Homelessness Archive

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Taking on the Rockies

1912378_10152208827572870_834156329_nI pushed open the doors, stepped foot inside the St. Francis Center in Denver, Colorado, and took a gasping breath. I turned my head up and was greeted by the sight of around 700 people staring at me. I could only think of one word to describe how I felt: intimidated. Feeling that many eyes on me, I decided to turn right and walk up to the desk that was labeled “Intake.” As I reached the desk, I was greeted with a smile and a few words, “Is this your first time here?” It hit me, then, that you never realize who you are until you are mistaken for someone else. It didn’t matter where I was from, what ethnicity I was, how old I was, ANYONE could be homeless, because it could happen to ANYONE. Make no mistake about it, I was not offended. I gained insight. I knew then how much I was about to discover.

The St. Francis Center is a homeless day shelter that provides mail services, a clothing room, access to a phone, storage, and other basic necessities like showers and laundry. All of the Denver group got split into pairs for the first two days and were assigned a location. My partner, Eric Stanek, and I were a bit disoriented as we walked into the staff break room, awaiting a coordinator to tell us further directions. After about twenty minutes we were equipped with name tags, and given our first job, the clothing room.

This was a more one-on-one interaction with the guests. Our job was to stand behind one of the counters and get t-shirts, underwear, and pants from the shelves according to what size the customers wanted. Of course being a girl, when a man is saying size 36 x 32 you are absolutely distraught over what this means. I tried to make small talk with them, smile and tell a joke. Relating to the guests was a way I could give back, let them know I wanted to be their friend, not just give them things. Like a mutually beneficial relationship, I slowly let myself gain knowledge from these people who were, in many ways, probably wiser than me. You don’t expect them to offer you anything, you are there to serve, but you acquire understanding from real events, from real people and their experience.

Our next work site for the day was at mail services. It was chaotic but worthwhile. One of my most distinct recollections was of a man named Thomas. Like every other person that came up to the window, Thomas told me his full name and asked politely if I could check his mail. I examined his I.D. to verify his name and went to search. Three minutes went by before I returned with his mail. I handed him his envelopes and wished him a nice day with a smile. He took the letters from me and said with sincerity, “Thank you Gwen. Heaven must really be missing their angel.”

He walked away while I was still in bit of a state of disbelief. I have reflected on that moment dozens of times since then, each time realizing something new. He wasn’t trying to be cliché; he was stating his gratitude for my aid. I learned that something as small as having an address to have your items mailed to, something that we might take for granted, could mean so much for someone. I found that the power of a smile might be enough to shine a light on how one person cares for you. Most importantly, I grasped how going on my service trip might not change the world, but I could make an impact, even a small one, even on just a single person.

Reflecting on your trip is a great method to experience it through the past of what happened, the present of what you learned, and the future of how you want to take that and let it change you. Being intimidated is a scary thing. No one ever really wants to be put in a situation where they don’t have full control. Sometimes you just need to let go and experience. St. Francis Center did intimidate me when I first entered, but the wisdom it has given me will continue to assist me in my future endeavors, especially service.


Gwen McElhattan
Class of 2017
College of Arts & Sciences
SBSJT 2014 Trip Participant

 

 

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Join us for Project Homeless Connect!

On any given night in the Omaha Council Bluffs area, it is estimated there are approximately 1500 homeless in shelters and on the streets.

Project Homeless Connect Omaha 2014 will be on March 28th, 2014 at the Creighton University Kiewit Fitness Center.
Project Homeless Connect is a one-day event that serves as a “one-stop shop”, connecting homeless individuals to needed services, including: housing, healthcare, legal resources, Social Security, food-stamp benefits, and employment.
Government agencies, non-profit agencies, local businesses, volunteer groups, medical providers, legal experts and many other service providers come together in Creighton University’s Kiewit Fitness Center to offer on-site immediate assistance to individuals, families, seniors, veterans and youth who find themselves homeless. Project Homeless Connect Omaha has assisted homeless individuals improve their lives and exit life on the streets.
Project Homeless Connect Omaha is also about engaged our city’s residents volunteering their talent and time for the area’s homeless by connecting volunteers to homeless individuals as a Navigator.

Registration is now open! Click here to register for the event.

For more information click here!

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Project Homeless Connect Omaha

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Social Analysis: Students Take a Close Look at Homelessness

On Monday, students who attend weekly service at the Siena/Francis House were invited to come together for a social analysis to discuss issues surrounding poverty and homelessness. Every week at the Siena/Francis House, Creighton students eat dinner with the residents and then listen to the story of someone in the Addiction Recovery Program.

It is an impacting service site, a place where I have discovered the importance of community and of feeling listened to. After doing service that deals with a certain issue, it’s important to come together and discuss that issue in order to reflect on the service and truly bring about social change.

At this social analysis, we brainstormed religious, economic, social, political, healthcare-related, and educational questions that surround the issue of homelessness. Some things that came up were mental healthcare, minimum vs. livable wage, access to a quality education, and how possible it is to climb the social-economic ladder. We then drew connections between all of the different issues in order to see how many different factors there are that affect homelessness, and how they are related. For example, with mental health problems, it is difficult or even nearly impossible to find a job, affecting the ability to make a living wage. Or, with no access to a quality education, finding a job and making professional connections is very difficult.

