Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reflecting on what you’ve learned thus far

As you prepare for our guest speakers from The Gathering Place (who will join us on Monday), I’d like you to reflect on what you’ve learned thus far in our course about gender, poverty, and/or homelessness (or any other related topic that has been significant). Take some time to share with us what the most powerful lessons have been for you. What new knowledge or insight(s) have you gained about the focus of our course? What helped you gain this insight or learn this information (that is, what reading, class discussion, or research study that you encountered helped you learn what you learned)? Last, I’d like you to post two or three questions about gender, poverty, homelessness, and/or The Gathering Place you might ask our guests when they join us on Monday.

If possible, please post your response to these questions by Sunday evening, so that our guests can review them before they join us. Thanks!


  1. In this course thus far, my understanding of the issue of homelessness has increased greatly. Prior to this course, I was aware of the pressing nature of homelessness as an issue not only in other countries, but also in the United States. I had heard of Denver’s Road Home in passing, and I of course had seen people that I presumed to be homeless on trips to various neighborhoods throughout the city. However, I was completely unaware that so many people throughout the United States are homeless. Rachel and Her Children, in particular, presents statistics concerning huge budget cuts that are, frankly, shocking and unbelievable. How could one president act in such an insensitive manner toward such a vast group of people that clearly needs help and assistance, not a plethora of budget cuts? It is estimated that over $19 billion of public assistance was cut from 1980 to 1985 alone. Simply put, we as a nation are punishing a suffering group of people for not being able to find housing that does not exist because there is no money to build it. It is especially ironic that this same president once stated that if one child goes to bed hungry, it qualifies as a “national tragedy.” Not only are countless children going to bed hungry every night, they are also sleeping in the EAU office with their parents because of a lack of proper housing. Here, then, is a true national tragedy that is ignored, whether consciously or unconsciously, by the bulk of society. Reading the personal narratives of various homeless individuals as collected within Rachel and Her Children by Jonathan Kozol has particularly imbued me with new knowledge and insights about the growing issue of homelessness. While statistics alone are jarring and serve to provide some idea about this issue, they do not provide the emotions that stories from homeless individuals themselves do. While this book is at times difficult to read simply because of the emotions it provokes, I believe that it is necessary for the public to know about the harrowing circumstances homeless individuals experience on a daily basis. My conclusion is that we can either continue to bury our heads in the sand as a society, or we can begin to spread awareness of the fact that our fellow human beings are suffering.

    Research for my literature review has helped me see that homeless individuals do indeed possess sources of grounding and “light” in their lives, even if they are few. Spirituality and religion, specifically, seem to be amazing sources of guidance in the lives of many members of the homeless population. In an uncertain life with seemingly no static aspects, the idea of divine intervention, a savior/redeemer, or simply the discovery of beginning to know oneself spiritually appears to help tremendously. In addition, I have learned more about faith-based welfare organizations; ones of this category comprise the majority of organizations dedicated to the public good in the United States today. There are, however, marked differences between them: organizations with a Catholic foundation seem to be solely focused on providing homeless individuals with food, clothing, and shelter, while evangelical organizations pair these goals with a rather large and unconcealed emphasis on conversion. Research studies have found that this blatant focus is resented by a huge chunk of the clients who regularly utilize the services of these organizations. While I had some knowledge of faith-based welfare organizations prior to this research, I now have considerably more, not to mention insight about the direct and indirect roles of religion in the lives of the homeless.

    My possible interview questions are as follows:

    1. What do you personally believe are the most significant connections between gender and the issue of homelessness?

    2. What effects do you observe that the current political system has on the issue of homelessness and its persistence?

  2. I've enjoyed learning about the personal stories and journeys of those people who are homeless. I have always believed that every person has a story to share with the world and everyone can learn from those shared stories. In the novel Two Things I know for sure the author shares how her healing process was through telling her story about her life. For me writing also shares a healing process. it helps me think more clearly when my thoughts are on paper. The most powerful thing I've taken from this class is how homelessness innocently affects so many people and there's not enough help for them out there. I also didn't realize how expensive it still is to be homeless and live in a hotel or temporary shelter. Homeless people who are actually working to improve their condition have to work really hard in order to find shelter, search for jobs, get their kids to school, etc. My research paper focuses on the influence of sports and the homeless. I've seen the devastating facts of children moving schools and never fully being able to assimilate into society.

