By Angela K. Joyce
For Inward Bound Students of Avon Lake, Cleveland Heights, Hudson, Troy and other local High Schools, July marked the beginning of a weeklong adventure in learning about homelessness. Inward Bound is a program that aims to make high school students aware of issued of poverty in Cleveland and encourages them to become actively involved in solving those issues. For one week, the students work during the day with Habitat for humanity building houses and in the evenings they participate in activities that help them better understand what it is like to be homeless. Part of their experience of understanding homelessness is spending the week sleeping in the basement of a church. In addition to shelter-like sleeping accommodations, students visit shelters and meal sites. This year, Inward Bound asked NEOCH to assist them in setting up an activity that would allow students to interact with the homeless. NEOCH then arranged for Inward Bound participants to eat dinner with residents at 2100 Lakeside (The Salvation Army’s emergency shelter for men).
Shelter workers were anxious to see how the high school students would react to eating at the shelter and mingling with the residents, but after the first week the workers were pleasantly surprised to find that the experiences at 2100 Lakeside were indeed successful. Students and residents at the shelter communicated with one another, and evaluations filled out by the students showed that the experience was valuable and changed the opinions the students held of homelessness. Four different groups of students (about 20 students to a group) have participated in the weeklong program, and two or more groups are scheduled in August.
After reviewing approximately 8- evaluations, some main themes that summed up the experience at 2100 Lakeside were compiled. These themes do not encompass every student opinion, but do reflect the majority of statements that were expressed on the evaluations. At first, most students were nervous as they were waiting in line for their food but once they sat down they realized that they were welcome and the residents wanted to talk with them, they were more relaxed. Nearly all of the students stated that they did not feel threatened or uncomfortable, in fact, many students felt more uncomfortable about not eating all of the food they were served rather than feeling uncomfortable about being at the facility (unfortunately the food did not receive as high rating as the program!). Students were surprised that both groups were able to quickly accept each other and converse over dinner. Students also expressed surprise at the fact that many of the men they spoke with originally came from middle class backgrounds. Many students wrote that previously they had stereotypes that homeless people were unemployed, but that most of them held jobs, but did not earn enough money to secure
Housing. Perhaps the greatest measure of the success of this program was that students expressed they wanted to learn more about homelessness – several said that next year they would like to visit a women’s facility or speak with families who are homeless. Many final comments expressed that students were glad they were forced to leave their comfort zones because it allowed them to meet a population of people they may never have gotten to know otherwise.
Here are some examples of actual answers that students wrote on their evaluations:
Question: If you were to do Inward Bound again next year, would you want to eat at the shelter with the homeless men again? Why or why not?
Answers: “ I would like to see this activity again, I was scary at first because it was such an unknown. Bu getting to interact with a few men while in like helped break the ice before we stepped into the room.”
“Yes, because I enjoyed listening to many different experience of life and it turned around what I thought of homeless people, it was a great experience.
Question: Did this activity change any preconceived notions or thoughts about homeless people and/or living in the city? How?
Answers: “Yes it made me realize that ANYONE can be homeless.”
“Yes I thought that most homeless people didn’t have jobs, but some of the people tat were they talked about their jobs. They were very intelligent people and I wasn’t expecting that.”
“Yes, It made me realize how lucky I am and also I have more respect for them because they are the same as us.”
Question: Do you think you would be able to survive if you were a homeless person?
Answers: “Probably, but it would be VERY hard! I would feel different and just think back to what I did wrong. I hope I don’t have to deal with that situation though.”
I don’t think anyone can really be ready to face everything that comes along with being homeless, so no, I don’t.”
“It depends, I would like to think that I could, but realistically I doubt I could.”
Copyright The Homeless Grapevine – Issue 44 Cleveland, Ohio September – October 2000