Our last morning at DC Central Kitchen was definitely a bittersweet day. I spent the morning first labeling big dishes of food with Kayla and the next few hours sorting strawberries. We decided if they were “good’ or “bad’ (i.e. moldy or rotten) and divided them up. It was a very communal experience. I got to talk with the people I was working with (today, Kayla, Nolan, Nene, Morven, and Fee) but we also interacted with the normal kitchen staff. I noticed, now that they knew the group a little more, that we were all joking around with each other. There were lots of laughs and jokes; there was some tedium, of course, which I guess is to be expected. There were endless boxes of strawberries, many of them furry with mold, and we picked off countless stems. But, still, there was a purpose to the work; we were contributing to the greater good of the DCCK, which gave the work some meaning. We also ate lunch for the first time at the kitchen today, and heard a man speak about what DCCK does, its history, and how the organization uses food as a way to reach communities and fight poverty. The hardest part came as we left the building and said our last goodbyes to people we had formed bonds (albeit loose ones) with. We took group pictures with Marvin and Sandy and one man made sure to shout “Go Bullets!!” We all were smiling and having fun, and for me that was the best part: the way the organization brought together unlikely people. At least in these short, sweet moments nothing mattered; not the color of our skin, our education, our socioeconomic status, or even our criminal records. We were all there for a common purpose, just enjoying one another’s company.
By: Ali Lauro
Claire and I spent our last night in D.C at the N Street Shelter. When we first arrived we were greeted and welcomed by the staff and the women staying at the shelter. We spent our night watching the Black List with Angle Eyes, and Kourtney, along with getting to know a little bit about the ladies. At 11:00pm, we had to close the dining room and turn off the lights. The women all knew what to do for the most part. We all went to bed and the evening progressed smoothly until about 3 am. At around 3 am, an older lady knocker on our door to let us know that Tracy one of her roommates, was having trouble breathing and was feeling nauseous. We called the ambulance for her and I waited with her while Claire went down stairs to make sure the EMT’s knew where they were going. I was very scared when the lady got sick, especially because she was praying a lot and saying things I didn’t exactly understand. When the EMT’s arrived, I buzzed them in and they took Tracy to the hospital. We stayed up talking and making sure everything was alright. In the morning all of the ladies did their chores and went about their business. We opened up the office for meds at around 7:15 and we had a great conversation about boys and school with Tisha. Overall the night went very while and even though we had a bit of a traumatizing experience the conversations we had were great and we were able to meet some very kind people.
By: Kayla Jones
BINGO happens to be one of my favorite activities, so when I heard that we would be playing it on this trip, I immediately signed up. Originally, I envisioned a relaxing night where everyone just enjoyed the game and went with the flow, but that is not what happened. These women were very particular about how the game should be played, and were extremely competitive when it came to prizes but that’s what made it so fun. If Sam or I accidentally called a repeat number, they weren’t afraid to let us know it, and if we called a number they needed, they got really hyped up about it. Seeing them get excited over bingo was the main reason why I enjoyed this experience so much. They got so excited over small prizes like notebooks, cosmetics and sprays. These are things that are common for most people but are luxuries for others, and that’s what stuck with me the most. All of the ladies had different personalities and different situations but all of them wanted the same simple things that could make their life just a little bit more comfortable, and I am so glad that I could be a part of that.
By: Emily Brown
The biggest question I had about homelessness was, “despite all of the programs and organizations out there today, why is homelessness such a dominate issue in society?” This question was answered with a little history lesson from David Hilfiker. He began by asking us the question: “are the poor culpable for their own poverty?” Then, he answered with a stern “no”. He spoke about how African Americans were pushed out of communities and forced into forming ghettos. They used caricatures, such as ‘the brute’, to lie on African American men. They scared the entire community of African Americans into running out to rundown cities. He believes that homelessness, and poverty itself, were created by the system. Laws were being made in order to ban a certain group of people from being able to succeed. Then we fast forward to today, and everyone thinks that these people on the street are “lazy” or even “dirty” which discourages people from wanting to help those in need. After this discussion, I have come to the realization that homelessness will forever be a controversial topic. Homelessness can only be improved if people are willing to learn about and join organizations that cater to people in need. This discussion also helped me to realize that the way the laws in America are set up, homelessness will be something that will never really end. In David Hilfilker’s book, Not all of us are Saint, he spoke about how poverty and homeless are cycles that are hard to get out of because of its generational factor. People experiencing poverty are often placed in a position where they are not able to pick themselves back up. One of the elements that cause this constant downfall is the start of low income houses. They are all now placed together in society and do not have the resources they need to succeed (Hilfiker). This lesson taught me that homelessness will never really be understood until its history is taught.