    1. What is the quickest way to reduce homelessness?
    2. Do you think the homeless population of women will increase or decrease in the future? why?

  3. This course has had a profound impact on my thinking. I grew up in an upper-class, highly conservative community where most people had negative opinions of low-income Americans. The general belief was that anyone who works hard enough in the United States will be successful. However, I have grown to realize that not everyone has the same opportunities and resources, and it’s much harder to be successful when many difficult obstacles face you at every step of the way. It’s easy to look into someone else’s life and decide that their decisions were irrational and foolish. However, we all make foolish and irrational decisions at times; some of us are simply blessed to have fewer negative consequences or a larger safety net under us. In the reading which we have done for this class, especially Rachel and Her Children, I have seen that the very experience of being homeless makes it very difficult to make rational choices. The lack of safe, affordable housing, the very small budget for groceries allotted through government programs, the high unemployment rate- all of these factors sharply decrease a family’s or individual’s chance of becoming self-sufficient. Keeping these things in mind, I have a few questions for the staff of The Gathering Place when they come to class on Monday.

    1. What are some of the most daunting challenges which homeless women face here in Denver?
    2. Which services have you found to be the most helpful in assisting women? What are some examples of ideas or services which have been the least helpful?
    3. What are some of the most daunting challenges for The Gathering Place from an administrative or organizational perspective?

  4. Here's Lizzie's comment:

    Gender and homelessness has been a very informative class so far. Before this class, I had never known the true scale of the homelessness problem, especially when it relates to children. To learn the number of children in this country who are without a home was staggering to me. It is hard to believe that so many children in this country go without a safe, constant place to live and sleep every night. Even though I know that it is just a stereotype, I always picture homeless people as those you usually see on street corners; dirty, with a long, straggly beard, pushing a grocery cart. It is the most prevalent image of homelessness that we have in this country, but the true face of homelessness is someone who looks much more like the rest of us. Another thing I’ve learned from this course is how seemingly callous and uncaring the U.S. Government is towards homeless individuals and families. They cut budgets to the absolute bare bones, even while the problem of homelessness is getting larger and larger. They put expensive condos where there once was subsidized housing. They cut benefits to people with only the slightest explanation. It is hard to understand how, in the richest nation in the world, we could pay so little heed to its citizens that need us the most.

    A question that I would like a better understanding of is what do we do? How do we combat this problem? Do we provide better education services? Easier access to subsidized housing and funds? Another question is what are the main ways that the Gathering Place goes about accomplishing its goals? Are there solutions ones that we can use for the larger homeless population?

  5. I am overwhelmed by the system of homelessness that is depicted in "Rachel and Her Children." Kozol's book has been very challenging to read because it seems to paint a pretty hopeless picture. All of the personal narratives he describes are weirdly fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time, but what intrigues me more is the broader message he is exploring. Specifically, the message that our nation functions in a selfish manner, and that our individualistic, "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" attitude leaves no room for uncontrollable consequences. In other words, for many people there is no cushion for them to fall back on, simply because they are less privileged, whether that be financially, racially, gender based, etc. Sometimes people simply do not have as many opportunities because of the life they were born into. And when these types of hard working people are forced into homelessness simply because they do not benefit from middle-class/upper-class privileges, I believe the system has betrayed them.

    Since this book is over 20 years old, I am very curious about the current state of homelessness in our country. My personal sense is that things have not really improved. Our cultural attitude is still very much anti-welfare, and I do not know of large scale projects that work to create abundant and affordable housing for the lower class. So, for Monday, I have a couple questions for our guests:

    What is your sense of the current state of the homeless in our country? and,
    What kind of policies/programs would be most effective in dealing with such a challenging issue?

  6. Thus far in our Gender and Homelessness Class I have truly learned a great deal about perceptions of homelessness, actualities of homelessness, and the structures in place that are meant to support homeless people. I think so far I have been most surprised when learning about the government operated social services that are designed to reduce and alleviate homelessness. Prior to the class I knew that the service system was not providing a completely successful program that would fix, or even greatly minimize, the problem of homelessness, but I did not really understand the logistics of why that was or what aspects needed fixing. It was through reading Rachel and Her children that this issue really came to light. As the book explained the misdistribution of funds allocated to help homeless individuals and the lack of accountability within governmental agencies, I began to understand more about the structural nature of homelessness and the invisible obstacles that exist in transforming the homeless service system. Coupled with this, I did not know it was so complicated to get benefits for an entire homeless family. Through the reading done for the class, it appears that very few individuals (or families) are receiving support from the government without a significant amount of hassle or the fear that it will be unexpectedly taken away. I am really starting to get a grasp on the deficiency between the needs of homeless individuals and the services provided for them. It seems like instead of helping people rise out of a homeless situation, the system is simply making it harder for individuals to make positive strides and therefore perpetuating the problem it is designed to fix.

