Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Quick Photo Dump :)

Now that we're back from our trip (and have access to better wifi), I decided to relive the experience a bit/share all the photos I took last week. Enjoy! :)
Kensie and Elise portioning beans at DCCK's Nutrition Lab
Jovi cutting collard greens at DCCK's Nutrition Lab
Aria, Isabel, and Ella portioning applesauce for after school snacks at DCCK's Nutrition Lab
Andrew and Wade's great beard nets at DCCK :)
Isabel prepping garlic bread at Charlie's Place early on Wednesday morning
Jovi organizing the clothing room at Charlie's Place
A fun monkey peeler I found at Charlie's Place :)
The group, pre-48 hour homelessness plunge...
....aaand post-48 hour homeless plunge
Ella and Jackie peeling carrots at DCCK
Mikela and Jovi chopping peppers at DCCK
Elise chopping peppers at DCCK
Making our mark on DCCK's wall!
Making our mark on DCCK's wall!
Group picture at DCCK
We were lucky enough to visit during cherry blossom season :)
Food truck stop between service at Central Union Mission and a Bread for the City tour
Community garden on the roof of Bread for the City. Our guide pointed out that low-income housing was torn down and replaced by the luxury condos in the background.
Setting up and sorting produce for Bread for the City's monthly free farmer's market. They host one at both their northwest and southeast location- on Friday, we were at the southeast location.
Bread for the City's free farmer's market- rainy day!
Group picture with the lovely staff members at Bread for the City!
Group picture at A Wider Circle's professional development center. This organization provides furniture (and, of course, professional development) for low income families- something that is often overlooked, but very necessary!
A final group picture at our hostel on Saturday morning, right before heading out. :)


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Andrew Banker Plunge Reflection

Reflection on Hope

The 48 hour homelessness plunge was a heart-wrenching and exhausting experience. The way I can best describe it is that my heart has expanded greatly, but all the space that it's grown is empty space still waiting to be filled. I feel honestly discouraged, confused, and overwhelmed. My lack of knowledge and understanding has been further confirmed. It humbles me, but I try to remain hopeful because I have seen hopeful people doing such good here. Our two guides from the National Coalition for the Homeless are people that have experienced homelessness and now work to help others. If they keep their heads up and continue to work with grace and perseverance, then I must too. 


We use one massive term, "homelessness", to describe thousands and thousands of individuals, grouping them into this one label. The thing about homelessness is that it is not a class of people. There are people from so many different paths and stories. Some of us felt a bit uneasy about making up a story for ourselves and our partner for why we were homeless, but our guide had the perfect words to put us at ease: "Remember that whatever story you are embodying, it is someone's story. Someone out there is living what you are describing in your story." We were encouraged to soak that in and feel the weight of our own stories that we created.  

Early on my first day, Isabel and I stopped to hang out with a homeless man at a park. He was telling us some of his story and he asked about ours. One question he asked was, "Were you in college?" I froze in panic because I wasn't sure if I was allowed to have gone to college if I was experiencing homelessness. That panic told a lot about my assumptions. Internally I had an idea of what a "legitimate" story for a homeless person was. But there is not one story that is more legitimate than another! Sadly the average passerby is skeptical and tries to make a judgement of whether the person asking them for money is suffering legitimately enough to warrant a bit of their change. Ugh. Putting that to words makes me feel sick inside. We know nothing. Our skepticism, ironically, actually forces panhandlers to tamper their stories in ways so as to incite peoples' sympathy and giving. Later on in the plunge, I met a man who had been in college and was two semesters away from getting his degree in design when his roommate screwed him over, running off with practically all his money and having not paid a dime of the downpayment for the place they were staying. There is also a man here in DC living on the streets with a PHD. 

So yes, people are allowed to have the stories that they do, be truly homeless, and be treated like real people. 

Intersectionality of Oppression and Priviledge 

The other thing that I wanted to share from my experience is a realization that makes me very uncomfortable. On the second day I was sitting with my partner, Kaele. I wondered about how much of an effect my other visible identities affected how people saw me and responded to me being on the streets. I am a young, somewhat fresh looking, white man. Furthermore, Kaele is a young, fresh looking, white woman. At one point of the second day (in response to some advice given by another person experiencing homelessness), we had Kaele panhandle by herself. She made $60 in an hour. I can't help but wonder if maybe people make the assumption that she is just on the streets by some awful luck or misfortune. And I wonder if when people look at an older black man who seems to have been on the streets for a long time, if they make different assumptions. This leads me to another observation--why are the people experiencing homelessness so disproportionally black? Almost all of the people that we have seen on the streets here in DC have been black males. And at all the places that we volunteered later on in the week, the majority of the clients that we served were black. Our guides at the National Coalition for Homelessness talked about how a lot of other social justice issues intersect and react to result in homelessness. I can't help but notice that race and racism must be important factors in the conversation of homelessness. Our campus colleague, Lacey, made a point in reflection one night that maybe homelessness would not be such an under-considered issue if it were more of a white problem. Maybe she is right. It hurts my mind and my heart. The best thing I can do, though, is not brush it aside. So I plan on continuing to be confused and uncomfortable as I try to learn more. 

