Annabel Simpson and Devon Fore spent the summer of 2015 as interns at N Street Village. Annabel is a political science and sociology major at Baylor University. Devon is peace building and development major at Eastern Mennonite University.
Working at N Street Village, specifically in Bethany Women’s Day Center, has grounded the significant difference in meaning between “homeless people” and “people who experience homelessness” into our minds, hearts, and souls. Working with, and getting to know the women made it impossible to see them as their current housing situations, as people in the larger everyday society often do. People are complex, they demonstrate many characteristics, carry diverse stories, have many fears, hopes, and goals. No one is just one thing and the way that this became evident through our time at Bethany’s was both awe inspiring and heart breaking. How in the world do we as people just overlook the complexities that come along with being a human being? Maybe because it is easier than taking the time to understand people’s diverse narratives.
It has been hard for us as well.
While hearing stories of trauma and resilience is taxing, it is also enlightening, the stories allow us to remove the labels that we place on people and learn about their whole being. Miss C isn’t a homeless woman; she is a (seamstress) and a wife for 60 years this upcoming September. Miss D isn’t just living in a shelter; she is a radiant soul who works hard and will soon be a nurse. The ability to overlook what is on the outside or what appears to be on the outside is a gift that N Street gave us and that we will continue to use in our everyday lives.
One specific attribute of the stigma of homelessness that we have seen and hope to conquer is the lack of dignity these women often experience. For example, people often donate clothes for the homeless/low income community,which is great. But the condition that they are received in does not always reflect the condition that the women deserve. After hearing these women’s stories, it is apparent that one’s financial success is not completely a factor of merit, ambition, or tenacity, but is severely affected by the circumstances one is born into and the opportunities they are given, not just the ones they make for themselves. To want to separate yourself from individuals who experience homelessness and poverty is a very human thing to do. No one wants to relate to this group, because if there is common ground between us, then what is to stop this from happening to me as well? However, acknowledging this vulnerability isn’t a weakness, but a strength and serves as a connection to bring more respect and love to those who are in need. The woman who goes to nursing school and then sleeps at a shelter is no less worthy of the same dignity and respect than the CEO passing her by on the way to work. These women don’t deserve torn and stained sweatshirts any more than the staff at Bethany Women’s Center does.
We will be forever grateful for the women we met, the lessons we learned, and the experiences that we had at N Street. There is no simple or concise way to write about the impact that this experience had on our lives and it is hard to imagine we won’t be benefitting from these women’s teachings years from now. If we want people to take one thing away from this piece it is that people are people. We all have fears, needs, and vulnerabilities and we hope that we can all learn to keep this in mind when we are judging someone as inherently different or less than us.