Monday, March 29, 2010
Day 4: We began today with a homeless simulation at the Steinbruck Center. Later on in the day we went to Capitol Area Food Bank, but I would like to discuss my thoughts from the homeless simulation. The simulation began with each of us getting a card with a description of who we were, where we worked (or didn't), who was in our family, etc. I was a married male with two kids. I worked at a job and was able to pay my bills with very little space for extra expenses. As the simulation continued we had people at tables around the room who represented several agencies: food bank, unemployment, N Street Village, etc. As the simulation continued our situations changed...jobs were lost, medical bills piled up, and bills were unable to be paid. We all lined up at the unemployment office and were given a 10 page form written in language we didn't understand. We filled the form out anyway making up fake addresses for homes we no longer lived in, making up phone numbers, and sometimes lying about our income. The forms were handed in and then we waited...in the meantime we would attempt to go to the foodbank, but they may have been out of food or we may have made too much to get food. During this time we were expected to pay our bills with our checkbooks...if there was no money we wrote out bad checks. The simulation continued like this and we spent most of our time just standing around waiting for our paperwork to be filed. It occurred to me that I've seen homeless people just standing around and the thought had crossed my mind of "they don't look so busy...why aren't they out there looking for jobs?" Now I realized that they very well could be applying for jobs, unemployment, and trying to pay their bills, but that there is a lot of waiting time involved in this. And why would you want to get a job if that meant you would lose your benefits?
Day 5: This was our last full day in D.C. and it was my favorite. In the morning we went to Thrive DC! We prepared, cooked, and served food. The people who came to get food didn't need identification, all they had to do was sign in. They were offered hot food, a warm shower, and lots of support. Up until this point most of our work had been with homeless women. Thrive DC! had mostly homeless men. As with the junior high, most of the people there were African-American and hispanic, with very few white people present. The disparities are undeniable.
After Thrive DC! we went to Christ House and talked with patients about diet and exercise. Christ House is a 34-bed health care facility where homeless men and women can stay after their illness and get nutritious meals, medical care, and social services. What a wonderful place! We talked with 4 patients and they had several questions about diet and exercise, but what I noticed most what how much each patient just wanted to tell their story. We enjoyed hearing their stories and I am sure it was therapeutic for them to share their feelings and thoughts. The patients also praised Christ House and the staff at Christ House. They felt they had adequate support to get back on their own. Christ House is not only a medical facility, but a facility that helps each patient achieve health, housing, and support.
Thrive DC had to move the middle of last year to a new location and a church stepped up to let them use their basement. Thrive DC doesn’t just offer a hot meal to the homeless they also offer hot showers, laundry services, case managers (to assist people who want help for housing, health care, jobs, etc.), personal hygiene products, food bags, and a evening meal/program for women and children.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Thursday was one of the best days I experienced in Washington D.C. After Angelique and I returned from the Luther Place night shelter we quickly got ready and headed to Thrive DC. Thrive DC is a non-profit organization that provides services to less fortunate individuals. Bethany and I were in the kitchen washing dishes, cutting onions and boilings pounds and pounds of noodles for spaghetti that was going to be served that evening. This was also a great opportunity to serve these individuals breakfast and witness how important these organizations are.
Although Thrive DC was great, my favorite place was Christ House. Christ House is a health care recovery facility for homeless persons. It is a 34 bed facility where homeless men and women may stay as long as their illness requires. It has been running successfully since December 24, 1985 when the first patient came through the doors.
We were assigned to teach these patients about eating a healthy diet and the importance of exercise. As we began to discuss these topics the patients were very enthusiastic and eager to engage in the conversation. They discussed a few things about their diet and exercise but they always ended by telling THEIR STORY. Although we may not have covered all of the topics we wanted to discuss, you could sense that just by listening to each of their unique stories that this was a very therapeutic and effective dialogue. It was very intriguing to understand how each person became who they are today.