Kind Words 

To end my reflection, I want to give rise to one of the most encouraging things that I noticed on the plunge. An honest, no-bullshit, human-to-human conversation can be a powerful force in someone's day. A smile, a good handshake, a "good to see you!", a laugh, a look in the eyes, or some playful banter can be like sunshine to someone. As my friend Aria perfectly put it, "As long as you have kind words, you are never empty-handed". 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Last Full Day in DC: Resources for people going through poverty

Friday-03/25/16-: Last Day of Service 

Bread for the City (Round 2):

We enjoyed hanging out with Bread for the City too much yesterday and had to go back for more. Right away when we got there at 10am this morning we split up into two different groups. One group began bagging food in preparation for our farmers market. The second group was collaborating with the legal team on site, doing some spring cleaning of the files in their office. When we circled up, we met with the person organizing the farmers market. After explaining the logistics of the work, they wanted to make sure we remembered the most important thing, saying something along the lines of "These are people that we are interacting with. They matter the most. Make sure to show them respect." That rang through our heads as we served. We set up the farmer's market outside the building to make it easier for distributing the food. Our array of consumables today consisted of: sweet potatoes, red potatoes, onions, and bananas (sourced from ECUADOR!!!...where Jackie is from). The bananas seemed to be the big hit of the day. Everyone was pumped about them. The whole market was a big team effort. As one of our fellow volunteers kept saying, "Team work makes the dream work!" Two of us met the lines of clients and asked them some questions for data entry that we send back to the people who donate all the food. Then the people go through the line and choose the foods that they would like. To spice up the whole experience, the sky sent us intermittent rain as we worked. We didn't get too cold or anything though, and some of the clients that came were prepared with umbrellas. It was cool to see all the volunteers working with such good attitudes, and especially cool to see how the Bread for the City staff members knew a lot of their clients and had a really connection.


Because we had to go directly from Bread for the City service to A Wider Circle, we ended up (illegally-ish) eating our bagged lunches on the bus. It was a pretty long trip there and we had the opportunity to catch up on some sleep we missed in the passed few days. Overall, we probably spent 3 hours on public transportation today. Whoo hoo! It's tiring, but we're proud to be leaving a small environmental footprint here.

A Wider Circle:

A Wider Circle we met with the Volunteer Coordinator there and she gave us a quick tour before we started working. Their services are really intriguing. A Wider Circle takes in furniture donations from a lot of different people and businesses. They try and give out the best quality of furniture to people who need it. A word they used for this was dignity condition which means that they are giving out furniture of a quality that any human person deserves. Giving people bad quality furniture gives a message that the people receiving the furniture aren't cared about or don't deserve nice things. So to make sure that they are communicating a sense of respect and dignity for their clients, they make sure that the furniture available to them is of good quality. Our job for the day was moving furniture from their storage space in the basement up to the show room on the main floor, which is where the clients would look at the items they may potentially want. We all got to wear super stylish back support things so we wouldn't strain our backs carrying furniture.  We looked bit funny but it was a sense of safety. A Wider Circle has a very humble purpose, where they want to take the resources that are available from a lot of different places, and get it into the hands of people who need it. A Wider Circle recognizes that having furniture helps families to be able to have meals together, help kids have a space to do homework, and provide the necessary stability that gives people confidence in their jobs.


Today was a day where we got to learn a lot about services that exist in DC/Maryland to help people in poverty. Most of the clients of the organizations that were working with were not people experiencing homelessness necessarily. They were people with homes, but a lot of them were living off of food stamps and didn't have much furniture. Both organizations were really inclusive in that they didn't want to exclude people who were not technically bellow the official poverty line. With living expenses in DC, people can be well above the poverty line and still be struggling. Words that kept being brought up in all the work that we did today were "respect" and "dignity". Those are really important values for any company that works with people to have, especially when those organizations work with people in poverty. People in poverty are often looked down upon, and treated as a lesser sort of person, but these things need to be combated. Each person deserves dignity and respect. Snaps to Bread for the City and A Wider Circle for the work that they do. It was an honor to partner with you today.

