Story of the Week: 7/27/15

Guide Lite

By Sydney Kalas, Peer Support Staff at the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS)syd1

When I started writing this guide to navigating homelessness, I developed a paragraph or two about what my clients need and want… and quickly stopped myself after rereading my work because I realized that I don’t actually know what they need and want. I know it would be great if everyone had a home and a million dollars. It would also be nice to save 70% of your money and eat broccoli and peas, but that’s from my perspective. Who am I to write an article about the priorities of Burlington’s homeless population if I myself have never experienced homelessness? Well, given my role as the Peer Support Worker, I was able to casually interview a number of regular Daystation guests and discuss what is truly important in life to a handful of homeless individuals, thus creating something of a “light guide” to navigating certain aspects of homelessness.

  • Safety and Security: A home provides a natural feeling of safety and security. Without a home, one must find other ways to feel safe and secure.

  • Health: Almost every person interviewed uttered a sentence starting with, “If my health was better, then I...” It often goes unknown that health issues are one of the main causes of homelessness. We are fortunate enough to be stationed right across the street from the Homeless Healthcare Program where clients can access free medical, dental, and mental healthcare.

  • Keep The Gears Moving: It’s easy to let the gears of your brain get rusty when you don’t have much to do. People crave different kinds of challenges. This is why the Daystation provides a Word of the Day, a positive Quote of the Day, and a Challenge of the Day. We also love playing games and getting caught up in discussions. Never stop working that brain; it’s hard to remove the rust.

  • A Positive Outlook: People without homes are forced to jump through a multitude of hoops to get essential life items. Need a pair of shoes? Please wait in line at JUMP (Joint Urban Ministry Project) starting at 7:00 am. I know they don’t open until 9:00, but folks start lining up early. They serve about two people per hour, so if you’re lucky and get there early enough, you might get a voucher for Goodwill. I know you don’t have any mode of transportation, so when you’re done, walk across town to Community Action and see if they have any bus vouchers (our case managers are depleted of vouchers for this month, sorry).  If you can procure a bus voucher from them, then great! Head on out to Goodwill! If not, then we’ll take it from there. Good luck! Keeping a positive outlook is hard. Keeping a positive outlook is necessary.

  • Structure: What’s a person to do when they are without sturdy employment, trying to stay clean and sober, have no external support system, and no future plans? Create structure. Today I will: apply to five jobs, read my book, solve a puzzle, and help make lunch at the Daystation. Today I will not: do nothing. I will hold myself to this plan because no one else is going to.

  • Do What You Enjoy: Every person has a story, a history, an interest, maybe even a passion. When faced with homelessness, it is all too easy to lose sight of the things you love to do. One client used to be a professional painter and was the front man of his band, but how can you paint when you can’t afford art supplies? How can you play your music when there is nowhere to play? Thankfully, we were able to get him hooked up with art supplies and he played his harmonica for me in my office directly after looking through a photo album of his art and his life. Never lose sight of what you love.

  • Create Serenity: This includes but is not limited to: exercising, listening to music, dancing, laughing, crying, service work, and meditating. One client told me that she purposefully incorporates serenity into every single day because “How would I live without it?”

  • Making Others Happy: The homeless community is tightknit. They look out for each other and go so incredibly far out of their ways to assist their peers; from walking miles to help someone set up their tent in a safe area of the woods, to using their food stamps to buy a friend a bar of chocolate. Why? Just because.

Homelessness is not just about being without a home; it is a vicious monster and if you aren’t combative and prepared, it can strip you of everything. The folks who use the COTS Daystation have taught me more about life than I ever thought I would know. I’ve learned how to prioritize and discern; how to be strong and brave and how to be vulnerable. We’re all here to take care of ourselves, but we’re all in this together.

VHCB AmeriCorps is a program of the
Vermont Housing & Conservation Board.

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