Everyone of these patients were so grateful. They took us in with open arms and made us feel comfortable in their environment. They also praised Christ House numerous times throughout the conversation. They discussed how the staff that cares for them are just wonderful. They also enlightened us on all of the exciting opportunities that Christ House has given them such as going to a baseball game or to a movie. These activities help to build their self-esteem. Although they may be homeless, each one of these patients were still treated with respect. It was so nice to see all of the great things that the Christ House does for their patients.
A Christ House Patient states, "This is the best care I could get this side of heaven."
Friday, March 26, 2010
After a nice long walk and a ride on the metro we arrived at the Capital Area Food Bank. It was founded on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday in 1980. They distribute over 1.9 million pounds of food each month through over 700 partner agencies. They also serve over 383, 000 residents and distribute approximately 23 million pounds of food each year.
After a short introduction we started sorting out canned goods, boxed foods and other items. For example, all tomato paste or sauce went into a designated bin and all canned vegetables went into another. It seemed like the boxes of donated food was never ending, which was reassuring to see though. The Capital Area Food Bank had several quotes displayed around the room for inspiration.
I loved this quote because it just emphasizes the fact that EVERYONE can volunteer. After sorting all these food items into their designated bins I felt good that they are one step closer to reaching people in need. Although I played a small part compared to the thousands of pounds of food, I feel like I made a difference. I even thought to myself that I should volunteer more often. It leaves you feeling energized and in high spirits!
Later that night, Angelique and I stayed over night at the Luther Place night shelter where the women resided. I have to admit that I was very nervous because I did not know what to expect. We received a brief orientation. At 11p.m. we turned off the communal TV, locked the doors, turned off the lights and then headed to our room to try and get some sleep. To be honest it was not the best sleep of my life because of questions like, "What if the women start fighting?" or "What if they get really sick?" that I pondered in my head. However, despite a few less hours of sleep the night went great!
We were instructed to wake the women up at 6a.m. and to our surprise one of the women came into our room and told us that is was 6a.m. (even though we were up and ready to go, hehe). All of these women were very motivated and ready to go. We administered medications to the women. All of them were respectful and well put together. If I saw these one of these women walking down the street the day before I would not believe they were homeless because they looked, well, just like everyone else. This helped me realize that the homeless do not fit into one stereotype but could be people just like you and me - They all have a unique story.
Our Tuesday started off with a rocky start. We walked from the Steinbruck Center and headed to Community of Hope - Marie H. Reed Community Learning Center. The walk took longer than we anticipated so we were late. We also encountered a few more bumps along the way but when all was said and done we worked as a team and got through it. Although our morning was a bit stressful the weather was on our side as it was finally not raining today!
When we finally arrived to the learning center we led a discussion on stress management to the parents of students attending the learning center. Most of the parents that arrived were mothers. However, there was two fathers present. We discussed several things like what causes stress and how to effectively manage it. One woman began crying and explained that she just lost her job and this was most stressful to her at this time. I feel that just by listening to this woman and her story it was worth every stressor that we experienced in the morning to get to the learning center.
The ironic thing about these stressors was that at the end of our discussion everything was OK. We worked together and got through it. However, with the homeless population their stressors such as shelter or food are much more worrisome. In some circumstances they may not be OK at the end of the day. This helped to keep in perspective on what I think is a bad day, is nothing compared to what the homeless population goes through on a day to day basis.
Also, in these stressful situations it reminded me of the importance of the support of others. As I was walking around Washington D.C. I noticed in one area a group of homeless people with all their belongings which consisted of only shopping carts, blankets, etc. were all clustered together. Then a half mile down the road I did not see any of the homeless population. They may have developed a support systems of family and friends just to survive through each day. Things may not always go as planned but with the support of others you are able to push through it a bit easier.
Later that afternoon we arrived at Shaw Jr. High. As we entered there were two security guards at the entrance as well as metal detectors. This was very different to the middle school that I went to. I think the only thing close to a security officer was the D.A.R.E officer for adolescents to resist drugs and violence. All of us visited with students in each of their classrooms.