Jacqueli (Jackie)

Plunge Reflection- Isabel Miller

I was very scared for this challenge. I couldn't believe that I had signed up for something as seemingly crazy as this. How would I stay safe? What if I couldn't find anything to eat?
But I'll tell you something; it all turned out okay. For the better even. It was a challenge worth doing, because however small, it was a window into how people experiencing homelessness live and feel, and how other people treat them.
I learned so much that I could never have guessed otherwise. It was a revelation that McDonald's could be such a haven, as a warm place with filling, warm food and an easily accessible bathroom. I was surprised at how much it hurts when a man pulls his daughter closer to him in response to your cardboard sign asking for help.
Anyway, I should probably start at the beginning. For the first day I was paired with a guy named Andrew, hands down one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. I was excited to get to know him better, and happy that I was paired with a man, because it made me feel a lot safer in wandering the streets of Washington D.C. We came to the National Coalition for Homelessness, where we were starting, with the clothes on our back, one phone per pair (though it was off and only used for emergencies), and trepidation. We left with the instructions to experience as much as we could and two blankets in a black trash bag to be used at night.
My Gucci Purse for two days
One of the hardest things to deal with, not only at the start, but throughout, was to decide what to do. There was no structure, no classes, not even a knowledge of what time it was unless you asked someone. I've never felt so keenly the idea of killing time. It's like you're trying to force the day to go faster so that you can escape the drudgery, stares and uncertainty, but you also fear the night and the cold. So you try, at least in your own head, to kill the concept of time, and simply get through the moment, and figure out how to be okay.
So, even though we were at a loss, and didn't know the city, we decided to start towards the main hub of downtown, to really dive in and experience homelessness. Also to try and find food. Unfortunately, we immediately went the wrong way. Whoops! We managed to find our way to the Vatican Embassy, which as a Catholic I got super excited about, but they were closed because it was Sunday. It was still quite exciting, but also interesting because I think both Andrew and I were unsure of how we would be received as two homeless people wandering into an embassy, even that of the Vatican. Andrew asked if he should stay back with the trash bags, and it hit me even then how hard it is to constantly feel unsure if you are welcome, or wanted. To be homeless felt like constantly being a source of shame to the people around you, like your existence was uncomfortable to them, and it would be easier if you were gone. I'd never experienced that before, but it only continued and grew as the challenge proceeded.
We went here!
Eventually, Andrew and I made our way further into the city and away from the Embassies, and by God's grace and a stroke of luck, we found a park where they were passing out bagged lunches to those who were experiencing homelessness. It seemed like a church group, and they'd written positive affirmations and encouraging messages on the bag and on post-its with the lunch, which I remembered doing with my own church groups. It was surprising how quickly my normal sense of pickiness about what I ate disappeared, even in one day, because I knew that this might be the only food I ate that day, so I scarfed down my something and mayo sandwich on white bread quite happily. The water bottles in the bags were a Godsend too, because we had no other way to stay hydrated till that point. We continued to carry those bad boys around the rest of the Plunge, and refill them when we could, which was surprisingly scarce.
Andrew and I walked and talked, and tried to talk to some people experiencing homelessness, which was beautiful in how helpful they were and how much they wanted to help. We tried to find our way around the city, and tried to scout out anything that might be helpful, like cardboard or barely touched food in the trashcans.
I definitely became a hoarder throughout the experience, trying to use the most out of every resource I could find because I didn't know when I'd get another one. What's so easily disposable when you know you have resources becomes inestimably important when it might be the only one you get for a long time. For example we found two cups rolling around, and though I would never have touched them normally, we grabbed them and carried them around with us, using them to hold things, to panhandle, to prop up boxes, etc.
One thing that I was struck by almost immediately was the very great pleasure of knowing you'd have somewhere to take off your shoes at night, somewhere to take your coat off and not have to carry it around or be scared that it would be stolen. I had never thought of that before, but with how much my feet hurt, I couldn't think of anything but taking my shoes off at night, but I knew I wouldn't be able to.
It's the small things. 
Once we found some good cardboard, Andrew and I made ourselves a nice sign, explaining that we needed money for food and for bus tickets home, since our cover story was that we were cousins, had come with our last money thinking that we had a relative here, but they were gone and we were stranded. It explained why we didn't know the city, and sounded plausible. It also explained why people probably wouldn't see us again. But I digress.
We made our sign on a box, found a nice spot next to the museum of Women in Art, and began to panhandle. Two young kids asking for money for food; you'd think we'd get sympathy, concern, at least an "Are you okay?". Nope.
Okay, well sometimes. There were a few people who were so exceptionally kind that it made me feel like the world really is a beautiful place. But there were an astonishing majority of people who so intently ignored us, even when we made an effort to speak to them, who made it clear that to them we didn't exist, that it sometimes made me genuinely worry that I'd gone mute and just somehow not noticed it. I wanted to weep with the weight of people's apathy and uncomfortableness with the two of us. Eventually we made a sign in addition to the original that said "Even a smile would help". We got two people out of the hundreds that passed us that made an effort to smile at us and pointed to the sign. Of course, there were others that helped, and were kind, but it was astounding how much a smile or a hello back meant, even when they had nothing more for us.
At the 48 hour reflection when we wrapped up (I know I'm jumping ahead!), one of our guides, who had himself experienced homelessness, talked about how many people say that they don't know what to do when they see someone out on the street. I myself have been one of those people. I am ashamed to say that I have walked past people, afraid that if they saw me seeing them, they'd want something from me. But this guide said, "It's not rocket science. You say hi. You smile". I'm paraphrasing, but I think this is vitally important. It's not hard. It's as simple as doing what we've been taught since kindergarten; say hi and treat them like a person. Be open to seeing them as people. Even if you can't give money, you can give love and dignity. You have that power, and it makes such a difference.
See? It's super easy to smile!
We panhandled for two hours across the street from a church with a clock tower on it, and made nine dollars (I think). It was cold and windy, and kind of depressing. Except that there were moments and people who made it beautiful, and broke the mold. When you are homeless, I think that you see the very worst, the apathy and fear, of people, but you also see the very best. The love, the generosity, and the genuine care about other people. It doesn't seem as strange to me anymore that people experiencing homelessness can believe so deeply in the good of the world still, because they see it every day, along with the worst. But at least for me, the good shone through even more, contrary to most things in life. There was no pattern to people who helped us, but I appreciated all of them.
However, one man in particular stands out from the panhandling that we did. He came up to us and said, "I don't have any cash, but I can buy you a meal." We were surprised, at least I was, but we were hungry, and so we said sure. We went to the McDonald's right near our corner, and he just said, "Get whatever you want". So I tried to get two hamburgers and a small fry, and he immediately said, "No, get two large fries, just double everything. And do you want a drink?". I had felt so small, and I wanted to make sure I didn't take advantage, but he made me feel so human and so loved. He ended up getting two large coffees, two large fries and two burgers. Even further, I noticed that it cost him $14 dollars to do all that. That's one meal at Noodles.  That's not even a book at Barnes & Noble. But it made me feel so loved, so seen, that it was priceless to me. I was floored that it was so easy, but so powerful, and I'd never done it. It was amazing, and humbling. I will always be thankful for that man, and he touched my heart by his random act of kindness even more than I think he'll ever know. The kindness struck even more than the ignoring and the outright rudeness.
Andrew and I ate the wonderfully warm food, we panhandled some more, gave away one of the fries, and one of the coffees to those who were actually homeless, and then we moved on, trying to stay warm and see the city. Because our sign was a box, we carried that around with us. How to explain the shame and self-conciousness that comes with literally carrying the embodiment of our homelessness on that day? Before that, people could only guess, but when we had that box, it was painfully clear who and what we were. When we got the Lincoln Memorial, neither of us wanted to go in, because we knew the stares that we'd get, that we'd already been getting. Later, it occurred to me that it was a little bit like carrying the cross. The humiliation, the stares, the alienation. It was a poetic metaphor for the stigma of homelessness, though at the moment, it only felt like a sore put in the spotlight.
For the purposes of time and sleep tonight, I won't go into every specific of what we did that day, but the events and ideas that I've highlighted encapsulated a lot of it. There was unexpected kindness and tenderness, and the opposite from many surprising sources. That night, we slept under the awning of a Macy's entrance, since it was set to rain/snow that evening. We as a group of six (having met at predetermined park), found our cardboard and huddled together in the night. None of us slept well and it was a thoroughly unpleasant experience, even when faced together.

