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Posts Tagged ‘Internship’

I Chose to be Homeless: Reflections on the Homeless Challenge

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Poverty, Public Education

From October 10-12, I participated in the National Coalition for the Homeless’ Homeless Challenge. I spent 48 hours living on the streets disguised as an unhoused person—sleeping outside, panhandling, and walking blocks and blocks to access food, a bathroom, transportation, and other services.

Emily Kvalheim Homeless ChallengeOn our first night, my partner and I walked for hours in the rain. We slept in the rain with minimal coverage. My shoes and socks and waterproof jacket were soaked; my skin became like prunes. Despite the cardboard we collected, I shivered throughout the night, completely unprepared. I lay awake for hours. In the middle of the night, I got up, in need of a bathroom; I went to a fast food restaurant—like I have done in the past—but I was denied, even when I offered to purchase something. Shocked and discouraged, I walked to a fancy hotel, where I was given a key to the bathroom. For the first time that night, I felt like a human being.

The next day, I experienced this similar feeling of overwhelming gratitude when strangers helped me. I was allowed to sleep on the floor of a worship center because it was raining, and two hours of sleep at night is not enough to compensate for all of the walking we had to do. A kind volunteer at a feeding program gave me crackers, peanut butter, and cookies. One woman slowed down her car and offered us a ride and food. In the afternoon, four or five strangers reached into their wallets and gave me what they could. I made $9.43 while panhandling, and I was relieved to know that I could eat again that day. In the evening, I was welcomed by a sit-down restaurant’s owners, despite the disgust of the other customers. A $5.00 salad had never tasted so good.

Some people were less empathetic. I was kicked out of a fast food restaurant and into the rain on our second morning. Strangers sneered and laughed as they watched us. When we went to the library, I was sprayed with some sort of perfume (without my consent) due to the aroma I had acquired after not showering, applying deodorant, or brushing my teeth for three days.

I recorded the names of the businesses that treated me like a second-class citizen (as well as those that treated me as human). I wanted to expose them and take revenge. They made me feel angry and lonely because they could not see past my stench and my grime and my grimace. They were privileged enough to ignore me, and they did.

But what good would it do to retaliate? I, too, have not been compassionate enough, and I have allowed my prejudices to distort my view of the homeless. One woman, who sat across from me at a feeding program, talking to herself erratically, may have seemed strange to me before the Homeless Challenge. But when I really saw myself as her equal, and when I took the time to watch her get up and laugh as she danced to the music playing in the background, I thought she was beautiful. She had found her own happiness, amidst despair.

I met some pretty amazing people on the streets. Unlike me, they could not quit homelessness after 48 hours. They were not able to pick up their belongings, reach into their wallets, and take a taxi home. They did not get to shower or wash their clothes. They could not shut the door, turn out the lights, and climb under my pink sheets and blankets. They were left outside to sleep on the concrete, vulnerable, exposed, and ignored. They did not choose to be homeless, and I hope I will never really know how difficult it can be.

What I do know is that homelessness is a horrible situation. It is horrible after 24 hours, it is horrible after 48 hours, and I am guessing that it never really stops being horrible. No matter how many nice people and charities there are, no matter how appreciative I am of the people who helped me complete the Challenge, homelessness will always be horrible. We, as housed people, must do everything we can to eliminate homelessness and show the same compassion to those who helped and protected me on the streets.

One way you could help is by asking your family and friends to donate to the National Coalition for the Homeless, perhaps even through a fundraising page like mine. You might also consider hosting events for National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week 2013 (November 16-24) to raise awareness in your community. For more information, visit the NCH website.

No one should have to live the way that I did. Together we can end homelessness.

By Emily Kvalheim, NCH Intern and American University Class of 2015

Summer is Heating Up: Meet NCH’s New Interns!

