Tonight was my last shift of the quarter, as I will be taking time off during Winter Break and won’t be back until 2017. I ended up working only an evening shift from 8pm-11pm because of finals this week. It’s always interesting when I switch the night I work because the staff and volunteers are different, and each group of volunteers and staff has a unique vibe and connection.
Tonight, I worked milue during the first shift where I had a somewhat demoralizing conversation with one of the guests. This was the guest that had their laptop stolen on Thursday night (see previous blog). They talked about how they were just very tired of being homeless and that Seattle is not a very open and welcoming city when it comes to the homeless. After reading a conversation string on a website about hating the homeless, they felt as if everyone in Seattle did not like the homeless. The amount of times they said the word “homeless” was very disheartening to me, especially since they weren’t emphasizing the word at all, but rather using it so flippantly as if no one cared about them.
This guest was not threatening or rude, but rather gave me the feeling that they felt the world was out to get them. They even said that they knew they had a lot of animosity towards society and the way it does not support the homeless. I left the conversation feeling as if the guest had every right to feel this way because of how abandoned the homeless population is. Better yet, why shouldn’t the guest feel this way? They have been through so much being homeless, and this particular guest was struggling to accept welfare or charity because of their dignity, which is understandable.
Something that really stood out to me during this conversation was that the guest had told me they had called their family multiple times since losing their belongings on Thursday, but that nobody had answered even though the family knew it was a 206 number calling and that they were the only person the family would know from Seattle. The guest said they had written a three page, double-sided letter to their family, today, reaching out to them for help replacing their belonging, in the the hopes that they would respond to it. Other than the letter and the phone number, the guest had no other way of contacting their family.
This conversation was very disheartening because some of what the guest said was true and like a slap to the face the way he stated them so openly. There are a lot of people, especially in Seattle with the rising homelessness population, that really do not want anything to do with the homeless. They probably have many misconceptions about homeless people being unclean, dangerous, and lazy. The guest even said that Seattle people are less willing to give money to homeless people than those in other cities they have lived in, like Denver. I felt particularly guilty at this comment because I remember growing up and my parents always warning me about giving money to homeless people from the car or even just in general. I grew up with the mindset that it is better to give homeless people food or clothing directly, instead of cash because then they are actually receiving necessities rather than spending the money on drugs or alcohol. Being called out like this by the guest really made me question my actions, especially now that I have gotten to know some of the guests and learn more about homelessness.
While I did try to tell the guest that the small number of people who post on a website about not liking the homeless does not represent the whole population of Seattle, the guest appeared to be so consumed by their negativity that they could not hear me. However, this is okay since I think they really just needed someone to vent to and express themselves and their frustration without being contradicted (as much as they would have been by other guests) or starting an argument about their thoughts.
During the second shift, I did an intake, which is where we go through a packet with new guests collecting personal information and going over the rights and responsibilities of the guest and the basics of ROOTS. This guest was very patient and kind as I went through the packet, first collecting his personal information such as an emergency contact, their educational background, and their welfare and income information. Next I walked through the different services ROOTS offers their guests such as ownership (helping set-up or clean the shelters for time that can be traded for bus tickets, giftcards, backpacks, a daytime locker, etc.) and leadership, which comes with more shelter access and responsibilities. The last part about ROOTS pertained to the rights of guests, the expectations of the guests while in shelter, and the fundamental basics of ROOTS and how it operates. The last page of the packet is an optional consent form that guests can sign to release their information to the King County Homeless Management Information System that can help ROOTS obtain funding. I learned from another volunteer that most guests typically do not want to release their information, but the guest that I was doing the intake for tonight agreed to sign the consent form and release their information.
Besides the conversation I had with the guest during my milue shift, my last night of the quarter went fairly smoothly with no big conflicts.
As a volunteer who has a house to go home to after I leave the shelter, I will never know the full impact of homelessness on an individual, no matter how much research I do on the topic. This goes for anyone who has never experienced homelessness before, as well.
This blog series does not even begin to address the issue of homelessness in the country nor in Seattle. It barely scratches the surface of the problem. I at least hope that through this blog, some light has been shed on what the problem of homelessness is, how people become homeless, the effects of homelessness, and the common misconceptions about the homeless and what it means to be homeless. If this blog can do anything to help fight homelessness, I hope that it will change the opinions people hold about the homeless and make them less hostile towards homeless people and more willing to act to prevent homelessness and reduce the homelessness population.
Ways to fight homelessness and help those who are already homeless include:
- Get involved with shelters such as ROOTS (http://www.rootsinfo.org/)
- Get involved with other homelessness services such as Teen Feed (http://www.teenfeed.org/ ) or Urban Rest Stop (https://urbanreststop.org/)
- Learn more about the homeless population in Seattle, or elsewhere, and educate your peers
- Advocate for the homeless in the government, legislation, and/or initiatives
- Talk to the homeless when they approach you and treat them like you would if they were not homeless (hopefully this means with respect and not ignoring them)
Join the fight to end homelessness, today.