We were tired, we are a little less cold because the day was nicer, and our feet hurt. At least mine definitely did. For the second day, I was paired with Aria, yet another person I had really wanted to get to know, so I was happy to be paired with her. I was also asked to give my phone to another pair, because otherwise they wouldn't have one, and since we would have had two, I agreed. I think that was God's way of taking my safety blanket and saying "You're going to be okay. Just trust me. Really be in this experience.". It turned out to be a good thing, I think, and I'm glad that everything worked out how it did.
First, Aria and I went to S.O.M.E, which stands for "So Others Might Eat", which serves a ton of people food everyday. It was so good to get warm food, and sit down at a real table, cafeteria style or no. But because of how many people they served, it didn't really feel all that human. It was like a manufacturing line, but everyone's surly and distrustful of one another. It felt a little bit like being herded like cattle. We were advised by the staff to keep our belongings close, and even though they tried to separate men and women by table, it soon become diverse across every table. Also, there was a man who was upset that our cookies were bigger than ours. We had "connections" it was suggested. Or, you know, randomly bigger cookies.
The Cookie Guy
Anyway, both Aria and I were pretty tired from the ridiculously long walk to SOME (and the getting lost), and so when we bumped into the National Guard Museum, we decided to check it out. 
Apparently, it's not a super well trafficked museum, so for most of the time, we were the only ones in there. So when I came to a row of cushy benches, I accidentally fell asleep, holding our bags and metaphorically snoring. I say this not so you can judge me for sleeping in a museum, which I would normally never do, but so that you can see the toll being homeless takes, even after a day. You turn on survival mode, where you take any and every opportunity to sleep in a warm, safe space, even if it's only for twenty minutes. There's the shame, but also the necessity, and the fact that quiet and safe places were hard to come by. Moments in the bathroom anywhere were precious because they were private, unlike the majority of moments on the street. 
Aria and I visited the Jefferson building of the Library of Congress, saw where Congress meets (and where they grow Narcissus plants, lol!), and tried to rest our ridiculously tired feet wherever and whenever we can. Similar to the first day, we encountered the kindness and apathy of strangers in a very tangible way when we panhandled, trying to figure out dinner for the night. Interestingly enough, Aria and I panhandling for half an hour made the same amount as Andrew and I panhandling for two hours. A very, very nice man with his family gave us the leftovers of their meal at an Italian restaurant, and that's what Aria and I shared for dinner that night. When we tried to give some of the money we had collected to a woman who was tucked into a cranny, obviously living on the streets, she refused, saying that she had seen us panhandling and didn't want us to suffer. 
In order to use the restroom, we bought two small hot chocolates at Starbucks, which was $6 of the $9 we had made. Six dollars seem like far more when you have so little. Luckily, someone earlier had been kind and given us ten dollars in addition to the 9 made panhandling, so we were okay. Nonetheless...
All in all, we had a good day, and I really, really appreciated having Aria as my partner. That night we slept in a park and felt the awfulness of not bunching together, and the continual cold. I honestly cannot fathom how people can function after such an awful night's sleep every night. It is amazing that they do anything but try to warm up all day. 