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy

AllisonAlison Dinmore is a third year law student at the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law working on her J.D. and a certificate in Public Law and Policy with a concentration in Housing Law.
“Through my experiences volunteering in legal aid clinics, numerous homeless shelters, a low-income, medical treatment facility, and non-profit policy firms, I have seen that often unavoidable circumstances can force an individual or their family into the state of homelessness. I believe that members of the legal profession not only have a moral imperative to do everything in our power to prevent homelessness from occurring, but also to ensure that it no longer continues to adversely affect society’s better interests. I chose to intern with NCH this summer because it is uniquely positioned at the national level to provide homeless individuals with opportunities they lack to empower them to help themselves, as well as affect broader-reaching change through education and advocacy. I intend to continue learning more about policy and causes of homelessness so that upon my completion of law school, I will be better equipped to help create and implement real and lasting solutions to end and prevent homelessness from occurring.”

Jake Walters is a junior at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, studying Sociology and History.
Growing up in the suburbs I always felt sheltered and unaware of the world around me. After taking a few sociology classes in college I felt that I had gained some deeper understanding of society, but this was only through books and in a classroom. This internship, or probably any, can’t truly give me first-hand knowledge of the inequalities many people deal with, but it’s a practical step into a world where I can help the people who I have read so much about. It’s a way for me to see the world in a new light and to further my understanding of how society grants privileges to some and not to others. The reality is for everything I can do to help homeless individuals there is just as much that they can do to help me see the world in a more realistic light, and interning with the National Coalition for the Homeless will allow me to help myself just as much as it will allow me to help others.

Jesica Ray is a junior at Dickinson College, located outside of Pennsylvania. She is a Law & Policy major.
“I have lived in New Jersey my entire life and was always too afraid to look at the world outside of my comfortable hometown. I would say my life has been pretty sheltered, and most notably, safe. However, last summer I worked at Lacoste in the Atlantic City Outlets in NJ and was shocked by the reality of what I learned in school or read on the news. Who knew that just 5 miles outside of my home, there was a world of poverty, homelessness, and pain! Long story short, I met a homeless woman named Joanne*, who showed me that homelessness is not a choice and that they are people just like you and I. For this reason, among many, I am now at the National Coalition for the Homeless, and will dedicate my time researching and issues surrounding homeless youth.”

Katherine Nguyen is a rising sophomore at the Rutgers Camden School of Nursing in Camden, NJ, and is also the Homeless Advocacy Fellow from the Bonner Foundation.
“My primary project at the National Coalition for the Homeless is an initiative called Homeless People Action Networks (HPAN). I will be reaching out to state and city homeless coalitions around the country to create advocacy groups completely comprised of currently or formerly homeless people so that these advocacy groups can have the most authentic voices for their concerns. The purpose of HPAN is to connect all of these advocacy groups into a central, collaborative network that can act as a guide for those seeking help and services. This is an initial organizing effort on behalf of the NCH, and ultimately the hope is that HPAN will continue to run independently after the project is off the ground and running.”

Kelsi Sullivan is a senior at The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. She is a Religious Studies major and an Asian Studies concentrator.
“I could not think of a better place to be this summer than amidst people who are passionate about what they do and committed to making a visible difference in the world. Homelessness is something that could happen to anyone and it is important to give a voice to those who are traditionally voiceless. This summer, I hope to learn the different ways in which we can prevent homelessness and create viable solutions for the future that will end homelessness all together. Theologian Ellie Wiesel once said: ‘The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.’ So, in a world full of indifference, its time to be an active citizen dedicated to making positive change for those who need it most.”

Lauren Karl is a senior at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa. where she is studying History, Political Science and Values, Ethics and Social Action.
“I have always been interested in how service, advocacy and activism are connected. The National Coalition for the Homeless is amazingly dedicated to the people they serve, not only as individuals, but also as part of a larger movement. This summer I will have the chance to act not only as an advocate, but also encourage others to advocate for themselves. It is through this second action that I believe real change can occur; once a person is empowered to speak on their own behalf they are far more likely to successful achieve their goals. I am very excited to be here for the summer and am confident my experience will be phenomenal.”