That evening I was able to visit the Holocaust museum which was absolutely amazing and then also the Arlington National Cemetery. I would highly recommend those two places if you ever plan a trip to Washington D.C.
On Monday we started the morning off with a civil rights scavenger hunt. This was a great way to become more familiar with the history that Washington D.C. encompasses. It was raining and chilly outside but our coffee from Caribou warmed us up as we began walking. : )
After returning from our scavenger hunt we met with Sharon Watkins, RN who is the wellness center director at N. Street Village. Sharon is an extremely fascinating woman. Her knowledge and character regarding the homeless is captivating. We all discussed what motivated us to come to Washington D.C and interact with the homeless population. Personally, I wanted to be a part of this clinical immersion because of my lack of knowledge regarding the homeless population. I wanted to be immersed in a culture that could show me this population at face value. As our discussion continued, Sharon enlightened me to so many powerful ideas.
I think one of the most powerful ideas was the right of independence and choice that EVERYONE is entitled to. We discussed how frustrating it may be if a homeless person is given $10.00 and uses every cent to purchase cigarettes or alcohol. Regardless of your opinions or even persuasion and education not to do this, they still have the right to choose what they want to do with that money. This is also so applicable as health care professionals because we can talk until we are blue in the face on how important it is to avoid salt in your diet, exercise or take this medication. However, what is important to us as health care professionals may not be as important to your patient. They still have the right to choose what is best for them based upon their specific circumstances. As Angelique mentioned in an earlier blog, we should base our success more on the efforts we put into the situation and what our patients decide at the end of the day is out of our hands. It is so important to put 100% effort into assisting the patient. It is also equally as important to put a biased ideas or judgements aside when the patient makes a decision because it is ultimately THEIR choice not OURS.
Sharon also discussed the impact that a health care professional can have on the homeless. She explained that if a homeless person has a negative experience it may hinder them from receiving any type of medical help in the future. This was important to know as we prepared for our blood pressure clinic later that afternoon. Some advice she offered is to not crowd the patient or stand at angle when talking with them versus square with their body and up close to their face. This will allow the experience to be less threatening. These are just a few simple things that we can do to allow every person to have a more positive experience with a health care professional.
As we started the blood pressure clinic, I was nervous because I have not really interacted with a lot of homeless people before. I became more comfortable as the day progressed. Many of the women were very eager to share their feelings and were so appreciative that we were there. Throughout the clinic, I kept thinking to myself how rewarding this opportunity is becoming and the wealth of knowledge that I have already gained. THANKFULNESS!
We all arrived safely to Washington D.C. late on Saturday night and were greeted by Lee Ellen and her daughter Amelia. We ate at a terrific restaurant called Thai-Tanic. After eating, we were exhausted from a full day of traveling and headed back to the Steinbruck Center to get some much needed rest. As I was falling asleep I was filled with anticipation and excitement for all of the wonderful things we will be experiencing through this cultural immersion.
Sunday was our first full day in Washington D.C. That morning we walked down 14th street to a soup kitchen called Martha's Table. It is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization that feeds over 1200 homeless and hungry people in many locations throughout Washington D.C. Their mission is to "help at-risk children, youth, families and individuals in our community. Improve their lives by providing educational programs, food, clothing, and enrichment opportunities." It was such a wonderful opportunity to be a part of their honorable mission. We arrived at Martha's Table early and I was struck by how kind the citizens of the community were as we waited outside. They talked with us and ensured us that Martha's Table will be opening soon. Maybe we looked like real tourists, walking around aimlessly (haha) but they were so willing to reach out to others. This was a great start as we began to interact with the community.
Martha's Table was such a neat experience. The Obama family volunteered there last November. It was fun to hear that we were at the same place that the president was! With a lot of excitement we washed our hands, put on our gloves, hairnets and aprons. We were ready to be immersed within this experience! We bagged several bakery items and placed them into specific bins for the other volunteers to distribute throughout the community. We prepared salads and cut up potatoes as well. It was such a rewarding feeling to know that someone who is in need of food will eat because of this wonderful organization.