Walking, finding, surviving, and holding on was really the essence of my experience, and I'm so glad that I had it, even though aspects of it were quite difficult, because I feel like I can understand a minuscule bit of what it is to be homeless. I can see someone on the street and not fear, only think what would I want them to do? I feel empowered to say hi, to engage and interact. I know that even if you drop me in a completely unknown city, God will take care of me and I will be okay. I know that people, all people, even those who ignored me and others, are beautiful and important, and I know that I want to treat them that way whenever I can. I've learned all this and more, and as  I grow and continue in this life, this experience can help shape the ways in which I interact, and the importance I put on homelessness as a social ill that needs to be remedied. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Homelessness is sad we should change it

Today we divided into two groups to volunteer at different locations. One group woke up at 5am to volunteer at So Others Might Eat (SOME) and others woke up at 9am to volunteer at Central Union Mission. We were a little bummed about waking up so early but the morning turned out well. At SOME we watched a great video about the work the SOME does for the surrounding homeless community. They provide 2 meals a day/7 days a week to so many people in the area. They also have counseling, dental and health services, prepare their clients for jobs and help with the job search, addiction treatment and housing assistance. We were all impressed by the amount of resources SOME has and the change that they are making in many peoples lives. During our service hours in the morning we helped make plates of food for around 330 people. The clients came in to get food in three different shifts. We all noticed how fast and efficient the people moved through the line. It was great to see how much they were able to accomplish and help the guests. 
While SOME does a lot to help so many people experiencing homelessness and food insecurity, many of us struggled with their focus on quantity over quality. The efficiency caused a lack of interactions with the guests. Throughout this trip we have learned how important these interactions are to counteracting most often isolating days that people experiencing homelessness often have. The other group that went to Central Union Mission did lots of hard work painting walls and cleaning. Even though this group was not working directly with people experiencing homelessness they all felt satisfied with the help they gave the organization. This day like many others this week was filled with reflection about the work we are doing and how we are growing as individuals. Our group is becoming close  from all of  the experiences we have shared together. 
In the afternoon, the whole group met up at Bread for the City, which helps provide food, health, and legal services to people experiencing homelessness and others. Despite not having any service scheduled, we helped package produce and break down cardboard for them so they could accommodate their clients. After we finished that, we took a tour of the building seeing the legal and health departments as well as the rooftop garden. On the rooftop garden, they grow fresh vegetables which they give to their clients. The tour was informational about the services they provide, and how they accommodate and serve so many clients. We look forward to volunteering with Bread For the City tomorrow!

-Elise, Jon and Ella(Umbrella.... ella.... ella... ella...

