This summer, NEOCH had 5 summer interns: Asha Ravichandran (CWRU), Connor McIntyre (JCU), Gillian Prater-Lee (CWRU), Shivani Govani (CWRU), and Zach Chapman (JCU). We asked each of them to write a brief reflection on their time at NEOCH!
Gillian Prater-Lee (rising junior at CWRU): When I first stepped into the NEOCH office, I liked what I saw. The room was filled with people laughing, comfy couches, and loads upon loads of donations stacked all around. This was the type of environment that I wanted to work in: a community of kind and laid-back people working together to fight a difficult battle. These people have made doing the difficult work of outreach, advocacy, and organizing against oppressive systems an enjoyable time. In fact, the people and experiences I have had at NEOCH have shaped me as a social justice activist, but, more importantly, as a person. I’ve worked in the past to organize around affordable housing, but NEOCH gave me the human perspective on how unjust systems shape people’s lives by systemically denying them housing. Talking to and working with NEOCH has made me a better advocate and, I’d like to think, a better person. My favorite project I worked on is the Funeral for Affordable Housing protest on August 2nd. This event will allow NEOCH to go out into the greater community and amplify the voices of people experiencing homelessness and others who have had struggles with finding quality, affordable housing. The event will do what I see as my role in advocacy: centering the voices of people oppressed by systemic forces to create change. This internship has strengthened my resolve to advocate for affordable housing and against gentrification, and I hope to keep to work with NEOCH in the future.
Zach Chapman (rising senior at JCU): Ever since I started volunteering with John Carroll’s Labre program, my goal has been to eventually work for NEOCH. I really wanted to discover why so many people remain almost systematically homeless. I wanted to learn the meaning behind the word: poverty. I assumed that NEOCH only served people who were on the streets, I was wrong. I also assumed, given my professor’s reactions to my never-ending desire to work at NEOCH, that there was going to be a little bit of rabble-rousing from NEOCH. We were going to push people to get things done! I was excited! I was ready to end homelessness in 10 weeks. While, I didn’t achieve this goal in my time at NEOCH, I did learn so much about the systems that are set in place to prevent people from really getting out of the cycle of poverty.
Poverty seems to be a word which induces fear into the hearts of many. While the typical picture of someone living in poverty is a drug addict or someone who is lazy, I can tell you this is simply not true. Many people who are homeless just lost their job. Many people who live in poverty have just been stuck in the cycle, their mom, and their grandma, both lived in penury, and they never got the resources needed to get out. So, while it is easy to be afraid of those who live in the homeless shelter or under the bridge, I can assure you, they are people just like you and me. They are people, with limited resources.
It was truly shocking to me to learn about how limited the resources are to those who are experiencing poverty in Cleveland. Many rely on non-profit organizations to get them their basic human needs of; food, water, and shelter. I also was shocked to realize how many people in Cleveland live in poverty. Through penning a Homeless Bill of Rights, going on outreach, attending protests, registering people to vote, and various other projects, I have been able to better grasp how systems of poverty affect many residents in Cleveland! I have learned that NEOCH truly cares about ending the stigma around the word poverty, and fights for the rights of all who are poor in Northeast Ohio. I have thoroughly enjoyed these life changing weeks at NEOCH. I will miss seeing all of you, but if you ever want to say “hi” just look for me around town and at Malachi’s on Friday nights! I’m hoping that one day we will live in world where poverty no longer exists. Even more I hope the whisper of poverty is no longer the final nail in a coffin of grief, but a signal of help to be given to those suffering. Let’s fight the system together!
Connor McIntyre (Rising Sophomore at JCU): I am thrilled with how well my internship at NEOCH has gone this summer. My eyes have been opened up to so much and I have found a passion for helping the homeless. I have had so many different opportunities while working at NEOCH, such as weekly outreach, attending and organizing different events and meetings, and so much more. I have also done research this summer and found out a lot about the status of low income housing and homeless students in Cleveland. I want to thank Chris Knestrick, Executive director at NEOCH, for being so hospitable and opening my eyes and heart to the homeless community. The most enjoyable project I have worked on is the startup of a potential Homeless Bill of Rights. Chris called the interns to come up with ideas and really got behind us and got us going on drafting the Bill of Rights. I also want to thank the NEOCH staff and the other interns at NEOCH for being so awesome and for being super supportive and charismatic each and every day. I could not have asked for a better internship experience than I have gotten this summer with NEOCH.
Shivani Govani (Rising Junior at CWRU): My time at the NEOCH this summer has been incredibly rewarding. Under the supervision of Chris Knestrick, the executive director, I was able to help sign up homeless individuals for the CMHA Housing Voucher Choice program, help create a digital version of NEOCH’s street card that will help many homeless and low-income individuals, and plan a protest addressing the lack of affordable housing in our community. I also learned more about prominent issues in our community such as lead poisoning, gentrification, and fair housing. Additionally, I was able to form relationships with homeless individuals through outreach. I am incredibly thankful for my time at NEOCH and the wonderful staff members and fellow interns who made my time here very memorable.
Asha Ravichandran (Rising Junior at CWRU): Working at NEOCH for the last few months has been incredibly rewarding. This internship has given me the opportunity to work on several projects with my fellow interns that I hope will lessen the impacts of systemic homelessness within our community. From attending a Poor People’s Campaign protest to planning a direct action centered around affordable housing to drafting a Homeless Bill of Rights, I have learned so much about homelessness advocacy. I’ve met great people in the community through registering people to vote and going on outreach trips. And throughout it all, I’ve had the pleasure of working with the wonderful interns and staff at NEOCH. Although I started one week later than the other interns, I felt immediately welcomed by everyone as soon as I stepped into the office on my first day. My internship experience has been so fulfilling, and I hope to use the knowledge I’ve gained about social justice and systemic inequalities to continue serving my community.