In an effort to raise awareness for homelessness, the Hopkins Helping the Homeless club hosted a Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau panel on Tuesday night at Nolan’s. A national organization, the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau featured speakers who had previously been or currently were homeless.
“This is our first fall semester as a club, and part of our goal is to bring awareness to Hopkins about how severe the issue of homelessness is in Baltimore and around the country,” sophomore Carrie Resnick, co-founder of Hopkins Helping the Homeless, said.
“We started the club after taking the B’More class on homelessness last Intersession, realizing that there was no Hopkins outlet for directly helping the homeless,” Resnick said. “Part of the class was having the Speakers’ Bureau speak to us, and it was really one of the most transformative parts of the class. Hearing the details and true stories of homelessness from people who had been directly affected by it was very powerful and really humanized homelessness for me, so bringing the Speakers’ Bureau here again seemed like a good choice.”
Allowing time for students to arrive and speakers to settle in, the four speakers began their panel after an introduction by Michael Jefferson. A moderator from the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau, Jefferson spoke to the group of nine attendees, explaining the main message of the panel.
“No one deserves to experience homelessness,” Jefferson said. “That’s why it’s so important to truly understand the struggles these people face, and to show why it’s necessary to do as much as we can to end this social problem. We as a society need to create a world where this is not an issue. We need to not tolerate certain issues. People should not starve to death. Children should not go parentless. There are systems in place, but they do not do enough to end this great social injustice.”
One man, Mark Schumann, spoke out against the different forms of prejudice he faced while homeless.
“I was once on the street when two women, one on each side of me, started speaking about how awful homeless people are,” Schumann said. “They kept going on about how dirty and nasty they were, and I had to speak up and say that I was homeless and didn’t like what they were saying. You really can’t tell who’s homeless and who’s not. People think homeless people are dirty, but they’re not; most shower everyday or every other day and wear clean clothes.
“People also assume it’s our own fault if we’re homeless. For me, I had a job that needed physical strength, and I ended up injuring my knees. With an injury, I was laid off. I couldn’t find anything more than minimum wage, and ended up on the streets for three years. It’s a terrible feeling.”
Other speakers also shared times they felt dehumanized by homelessness.
“You’re trying to live your private life in public space,” Bonnie Lane said. “I’ve been on and off homeless for 12 years. You never know if or when you’re going to be homeless. If your name isn’t on a lease, then according the government, you’re homeless. Some homeless people I’ve met have college degrees and a job, but under circumstances out of their control, they just don’t own a home.”
Lane also offered advice to the group, suggesting ways students can help even if they don’t have money.
“One thing you can always do is give people on the street a sense of hope by just saying ‘hi’ to them,” Lane said. “Most people in Baltimore pass a homeless person at least once a day and just rush through. Even if you don’t have money, interacting with them is better than just walking by. That’s the dehumanizing part.”
Although this event focused on awareness, the mission of Hopkins Helping the Homeless is to initiate both awareness and outreach programs.
“Earlier this year, for our first event, we made hygiene kits, which are more along the lines of volunteer and outreach work,” Natasha Fletcher, co-founder of Hopkins Helping the Homeless, said. “Next spring we hope to volunteer at My Sister’s Place, which is also more focused on outreach. But you really can’t volunteer without getting awareness out too, because you need to convince people to help. They’re tied together.”
Though new, the club feels their efforts so far have been successful.
Last year, members helped with Word on the Street, a newspaper run by the Baltimore homeless community that covers issues on homelessness and social justice.
“We actually brought Word on the Street vendors to campus last year to sell their newspaper, which was great,” Resnick said. “Each issue costs $1.00, 75 cents of which goes to the homeless who work with the newspaper."
Resnick found the event to be very successful.
“It led to a great discussion and everyone was very engaged, several people asked me afterwards how to help,” Resnick said. “I also was not expecting, but was really pleased with, the personal connections that so many people made, bringing up their own families experiences. A worker at Nolan’s even came up to the speakers after and told them about her experience with homelessness in Baltimore, which led to much support and many hugs. It really strengthened the community in a way I was not expecting. The speakers were so inspiring and I think put all of our lives into perspective.”