Later that afternoon we took a tour of the N. Street Village which provides a variety of services such as housing, food and clothing to homeless and low income women. They offer services to 800 women which would account for 1/3 of the total number of homeless women in Washington D.C. Syndi who is the community outreach coordinator explained that their main focus is respect. This is why they only accept new donations and not old or used. It was nice to hear that these women are treated no different than anyone else. Through respect their goal is to provide these women with the right tools towards a more stable lifestyle.
Their mission states, "N Street Village empowers homeless and low-income women to claim their highest quality of life by offering a broad spectrum of services and advocacy in an atmosphere of dignity and respect. The Village also provides affordable rental housing for low and moderate-income individuals and families."
For more information regarding Martha's Table visit: www.marthastable.org
For more information regarding N. Street Village visit: www.nstreetvillage.org
We also fit in some time do some site seeing. Here a couple of pictures:
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Our morning was spent volunteering in a local church basement with an organization called “Thrive DC.” This was truly my favorite experience during our week long journey for many reasons. Not only did we provide help to upwards of one hundred individuals, but we also were able to interact with and make connections with people on several levels rather than doing behind the scenes work. Some people drifted about the room displaying their obvious mental illnesses shouting and instigating. Others quietly sat at a table only moving when their table number was called to proceed to the food line. Many came over to my station to get everyday supplies such and a comb, lotion, tooth paste/brush, and they would then ask to be signed up to take a shower. Initially many asked for their supplies and returned to their table to wait, but as time passed and they realized we were “the new kids” and they wanted to know as much about us as we wanted to learn about them.
My “ah ha moment” of the trip however came towards the end of session with Thrive DC. The food was nearly gone and seconds had been announced. Many people had already left but others were lingering for emotional support or perhaps a last bit of warmth. When my toiletry station was nearly depleted I joined a nearby table with a young man who was working on “word poetry.” If you are not familiar with word poetry, imagine hundreds of tiny magnetic words mixed in a basket and sorting them out to form sentences, or in our case poetry.
As I sat and helped the young man create a poem, I soon realized it was not about the sentences he struggled to create, but rather, it was about the time, encouragement, and support I gave to him and the acceptance he felt. When they called for clean up time, he was the first one to spring up off his chair and tell me, “we have to clean up.” He started tossing the words back into the box and then proceeded to help me fold up all the tables and chairs. Just when I thought there was nothing left to do, he grabbed the mop and made sure every last bit of the floor was clean. He so badly wanted to help and be accepted but despite his efforts, his life remained a struggle.
After talking with some of the program workers, I found out he was originally from Mexico and had come to America in hopes of a better life. He had recently moved from Atlanta because Washington DC offers more resources. Considering English was his second language and the fact that he had some mild learning disabilities, he needed the additional assistance. He was the type of person that really pulled at my heart and even twisted it a little as he walked out the door. The joy on his face from simple moments we shared made me feel wonderful and I truly believe he made me a better person that Thursday morning. I only wish I had a picture to share with you regarding this powerful day in my heart.
Passing by an advertisement in the underground metro I snapped a photograph of the going green efforts within Washington DC. The city, much like the rest of our nation, is making strides to rid our streets, lakes, and rivers of harmful plastic bags though encouraged use of reusable cloth bags. Prior to our departure, our group ended up shipping approximately 100 reusable bags to the N. Street Village Shelter for women to use since city stores have started charging for each plastic bag. Between additional costs and advertisements, going green efforts really appeared to be catching on.
The Capital Area Food Bank which we volunteered at on Wednesday afternoon also jumped reuse and recycling band wagon. As we sorted box after box of donated items, nothing went to waste. The items which were damaged but could still be opened were used for distribution. Items where food quality/safety were in question or cans which were too badly damaged to open were placed in a bin labeled “hog food.” Every intact brown paper bag that was used to bring in goods was saved and rather than breaking down cardboard boxes from retailers, they were put back together and reused.
