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Archive for July, 2012

A Night of Outreach and Learning

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Outreach

Last Monday night, I arrived at the “Homeless Count” organized by the Downtown DC Business Improvement District (BID), nervous and excited to participate in a direct service activity, after a month and a half into my research and advocacy internship with NCH.

Volunteers were given a brief orientation session and were divided into groups, my group was assigned an area in the heart of Chinatown. We were given a map, a flashlight, several outreach service information cards, and some questionnaires. We were instructed to locate people who were experiencing homelessness, pinpoint their location on our map, ask them the questions on the questionnaire, and give them a service outreach card so they would be aware of the services available to them in D.C.

Being new to the count, I decided to sit back and watch how my fellow group members would approach people who were homeless. It seemed straight-forward, they would approach someone, introduce the organization we were with and explain how this homeless count was meant to help them.

At first, it seemed like our introduction made sense, we were helping them, right? However, I quickly began to wonder if I was helping them at all. We were demanding these people’s time, late at night, asking them personal questions, and I couldn’t help but wonder: what was I actually giving them? The only thing we had to physically give out was the outreach services information card that listed services these people might have already known about.

Feeling that I was not really doing anything of value for the homeless, we approached a an older gentleman, who made it clear to me what I should have been doing all along. The man, we’ll call him Jackson, was a Vietnam veteran who had originally come to D.C. for a job in construction. Unfortunately, when he arrived, the job fell through and as time went on, it became harder to make ends meet. Eventually he wound up living on the streets. Even at 74 years of age, Jackson said that he would still be able to do construction work, if there were any jobs available that is. This man had a lot to say but after 5 minutes with him, my group nudged me to move on.  I could tell Jackson had more to say so I stayed,  figuring that if all I had was a measly pamphlet to give him, the least I could do was give him my time and full attention.

When we met Benjamin, I was faced with an ethical dilemma. The last question on the survey was: “Is there anything we can do right now to help you?” But my question was: If there was something we could do, would we? No one made that more evident to me than Benjamin. Though he sat with us and answered all of our questions, when he asked for small meal because he had not eaten since the morning, my group and I quickly declined saying we had no food to give. I wondered why we had asked the question in the first place if we were not really going to do anything about it. I had money, I could have gone and bought him food, but the group assured me that that was not what we were here to do. We were here to count, not to feed and not to enable the cycle. Perplexed, I wondered how feeding someone kept them homeless…wouldn’t  it just keep them healthy and alive?

Finally, we met a couple named Mike and Chloe, who were traveling from Miami. They said they were trying to get to Maine, and when I asked why, they responded that they were going “home”. As Mike played the drums and Chloe danced around to the beat, they assured me that the money they were collecting was to catch a ride “home”. They didn’t seem down, on the contrary, they seemed to like an adventurous life on the road. Though not quite the average homeless couple, we counted them and headed back to the BID office.

By 12:30, our counting had come to an end. In total we counted 12 people who were experiencing homelessness, some sleeping, some walking, some working and some, just trying to get home. Hopefully, the BID’s count will ensure that all these people find permanent help.

*names have been changed to protect interviewees’ identities.

By: Kelsi Sullivan, NCH Summer Intern

Why Membership Matters to Youth

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Youth

Through being a member of NCH, find out how you can help LGBTQ youth deal with the risk of homelessness. Here is some insight from our summer intern, Meghana Sthanam.

This summer, I am fortunate to be able to advocate for a problem I am truly passionate about: the disproportionately large number of LGBT individuals facing homelessness everyday. I’m originally from Birmingham, Alabama, where, almost unsurprisingly, you find a sizable population of LGBT youth without consistent housing. Most live with friends or stay at clubs, hoping to find a bed for the night by whatever means. Although I recognized the problem, after joining NCH, I realized this is a problem that plagues the entire country. In the general population, 3-5% of people self-identify as LGTBQ. Furthermore, studies have shown that the homeless LGBTQ youth population in theU.S.can be as high as 40%, almost half of the entire homeless population. It’s easy to see that young LGBTQ individuals inherently face greater risks of homelessness and discrimination simply by identifying themselves as a different sexual orientation or gender identity. I believe this issue deserves as much attention as other LGBTQ issues, such as gay marriage and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; we cannot continue with this ‘out of sight, out of mind’ thinking that has pervaded our culture.

There are so many ways our members can help. For those involved with shelters, whether an employee or shelter resident, using positive language to create a safe haven for LGBTQ individuals is essential.  By simply avoiding derogatory thoughts and actions, you can make a person feel more welcome, especially when that person is coming from a climate in which acceptance is lacking. For our youth members still in school: be a friend! The numbers show that an extremely high percentage of homeless LGBTQ have experienced harassment and abuse within their home and school. Thus, reaching out a friendly hand can make a huge difference in someone’s life. For individuals working with law enforcement, LGBTQ youth compose 13-15% of those currently in the juvenile justice system, often because of the school-to-prison pipeline, abandonment by their family or victimization in their schools. Lastly, to all our members: please continue to be an advocate!

Homelessness: An Issue of Convenience Impacting Others

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

Yesterday evening, NCH hosted an event called “Can You Hear Us?” outdoors in Shevchenko Park, in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC . Four members of our Speaker’s Bureau presented their personal stories and advice to a group of young, well-engaged activists.

Each speaker addressed a different issue. David Pirtle began the event by talking about the violence he faced simply because he was homeless. T. Sanders inspired us all to advocate for an issue we feel passionate about. She chose to advocate for at-risk youth; this was due to the fact that she herself was in such a position. John Harrison, addressed the derogatory manor in which he was treated because of his appearance as a “bum.” Lastly, Steve Thomas discussed how one wrong decision can lead to the path of homelessness. Even at 51 years old, Steve said all he needed was his “mommy,” someone to care for him and encourage him to keep going.

While inspired, I was initially disappointed that on the surface, the mission of this event appeared to be unfulfilled. Though the speakers were clearly audible even over the bustling of traffic, they were not truly heard by the many people who chose to walk by. As our last speaker Steve Thomas said, “Homelessness is a matter of convenience for other people.” It was not convenient for most people to come to such an event when more exciting activities than a discussion on homelessness were taking place.  Homelessness is only “convenient” when it personally touches you.

Inevitably, the next question that came to my mind was how do we get this issue to touch others. I realized however, that the answer was to continue doing exactly what we had done. While this event may not have touched many, it transformed the way of thinking for those who attended.

After the event, one member of the audience told me,

“You really grabbed my attention. I have a completely different impression about homelessness than I did before and I would like to become more involved with this issue. Your organization and these speakers have made a great impact today.”

It was then that I understood: while it would have been wonderful if hundreds of people came to this event, our organization was still able to influence at least one person. This one person will in turn influence another person, and one will eventually turn into hundreds. A major goal of our organization is to inspire others to take action and yesterday, we did just that.

A special thanks must once again be given to our four wonderful speakers, without whom, we would not be able to effectively carry out NCH’s mission.

By Sahana Malik


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