My plunge experience

The plunge was one of the harder experiences I've had to go through in recent years. I saw such extremes in terms of behavior, interaction, and treatment towards the homeless population. The discrimination, the stares people give you, the humiliation, the condescention but also the kindness and respect and the human spirit. When I received food from a man and his wife early in the plunge, I was overwhelmed with relief and joy because I knew I was going to have something to eat that day. You also saw, however, the humiliating looks, and the feeling like you were "on stage" all of the time. I say this to mean that it felt like people looked at you, and judged you instantly in their minds based on your appearance and situation. Questions like "Why are you on the streets?", or "Why can't you get a job" surfaced in my mind.  If it hadn't been for the nice people that took time to talk to me and give me whatever they could, I would have felt totally invisible.

One of the things you realize when you are out there is that you appreciate the little things. The twenty dollar donations are nice (I received two) but its when people buy you a meal or a snack that a personal connection and relationship develops. I felt like that person recognized me, and went out of his way to make sure I was okay and it was as simple as buying a salad at a local restaurant that most likely wasn't that expensive for him. I appreciated everything I received, and gave any left over money or food to people actually experiencing homelessness. I learned also to appreciate all of the often times unrecognized gifts we all receive every day such as food, clothing, shelter, and water. Having this experience has taught me, maybe more than anything, to be grateful and thankful.

I also learned that simple recognition, a good morning or a hello or even a smile, are ways to recognize the existence of people experiencing homelessness without giving them money. I also realized that as many of the tradtitional homelessness stereotypes that are true about select members of the homeless community, you can't generalize it to the population. Everybody has their own story, and for many like Steve from the National Coalition for Homelessness, alcohol and drugs were a way of relieving stress from his very difficult life. I don't believe one should assume though, that when you give money to a homeless person, you are funding a drug habit. That is not true in many cases I have learned on this trip.

The juxtaposition and the irony of all of this also stood out to me. Here we are, in the nation's capitol,   and i saw people outside the Capitol building and the White House homeless, sleeping on the streets while the rest of DC is beautiful and affluent and bustling with new apartments and new attractions. I saw such wealth, such class, such beauty, such a world class city, but yet such extreme poverty and homelessness often times in the same place.

Homelessness can be solved, and can be eliminated, we just have to recognize it, and start listening and bringing a voice to the homeless community to instead of assuming as to how to solve it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Day 2- Charlie's Place and DCCK, take 2

Hi all! Today, Jovi, Lacey, and I (Kaele) were tasked with composing a blog post to summarize our day's activities. As you may know, today was our group's first full day of service- as we go through the plunge before anything else, I think we have the chance to bond a lot before delving into service. This definitely showed- in a couple breaker's words, "we were all getting a bit weird". While that may be the case (as there were a lot of loopy laughter fits), it's been great to see the dynamic between all 13 of us flourish, and it has added a great note to our work. Service overall is based in compassion, and we have all especially experienced that by working closely with people experiencing homelessness. One of the biggest goals has been to engage in conversation with as many people as possible, and to treat them all with the respect and humanity that can be hard to find on the street. The evolving bonds that we've created within the group have made this easier, and I think we all have settled into our service roles well! I'm proud of each and every person for stretching their comfort zone to not only create friends within our group, but with everybody that we've met through service. 

To begin our day, we helped serve breakfast with a local soup kitchen called Charlie's Place. This community partner is based out of a church, and serves breakfast to about 40-70 people between Tuesday-Saturday. Along with breakfast, Charlie's Place also offers a clothing closet, weekly book club, and visits from case workers, barbers, nurses, and more. Six of us (including Jovi and I) had visited yesterday morning while still experiencing homelessness- the dissonance was odd at first, but each person was very receptive and it was a great experience to see both sides of the operation.

One of the things that stood out to us the most was the humbleness of the whole crew. Each of the coordinators took the time to make us feel like warmly welcomed guests- one even took the time to show us around the chapel and explain his story with homelessness, why he has the passion he does, and who Charlie was (you can find out for yourself here). They also clearly had a theme of respect- for the services, for each other, and for yourself. During opening statements, the speaker was very clear with this and made sure we were all reminded to thank each other for helping and/or being there. Another interesting note was that visitors were called "clients" instead of the homeless- a small action that carried a lot of respect. 

With all the respect and hospitality shown at Charlie's Place, we left with an overall sense of openness and comfort. Many breakers found clients with whom they had both meaningful and casual conversation with, and we all noticed that there were many people with many things to say. Like I mentioned before, all of the coordinators also went out of their way to make us feel comfortable and welcomed- this was only made greater by chatting with some about the weather, how they spend their days off, and everything in between. I think we all left feeling like we had made genuine connections with people at every level. 

