Panelists share homeless experiences

By SIRI TUMMALA | September 29, 2016

The Habitat for Humanity Club at Hopkins hosted a panel from the Baltimore Area Faces of Homelessness Speakers Bureau at Gilman Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 27.

The three presenters were members of the community who had previously experienced homelessness. They shared their individual stories of what led them to homelessness, their experiences while being homeless and how they eventually overcame it.

The first speaker, Damian Haussling, spoke about his unjust jail experience that led to his homelessness. Haussling pursued a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree, but he was arrested at his alma mater under the false pretense of trespassing.

“I was not doing much to make much money, so that arrest caused homelessness,” Haussling said. “Because even though it was something really small they treated me like I was some sort of strange hermit homeless person who was sleeping on campus.”

Haussling also described the difficulty of trying to find a job while he was homeless.

“Homeless shelters are emergency places where you can only use the bed for the night, and you have to take whatever you have with you to leave,” he said. “When I came to D.C., I could not come into a job with two huge bags on my back trying to get them to hire me. It was crazy.”

The second speaker, John Gathier, became homeless after quitting a job that had treated him unfairly. He touched on how he was mentally and physically affected by homeless.

“I changed myself,” Gathier said. “I had to learn how to sit still and not do the things I was doing. I had to get myself together.”

The third speaker, A, spoke about her unique experiences being a white female who had experienced homelessness. She refrained from stating her full name because she did not want her experiences to be widely publicized. She became homeless after losing her job with the State of Maryland legal department due to health problems.

“Once you’re homeless though, you come into it with a different mentality,” A said. “You always feel like that other shoe is about to drop. You’re waiting for something bad to happen to you.”

All of the speakers emphasized the need to educate people about homelessness.

“Homelessness has a bad stereotype. We need to let people know homelessness can happen to anybody,” Gathier said.

A spoke about what helped her get out of homelessness.

“You have to be your own advocate. As great as a lot of the programs are, you are still going to get pushed back. You’re still going to fall through the cracks and come up against challenges,” she said.

All four of them addressed the current state of homelessness in Baltimore. They agreed that Baltimore is spending tax money on investments rather than trying to end homelessness.

“Baltimore City is giving 600 million dollars to the owner of Under Armour, Kevin Plank,” A said. “They are cutting services to the free City Circulator and the water taxi to put in kayaks.”

Freshman Dalton Chu spoke about how the event helped shed a different light on his academics.

“I am an economics major so we are studying how the overall macroeconomics side of where these companies are investing and what the governments are examining,” Chu said. “We are not seeing this side of the homeless people who are evicted because the government profits more from investing.”

The speakers also explained how the numbers reported by the government and Baltimore City as being homeless are skewed.

Freshman Eun Ah Jung remarked that she did not realize how many people are homeless.

“Even couch surfers are technically homeless, but it is not considered by the census as being homeless,” Jung said. “I did not realize that so many people are homeless because the numbers say not that many people are homeless.”

Sophomore Kate Carosella, who is the co-chair of fundraising for Habitat for Humanity, explained the importance of understanding the past experiences of those who were homeless.

“Our club’s goal is to provide affordable housing, and this is the result of the lack of affordable housing,” Carosella said. “Hearing the other side gives cause to what we do. It hopefully motivated our members to go out and do more and also helped to start the conversation.”

Junior Grant Welby, the secretary for Habitat for Humanity, explained the reasons behind their decision to host the event.

“The reason why we hosted this event was to raise awareness among our student body,” Welby said. “A lot of students here do not know what affordable housing is, why it is a problem and how it relates to homelessness. At Habitat we are focused on fighting the affordable housing crisis, and this connects deeply to our mission as an organization.”

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