Sahana Malik is a senior at the University of Michigan studying political science and psychology.
“Growing up in a small economically-depressed town in Ohio, I was able to see on an intimate level what it means to struggle for money. Some of the people I personally knew were facing problems obtaining basic necessities for survival. Although these people were not homeless, they lived with the fear of possibly becoming homeless. I firmly believe not enough is being done today to help people living on the streets of America, and I want my generation to spur a change. As an activist looking to specialize in human rights law, I wanted to work for the National Coalition for the Homeless in order to contribute to the efforts to protect the civil liberties of the homeless. I am privileged to be given the opportunity to turn my passion into action.”

Marc McCue is a Summer VISTA volunteer from Anaheim, California.
“I am happy to be working as an intern with the National Coalition for the Homeless because homelessness is a very personal subject for me. I spend two years of my life sleeping in abandoned houses, warehouses and bus benches. With the help of public and private organizations I was given a place to live and the opportunity to recreate my life. I believe no matter what the reason for homelessness is everybody deserves a safe place to call home. NCH is working on a national level to help provide housing for many individuals and families. It is an honor to be working with the National Coalition for the Homeless and doing my part to not only provide shelter to those who are already homeless, but to eliminate homelessness altogether.”

Meghana Sthanam is a rising junior at Vanderbilt University studying Neuroscience and Cellular and Molecular Biology.
“Coming from Birmingham, Alabama, I’ve personally become very aware of the plight of homelessness in the city. For the past several years, I’ve done scientific research in a laboratory, but this summer I wanted to somehow more directly benefit the community. So I turned to the National Coalition for the Homeless, an organization I saw that has clearly enacted so much change nationwide. At home and at school, I became cognizant of the less fortunate around me, even though I live in the affectionately termed ‘Vanderbubble’ and it became more difficult to passively allow such injustices to occur so close to me. I am so thankful to be part of such a commendable advocacy group. I am very passionate about my project on LGBT homelessness, and I hope that my summer here will make an impact!”

Zach Stone is a sophomore at Colorado College studying political science and religion.
“I’m from Bethesda, MD and have lived in the greater DC area all my life. Here at NCH, I am primarily working with the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau, a program that consists of individuals who have experienced homelessness first hand.  These individuals give presentations across the country, sharing their experiences and expressing what they believe can be done to combat the injustice that is homelessness. I was driven to come work for NCH because of their ongoing reputation as a non-profit committed to achieving their goals. I knew, as an intern at NCH, I would be given the opportunity to do real hands on work and make a visible impact on the surrounding community.”

And check out this post (Part 1 and Part 2) by Taylor Southall, a Summer AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer working through NCH’s program at the Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place.

What my NCH internship meant to me

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy

A couple weeks ago we shared with you the stories of our current interns, who in their words described why they chose to work at the National Coalition for the Homeless.  Today, we share the below post from a past intern on how his experience with NCH shaped his professional career.

“It was 16 years ago that I came to the National Coalition for the Homeless as an intern from DePauw University.  At that time, I already had a little exposure to homelessness and poverty issues as a result of some of my coursework and as a volunteer at the Center for the Homeless in South Bend, IN. However, I had no idea what a lasting impact that spring and summer at NCH would have on me.

At NCH, I was surrounded by a wonderful and dedicated group of advocates, including staff, volunteers, and other interns from across the country.  It is an understatement to say that it was an inspiring group to be a part of.  Everyone exhibited a confidence that things could be different, that seemingly unsolvable problems could be addressed, and that we could achieve a fairer system for all, even in the face of what seemed to be insurmountable hurdles.  It was always uplifting to be in an environment with people pushing for big change.

As an intern, I got a glimpse of the policy work being done to address the needs of homeless individuals.  This was a new experience for me.  It was the abstract, “back-office” work that I wasn’t exposed to as a direct service volunteer.  And it was a needed and important reminder to me of how little attention is given to issues affecting poor people by our elected officials.

I really believe my work with NCH has influenced my career decisions. While I haven’t focused on homelessness or housing issues, I have continued to be involved in social justice issues and poor people’s issues as a criminal defense attorney representing people who cannot afford an attorney.  I currently work at the Innocence Project representing individuals in prison who have maintained their innocence and who are seeking to prove that they were wrongfully convicted. Without a doubt, my experiences at NCH solidified my path in public interest law.”

By Jason Kreag
Staff Attorney
The Innocence Project

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