The next stop for the day was DC Central Kitchen, for the 2nd time. We thankfully ended up in the right location at the right time today! :) this community partner is set up for a much larger scale operation- DCCK preps over 5,000 meals a day, and volunteers mostly work with chefs doing food prep rather than distribution. A unique feature about this organization, though, is that they offer a program for individuals experiencing homelessness/poverty to go through culinary training and be placed with a job as a DCCK chef afterwards. 

We were split into groups of 2-3 and put to work right away. This allowed good time for us to grow closer with specific people, as well as chefs we worked with- all of whom great sense of humor with tons of witty comments for us and each other. We left with another positive experience and had a lot of fun, even though our service was repetitive food prep for 3 hours. This speaks to the attitude and greatness of DCCK, which is something that I've experienced every time I've worked with them. 

During reflection, we talked about the value between small actions that mean a lot to one person compared to looking at the complexities and depth that many social justice issues have (it would be beneficial to read this, and then this for some background). Many of us have been struggling with finding a balance between small acts we can do for people experiencing homelessness, and how to solve the bigger issue of 600,000 Americans living on the street. Between the 3 on leadership crew, we thought the juxtaposition between working with a smaller-scale kitchen like Charlie's Place, and the finely tuned and massive operation that is DCCK was conveniently reflective of this difference.

During pre-trip meetings, our group had a lot of discussion about the multiple forms of oppression. On the levels experienced, there are 3 forms- individual, institutional, and societal. It was interesting for the 3 of us to think about how even different organizations can affect different levels. For example, we were able to challenge the oppressions that clients at Charlie's Place felt by making sure they had a meal and engaging in conversation/getting to know people. However, on the flip side, DCCK is able to fight more institutional oppression by having such a large operation and the ability to partner with other institutions within DC. They often engage with large companies to have employees (who may not think about homelessness much) volunteer and interact with those experiencing homelessness, or set up programs partnering with schools and other kitchens to ensure meals are provided in many different places. Overall, it's refreshing to be surrounded by people and organizations committed to fighting the social stigmas and oppression that certain groups face- which, in itself, is some of the magic that comes with Catalyst. 

Clearly we had quite the day, and the next two look to be no exception- tomorrow, we're splitting up in the morning, and one group will be working with SOME (So Others May Eat)- a large soup kitchen- while the other breakers will be working with a shelter called Central Union Mission. We will then reconvene and tour Bread for the City to learn about the comprehensive programs they offer. We all want to thank you for your support- check back tomorrow to find more!

Kaele, Jovi, and Lacey

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tuesday- March 22

Written by Wade, Aria, Mikela, and Isabel
It's not every day you wake up on the streets. We ended the really long and arduous experience of the 48 hour Plunge into homelessness, and reflected on it at the National Coalition for Homelessness. Soon after a short break to rest, eat, and shower, we left an hour later from getting back to our hostel, setting out to serve at an arm of the DC Central Kitchen. We ended up at the wrong branch of DCCK- the one in the opposite part of town. Oops. Once we got there we split into groups, and worked on the different tasks covered by the kitchen, such as getting food ready to send out to DC public schools, and the many shelters around our Capitol. The people at DCCK were a joy to work with, very nice and welcoming. Even though we tried to stay late for the time lost, we had to head out eventually, making our way back to the Hostel. Some unwound, and some made dinner. Our group all pitched in to make dinner a success. We then took time to reflect as a group on everything that had happened in our day. Here's our own personal reflections on the day:

Isabel: It was an overwhelming day, just to be quite honest. Beautiful, thoughtful, and interesting both because of our discussions, our service, and wrapping up the Plunge, but it was hard to keep going and keep having a good attitude. For that, I relied heavily on how wonderful this group is, supporting each other, challenging each other, and keeping the momentum going. I think we had a good day overall, and I'm really looking forward to not waking up on the streets tomorrow. Tomorrow will be even better.

Wade: I honestly had a great day! It was warm, which was more than could be said for the two days before. Despite sleeping in the doorway of a Macy's, I woke up feeling rested and ready. The reflection on our experience of the plunge into homelessness was really powerful and left me thinking in many new ways about homelessness and those experiencing it. The shower I took was the best I had felt in days. Working at the DCCK was really fun and we got a lot done. Dinner was great because it gave us all an opportunity to relax. Overall, It ended up being a really busy, positive, crazy day.

Aria: All in all, today was quite a productive day. Despite being smelly from not having showered in two days,  our collective productivity today in DC Central Kitchen, as well as the genuine interactions between myself and the employees there, today was an overall rewarding and beautiful day. After returning to the hostel, I showered (which was more than needed), and proceeded to eat my two day old Pakistani dinner and also indulged in the tachos (YOU GUYS SHOULD TRY THESE MINIATURE BITES OF HEAVEN) that few of my group members prepared. I concluded the shared portion of my day with a group reflection, and proceeded to conclude my night with my own internal reflection.