As we sorted through what seemed like never ending bags and boxes of food piled higher than I could reach, I looked up at the walls of the building to find random quotes painted. The quotes filled my mind with thoughts of pride and honor, yet sorrow and disbelief. The shear amount of donated items was overwhelming and made me reflect on Americans and their wonderful ability to give. From donated items to volunteered time, people really do want to help and make a difference. In contrast, how is it that a nation which claims to be the “land of the free” and prides its self in supposed equality has the need for a food bank which contests the size of the largest warehouse in Eau Claire? Given all of DC’s efforts, many people still remain hungry on a daily basis…something just does not seem to add up if you ask me. I’m sure other areas of our country and the world face similar problems but it was defiantly something to ponder as I sorted each can of soup or bottle of water.
This Winston Churchill quote is one of many I enjoyed while working at the food bank. I think it captures American’s generosity and pride to help when needed.
At 7:45 am Stacie and I returned from spending the night in the Luther Place Night Shelter. With sleepy eyes, a bit of a headache, and an aching back thanks to a cot which dipped so deeply in the middle I didn’t think I would ever get out, Tuesday had started. We as a group were supposed to be at Community of Hope – Marie H. Reed Community Learning Center by 8am but we apparently underestimated the walking time and there was no direct metro to the location. We were also unaware of the fact that spending the night in the shelter meant waiting till 7:30 for the ladies to all leave and then locking up; yet another unexpected delay. Needless to say, we arrived at our location slightly late but no harm was done, other than to our ego’s and pride, as the parents whom we were supposed to speak to were not scheduled to arrive till about 9am.
As the morning progressed, we dealt with several more unexpected moments but fortunately we had the resources and knowledge to deal with each situation. This made me think, how do the homeless deal with all the unexpected situations they encounter? If we were knew our destination was beyond walking distance we could have called a cab. Unfortunately cabs are a luxury which most homeless do not have as an option; the choice between a cab and walking could mean 3 less meals for the week. What if you had planned on taking the metro with the spare change you collected over the past few days to attend a job interview and the metro was delayed due to a crash or you underestimated the time it took to walk there? You then are late or worse yet, miss your interview which in turn makes you late for your next appointment with the food bank…it can be a viscous cycle.
As frustrated as we were Tuesday morning we were able to keep our heads held high because we knew everything would be okay at the end of the day. If we were homeless however, this probably would have been a disastrous day.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Actually, everything was interesting (as you can tell by our prolific pens, pictures, and myriad post-immersion postings). However, one of the most telling experiences for me happened toward the end of our immersion.
On our last full day together, we took all the many remaining fresh apples and oranges (that had been left at the Steinbruck Center) by a prior group, and we bagged them and dispensed them to every homeless person we could find out and about in the early evening hours.
Among many interactions, I gave an apple to a very tired woman who was probably my age, though in the evening hours and with her hair curled and matted about her face, she looked much older. She was bundled up with so many blankets and under them, she had baskets of her meager personal possessions.
Her face looked fierce, however, her eyes were soft. To be frank, it seemed just like looking into the countenance of my mother, since both women shared a similar appearance, especially around the eyes. And, when she gently thanked me for that little piece of fruit, I felt as if I had given her a million dollars. She was very grateful, and I only wish I had more to give her.
The exchange is one that will stay with me for a long while to come. And even though it is one of the simplest, it is perhaps one of the most profound. That she had so little and was so appreciative touched me deeply.
I leave this immersion feeling fortunate. Counting my blessings for so many things ~ large and small.
In the words of an anonymous person: "I complained because I had no new shoes until I met a man who had no feet." We have all met that man through this experience. And speaking personally, I will never forget it.
Images from Shaw Junior High School ~ a public school with about 25 homeless families. We worked in small groups with students one afternoon. The compassion and comradery among the students felt contagious.