It can be daunting to look up at a whiteboard full of questions and issues that affect homelessness in the United States. Social analysis shows how complicated the problem is, and how many different areas there are within it that need work. It is important to use service as the first step, and to then use what we learn in service to advocate and work to change social structures that cause problems, in order to promote social justice and a better world.

Leah Schaffer
Class of 2015

 

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

 

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Siena/Francis House Weekly Service on Thursdays

Siena/Francis House
Monday 4:40-6:15 pm
Start Date: Monday January 28

Share a meal and conversation with Siena/Francis House guests who are homeless or in addiction recovery. Learn about the real-life challenges faced by our neighbors. Meet the van at Deglman Circle.

For more information or to reserve your spot, contact:
Haley Warren:
HaleyWarren@creighton.edu
Ryan Freeman:
RyanFreeman@creighton.edu


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What I Hope to Gain and to Give at Siena/Francis House

I have only been to Siena/Francis House once, about a couple of weeks ago with some fellow volunteers with the Creighton Center for Service and Justice. I remember walking in with my peers, anticipating being directly addressed. What should I say? What is there to talk about? The weather, the news, sports?

There were two older African-American men sitting by the door, holding onto their canes, welcoming us all with wide grins as we walked in. I tried my best to smile, instead of grimacing. I didn’t want to show that I was uncomfortable, that I didn’t know how to act or what to say. Should I remain quiet and only answer if I’m spoken to, or should I engage the people around me in conversation? 

Our dinner that day consisted of a hot dog, some steamed vegetables, chunks of potatoes, and a small desert. A guy from Creighton sitting across the table offered to pour coffee or water into everyone’s mugs. I felt a tinge of envy mixed in with guilt, that he had already taken a step forward to serve, and that I just sat back in silence.

I had already eaten dinner that day, although it was an early one. It was only five o’clock in the afternoon and this was my fourth meal of the day. Imagine that. I felt really full as soon as I had finished eating, but I thought that it would have been rude for me to refuse the meal. I didn’t know if it was a good idea for me to give away my food. Later on, one of my peers said that an argument ensued after he offered his hot dog up to anyone who wanted it. I tried to swallow my shock.

The image took me back to another world, one in which characters of Dickens and Hugo struggle against poverty to survive. Were people really willing to fight for an extra hot dog, in this day and age, a five minute drive away from Creighton?

During our dinner, I tried to talk to everyone at the table. The man next to me answered my questions quickly and clearly, but said no more than a couple of words. As soon as he was done eating, he said goodbye and left. The couple on the other side of me stayed for a few minutes after they finished eating. The guy was very talkative and friendly. The young woman was quiet and when I asked her if there was something wrong, she shook her head and said that she was just feeling sick. Her partner said, “Oh no. We don’t want to talk about that.” I hoped that she wasn’t pregnant, that she wouldn’t have to worry about another life along with her own and the extra expense that it would bring.

After dinner, we listened to a woman tell us her life story. She needed help, because she was an alcoholic. Her biggest problem, she said, was denying it for many years until finally, she lost the job that she had had for about twenty years. Without a college degree, she would have a lot of trouble getting another one. Siena/Francis provided her with the opportunity to become sober and to gain control of her life again. While she was speaking, I kept on wondering: Why is my life so different than hers and the lives of these people? Where did I go “right” and they “wrong”? Was there a fork in the road and I just so happened to pick the lucky direction, or was it something more? Should I be more thankful for my strict parents and my private education? Did anyone here have similar safety nets? Did they have any at all? 

On my way out of Siena/Francis House, I saw a very young couple playing with their two children. They couldn’t have been older than twenty-five years old each. The mom had dyed pink hair, but the dad and the kids all had strawberry blond locks. He was holding up the infant in the air, making funny faces, and kissing the boy on his cheeks. The mom was zipping up her toddler’s jacket. They were heading out, leaving. I started tearing up and I quickly looked down toward my shoes. I didn’t want anyone to think I pitied them, but I just wanted the family to stay. Just to stay at the shelter with their kids and to keep on playing with them and kissing them.

What I hoped to gain on my Fall Break Service Trip to Siena/Francis House is exactly the kind of moments that I just wrote about. I hope to gain an understanding of the people that homelessness and poverty affects. I know that I will not be able to reach the complex root causes of these ever-persistent issues, but I hope to recognize the problem from the perspective of an individual without a home and enough food for themselves or their family members.

I hope to feel hunger and the cold air. More importantly, I hope that I recognize how privileged I am and the reasons for my privilege, so that I will not only wallow in self-hatred or shame, but seek to educate myself even more about this issue. Finally, I hope to advocate for those who do not have a voice, either because they no longer have the strength to speak, or because they have been silenced.

Finally, I hope to serve and to give love to every person that I come across at Siena/Francis House, so that I can make their difficult days seem at least a little bit brighter. I hope to look into their eyes and hold their hands. I hope to provide them with some warm words, if not more.

If all else fails, I hope to at least to engage in the simplest of conversations, so that they know that I do want to hear whatever it is that they may want to say. I hope to remember their stories and retell them. Most of all, I hope to give everyone that I encounter the most basic message there is: You are a person like me. You have a story, and I want to know it, because I am your neighbor and your friend.

 

Jelena Pjević

Class of 2014

 

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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