By: Nene Sy
Today we went to the National Coalition for the Homeless to listen to three speakers who previously experienced homelessness. When they walked in the room, you could have never guessed that they were homeless at one point. They were all very nice and friendly, and they looked like they were doing pretty well for themselves. When they got to telling their stories, I was shocked at how they ended up being homeless. Alan, our first speaker, was easy to talk to and a kind-hearted gentleman. Alan was a very successful man at the beginning of his career, but then began experiencing depression causing him to constantly call off work. He tried to give himself therapy and began spending a lot of money on things to try to make him feel better. Alan did not realize how much he was spending, and ended up on the streets with no money and no job. While experiencing homelessness, he started to figure out his life again and he managed his depression. After years of experiencing homelessness, Alan finally saved up enough to get back on his feet and reconnect with his family. Our next speaker, Sheila, was a lovely woman with a great smile. Sheila had a good life as a child; she had a very kind, sweet father and a tough-loving mother, and they were well-to-do because of her parent’s hard work. However, her father unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack, thus not able to leave a will for the business and house. After a tough court hearing, Sheila’s family was given the house and one car, but everything else was taken from them. As she grew up, Sheila tried to follow in her father’s footsteps; giving to the needy and caring for others. After leaving an abusive marriage, Sheila lived with her mother until she passed away; leaving her to fend for herself. Bouncing around between family and friends, Sheila finally took matters into her own hands and searched for a shelter. After being in a shelter for a few months, Sheila saved up enough money to get her own place paid for in part by subsidized loans. Our final speaker, James, was a funny, happy fellow with a tough story. James lived in the South with his big family and received a good education in computer science. However, James lost his security clearance from a small mishap that was necessary for his job. He was given a lower paying job as a result, and to add on to that, his parents died in the same year. All of these things led to him experiencing depression, in turn, leading to him being laid off at work from missing too many days. James began searching for jobs and a place to stay, spending all of his money. With barley enough money to eat, James started to sleep on benches in parks; not wanting to stay in a big shelter because of the things he heard that happen there. After being on the streets for a few weeks, James found a small, nice shelter and got a job at the National Coalition for the Homeless. All in all, the three speakers told some inspirational stories and showed that becoming homeless can happen to anyone. Alan, Sheila, and James were doing pretty well for themselves until tragedies affected their lives, leading to homelessness. Today the three of them now have a place to stay and are doing pretty well. Their positive attitudes and friendly smiles showed that even people who were once homeless can recover and get back to where they once were.
By: Nolan Skirtich
Last night Kara and I were able to spend the night at the women’s shelter in the hostel a floor above where we are staying. This is definitely an experience unlike anything either of us has done before. I was very hesitant when I heard that we would be alone with the ladies in the shelter. I didn’t understand why they would think it would be okay to put two teenage girls in charge of thirty women. However, when we got there it was very clear that everything was going to go well. All of the ladies were so nice and easy to talk to. We were able to get to know a select few who were very interested and pleased to talk with us. Then there were others who minded their own business and we didn’t see very much of. The ladies made this task that sounds quite questionable a very simple job. They also knew the drill so well that if Kara or I would be confused about anything, they would immediately step in and help us. At eleven, it was lights out and all of the ladies turned out their lights right at eleven without us having to say anything. Wake up was at six so at this time, Kara and I simply flipped on the lights and told them to get up. Everyone was very timely which was much appreciated because I know we didn’t want to have to tell anyone to do something! The ladies would come to us to get their medicine as needed though out morning. They were all out by the time they had to be, 7:30. It was overall a great and stress-free experience. I know we are both very grateful that we were able to have this opportunity.
By: Morgan Vockel