junior, Allegheny College
Political Science and Philosophy
“I have always felt inspired to engage with the world through a more objective standpoint than merely my own. I had overlooked the perspectives and lives of those experiencing homelessness for too long, which is an issue that remains discrete if existent at all in my small, rural hometown. The internship offers a unique way to engage with this and also interact with our country’s political framework as a basis for institutional change.”

Intern - Sylvia
Sylvia Precht-Rodriguez
Junior, Vanderbilt University
Political Science
“Active citizenship includes addressing the inescapable and mounting issue of homelessness in our nation. This lesson I have learned from my upbringing in Brooklyn, New York and teachings at Vanderbilt University. This summer I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by the staff of the National Coalition for the Homeless who are dedicating years of their lives to alleviating the conditions of those who do not have homes. My role as a Research Fellow, and the work to publish the 2012 Hate Crimes Report Against the Homeless, will hopefully advance their efforts of which I am just beginning to understand. I am learning and I am being humbled by my time here.”

Citizen Engagement: Educating City Council About Solutions to Homelessness

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Speakers' Bureau

On June 24, Baltimore’s Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau held a first-of-its-kind speaking engagement by Bureau members who shared their perspectives and experiences of homelessness with members of the City Council, area service providers, and other invited guests (including Michael Stoops and Brian Parks of the National Coalition for the Homeless).

Earlier this year, many members of the Bureau were involved in organizing efforts to stop the city from forcibly removing a community from an encampment under the Jones Falls Expressway in downtown Baltimore. While advocates were not able to stop the City from closing down the encampment, they successfully drew attention to the injustice of closing down an encampment without providing any place for campers to go. City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke called a hearing to revisit commitments five years in to the city’s “Journey Home” 10-year plan to end homelessness.

Comments made at the hearing indicated misconceptions about the causes and experience of homelessness.  A University of Maryland Social Work Intern who was involved in the organizing efforts around the encampment began reaching out to Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke about organizing discussion with members of the Speakers’ Bureau.

The Baltimore Speakers' Bureau at a recent event.

The Baltimore Speakers’ Bureau at a recent event.

Many emails and several months later, the Speakers’ Bureau finally set a date to meet with City Council in late June and dove into preparing for this very important speaking engagement.  The Bureau aimed to keep the discussion focused on solutions and opportunities for collaboration and hoped that City Council members would walk away with an understanding that while there are a myriad of individual circumstances that contribute to a person losing their home, underlying causes of homelessness all relate to poverty, lack of affordable housing and insufficient health care.

Members outlined goals for the meeting through an agenda that included an introduction on the common misconceptions and stereotypes held about people experiencing homelessness, personal stories from Speakers Bob Jankowiack, Bonnie Lane, and Damien Haussling, as well as a roundtable discussion on pressing issues facing the homeless community. Faces of Homelessness Speaker Tony Simmons who moderated the presentation challenged the audience to think about how themes emerging from Speakers’ stories can point us toward solutions.

The Baltimore Bureau was thrilled by the level of engagement of Council Members during the discussion. Speakers’ Bureau members and advocates from the homeless community were also present to weigh in on the roundtable discussion which focused on changing perspectives of homelessness and an upcoming shelter transition facing the community.

What made this event so important was that for the first time, the real experts on homelessness—those with lived experience—led elected officials and leaders of the service provider community in a discussion on the state of homelessness in Baltimore.  Speakers demonstrated the importance of partnering with individuals that have experienced homelessness in the struggle to end it.

The event captured the essence of a favorite poem of mine by Julia Dinsmore, a poet and activist for social justice from Minneapolis (my hometown):

Take another look, don’t go away. For I am not the problem, but the solution. And… my name is not ‘Those People.’

By Vanessa Borotz
NCH AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer

Read more about what the Baltimore Speakers’ Bureau is up to: http://citypaper.com/arts/stage/i-am-i-said-1.1517758

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