My second overnight shift went just as smoothly as my first overnight shift. I arrived around 7:30pm, and since it was Thursday, the laundry had been delivered and bed sets needed to be assembled. My first shift during the evening shift was milieu, where I simply walk around and interact with the guests. I ended up sitting at the dinner table with the television next to it and had a nice conversation with one of the guests about dinosaurs because Jurassic Park was the movie that was playing that night.
After milieu, I worked in-take, where you sit down with any new guests and try to gather information on them and read them the rules of the shelter. There was one new guest that I got to shadow in-take for that night. During the in-take, the guest was eating dinner, which can sometimes help them relax because they have food in their stomach and something else to focus on when need be. However, there were also a lot of other guests sitting around us during the in-take process, which ended up slowing us down because they would comment on how “stupid” the questions were. These questions included information such as how long the guest has been homeless for, how many times they have been homeless, an emergency contact, any income they have, etc. The guest also has the option to release their information to the county for funding purposes. Most guests opt out of this, but the guest I was talking to decided to release their information.
Once the evening volunteers went home, I took the first shift of the overnight shifts, which was from 11pm-1am. During this shift, I started the guest laundry and monitored the bathrooms (writing down names of guests who use the bathrooms after lights out and when). Some of the guests were sitting over by the door durning my shift, quietly talking. After a while, one of the guests got ready for bed, but decided to talk to me before going to bed. This conversation was awkward to have because he was talking about how he didn’t like the overnight counselor even though he had just met her about 10 minutes ago. I tried talk about not being able to know someone by one quick interaction with them, but the guest just went on and on about how she was a “no” type of person, and that all homeless people here from privilege people like her is “no.” This particular guest was very negative towards volunteers and staff, which is understandable considering he had only been homeless for less than a month. In the morning he left the shelter way after 8am, which is when all guests have to leave or they get barred from the shelter for one night. While he was packing up his stuff, he kept saying “I know you guys just want to go home, so you guys should just go home already. I’m fine, you don’t need to stay here, just go home.” I, like the other guests noticed how many times he said the word “home.” He was struggling with recently becoming homeless, which had more of an impact on me than the other guests because it reminded me of how easy it is to become homeless and that it can happen to anyone.
When I did the laundry, I wore gloves, which I felt bad for doing because I felt like it was reassuring the stigma that homeless people are dirty. I realized that if any of the guests saw me doing the laundry with gloves on that night, I would have been really embarrassed to have been caught “doing something wrong.” Even though I know I wasn’t doing anything wrong, it felt wrong to encourage misconceptions about our guests when I am volunteering to try to break these particular ideas about homelessness.
Some other common misconceptions about homelessness are:
- Homelessness is mainly experienced by men (http://www.allchicago.org/what-homelessness/facts-misconceptions/facts-misconceptions).
- Families make up more than 50% of the homeless population, with the majority headed by single moms.
- Families with children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.
- Homelessness is easy to break (http://www.allchicago.org/what-homelessness/facts-misconceptions/facts-misconceptions).
- It is much more difficult to break the cycle of homelessness once you enter it. Obtaining full time employment, healthcare, affordable housing, buying food, caring for children, paying bills, etc. are difficult to maintain.
- Homeless people should just get a job (http://www.allchicago.org/what-homelessness/facts-misconceptions/facts-misconceptions).
- It is very difficult for homeless people to get a job without a permanent address and access to a telephone. Furthermore, many employers hold misconceptions about homeless people and don’t want to hire them.
- Homeless people are dangerous (http://www.allchicago.org/what-homelessness/facts-misconceptions/facts-misconceptions).
- Homeless people are the least threatening group in society, and are often the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators.
- Homeless people are alcoholics or drug addicts (http://www.allchicago.org/what-homelessness/facts-misconceptions/facts-misconceptions).
- Often times, homelessness can be the reason for drug use, not the consequence of it.
- Only 35-45% of homeless people have a substance use issue, and many use it to self medicate.
- Homeless people want to be homeless (http://www.allchicago.org/what-homelessness/facts-misconceptions/facts-misconceptions).
- Nobody wants to live on the streets. Circumstances put people on the streets, it is not a choice.
- All homeless people are homeless for the same reasons (http://rethinkhomelessness.org/the-four-biggest-misconceptions-about-homelessness/)
- Many people believe you become homeless because you are lazy and don’t want to work. However, there are so many root causes of homelessness that there is no one formula for how people became homeless.
- To solve homelessness, we should arrest and punish them (http://rethinkhomelessness.org/the-four-biggest-misconceptions-about-homelessness/)
- Criminal activity is a choice, but homelessness is not.
- No city in America has ever solved the problem of homelessness by arresting victims of homelessness.
ROOTS is working to break theses misconceptions, and the many more that exist. As a volunteer at ROOTS, I feel like I need to break these misconceptions in myself before I can try to raise awareness in the community. Working at ROOTS has helped me to recognize some of the misconceptions I carried about homelessness, but if it is difficult to break some of them in me, it will be even more difficult to break them in society.