Mikela: It feels like today started significantly longer than 17 hours ago. After returning to the hostel, we had one hour until it was time to meet in the lobby to leave for service. I was frustrated with that because I was entirely exhausted and thought we deserved an afternoon to ourselves to decompress from the homelessness challenge. There were blisters on my feet which made the walk to DCCK even worse than it would have been otherwise. A lot of us almost fell asleep on the bus, and at some points we laughed hysterically for no reason at all, other than fatigue. Once we began working, everything changed for me. I enjoyed being there to complete the tasks that were asked of me, and I appreciated interacting with the people who were around me. It wasn't until after we left that I realized my feet hadn't hurt the entire time we were working- I was so focused on our job that I didn't have time to think about my pain. I made the trip back to the hostel with an opposite demeanor than I did on the way to DCCK. I had meaningful conversations with our group, and I laughed and was joyous. I like my experience today because it's an example of how doing service is just as valuable to the volunteer as it is to the person receiving aid.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Challenge Day One Check In

Hello dear friends, family, and kind internet passersby --

My name is Lacey Squier and I am the Catalyst Colleague for the DC Hunger and Homelessness service trip. That pretty much just means that I am the University staff person who is in DC with the student "breakers" (spring breakers) with the credit card and/or in case of emergency. Although I do have the option of pulling rank, I sincerely believe in my responsibility to step back and let the student leaders, Jovi and Kaele, take charge. They've been doing an excellent job!

I am sure you'll have an opportunity to hear directly from the students doing the Challenge about their experiences throughout the week, but I wanted to drop a quick note to ensure you all that everyone is safe and doing well! I met very briefly with the group last night to ensure that all were well, and again this morning to follow up after their first sleeping out in DC. It was remarkably humbling to see everyone this morning in such good spirits.

Yesterday when we met with a representative of the National Coalition for the Homeless, they were charged with the following tasks during the Challenge:

  • Experience pan handling for at least one hour. (This meant finding cardboard, finding a writing utensil, figuring out what to write on the cardboard, and selecting a location to sit or stand and ask for money from strangers). David, from the Coalition, assured the group that pan handling during the Challenge is not about the money. It is a guaranteed way to get "housed folks" to see and treat you like you are homeless. 
  • Seek out opportunities to engage in conversation with people who are experiencing homelessness. Ask them where you can get a meal, ask them where to find a shelter, or ask them for their story. This is of critical importance! 
  • Try applying for a job. List any and all experiences, but do not list an address or a phone number. 
  • Try asking a restaurant, hotel, or some other business for a free meal, snack, restroom, shower, etc. 
  • Go to a soup kitchen. 
All of these tasks are designed to give students doing the Challenge the chance to interact meaningfully both with others experiencing homelessness and housed people from the perspective of a person experiencing homelessness. The ultimate goal of the Challenge is to get a better understanding of the daily challenges of those who experience homelessness, so we can better provide services and education our communities back home. David challenged the students to focus on learning as much as they can during the Challenge; to really immerse themselves in the Challenge. 

I won't share any details that aren't mine to share; I really just wanted to post an update to assure everyone that the students are doing well. 

Looking ahead, the Challenge ends tomorrow at 9am tomorrow morning, at which time we will have a final reflection on that experience as a large group. From there we will come back to the hostel, shower, and ready ourselves to head straight out to a day of service with the DC Central Kitchen. You will hear from me again, but students may not have a chance to blog until tomorrow night or Wednesday. Hold tight! 


Saturday, March 19, 2016


Hi folks!

Welcome to the 2016 Hunger and Homelessness Catalyst blog. Whether you are a loved one, friend, or random internet passerby, we appreciate your interest and are excited to share our journey. 

Throughout the upcoming week, we (a group of 10 participants, 2 student leaders, and 1 staff advisor) will be engaging in service and reflection around the issue of hunger and homelessness in Washington, D.C. We will be working with 7 community partners in the DC area, including the National Coalition for the Homelessness- with whom we will be participating in a 48 hour homeless challenge. Between Sunday and Tuesday morning, all but Lacey (our staff advisor) will be grouped in pairs. Each person will be given a trash bag and 2-3 blankets, and will be challenged to explore how the homeless live by experiencing it ourselves. At night, we will meet up as a group and then split again (in groups of 4 this time), where somebody who has/is currently experiencing homelessness will watch over us so that we can sleep. 

Needless to say, this experience will be a powerful and challenging one. The group has had numerous meetings beforehand to learn about the issue, and to prepare ourselves. We have also worked with a couple of organizations in MSP that also work to end homelessness. As a site leaders, we can't wait to see what everybody does, and only have the upmost confidence in each participant!

Keep us in your thoughts! We will be checking in tonight!
KC and JM