    How and why was The Gathering Place Created?

    What are some of the most important aspects of The Gathering Place’s success?

    What is the best mindset to take when beginning to work with The Gathering Place?

  7. The most powerful lesson I have learned thus far in our class is concerning the appearance of the homeless. For whatever reason it never occurred to me that the homeless could be undistinguishable from everyone else walking along the sidewalk. I know this seems like something I should have know, or at least considered but I think that my preconceptions and choice blindness made it so I was unable to see what was right in front of me. I have also learned a lot about children and homelessness through my research paper. To think that homeless children go unnoticed so long in the school system is really hard to stomach because it begs the question well how many homeless or highly mobile students I have been around in my educational up bringing. It is was really sad reading about the trecherous experiences of some students in urban public school system, I cant imagine going through that experience myself. Although the research was extremely eye opening I also felt like it didnt provide me with any real stories or experiences to bring me closer to homeless families and childrens so that I could better understand real life experiences. I think that there is only so much we can learn from an abundance of numbers and statistics surrounding homeless students and families. I am looking forward to working with the Gathering Place and working outside of my comfort zone to better understand a huge part of the population that seems to be overlooked or forgotten.

    A few questions I have would be:
    1. Can The Gathering Place service all of the women and children that come through their doors? Or do women have to be turned away?
    2. Where does the funding come from for places like The Gathering Place?

  8. The thing that has impacted me the most in this course was a story that was told in our book "Rachel and Her Children". It described a completely normal family that lost everything because of a house fire. One year later the kids were in foster care, and the parents were living on the streets with nothing. It made me realize that homelessness can happen to anyone. The stereotypes that homeless people are drug and alcohol addicts, lazy and careless may be true for some individuals but are largely false. I could even end up homeless if things go badly for me. This made me feel more connected to and compassionate for homeless people. This course has really opened my eyes up to "the human side of homelessness." Homeless people are people with hopes, struggles, personalities, and desires to move up in the world. Many homeless people have families to take care of. This class has also taught me that the system we have set up to help homeless people is very corrupt . The amount of money it costs to house someone for a night could instead pay for their rent in a real apartment. It seems messed up that we can't come up with a better way to use the money we have to help the homeless.

    1) What is unique about being a homeless woman? How is it different than being a man?
    2) What is the best way to get someone out of homelessness? Is it even possible when they are at rock bottom?

    3) What is the best way to communicate with a homeless person who has been through many hardships? Is it difficult?

  9. I have learned the most significant lessons from this class from reading and subsequent class discussions. The most important lessons that I have learned, and that I think more people need to learn, is the lack of effective governmental programs. I was especially surprised to learn that the programs we assume are helping those in need (and therefore believe that we don’t need to do anything ourselves) are actually extremely insufficient in helping the majority of homeless. Most of the stories shared in the book “Rachel and Her Children” are about women or families that are trying to establish a better life for themselves but are unable to because of the problems with the programs that they seek help from. This is important for people to know because it communicates a sense of responsibility and room for improvement. I learned that I cannot rely on governments or governmental programs to take care of its citizens through programs. It also shows that in order to fix poverty we must start from a bigger place. Governmental programs need to undergo complex policy changes in order to accommodate the diversity of homelessness.

    1. How do you educate volunteers at the Gathering Place to avoid stereotyping of homeless women?
    2. What would you recommend for governmental policy changes?
    3. What kind of challenges for homeless women are unique to Denver?

  10. What I have learned about homelessness over the last few weeks, is that everything I previously thought was wrong. In my hometown, homelessness wasn’t a problem to the naked eye, it wasn’t until you went into Salt Lake City that you began to see homeless individuals living their daily lives. For the larger part of my life I was openly afraid of these individuals roaming about the streets and the parks, they made me afraid to go the city by myself or to wander too far from my parents at the farmer’s market. Now that I think about I think my fear of the homeless was rooted in the stereotypes that we have been studying the class so far, that the homeless were mentally unstable, lazy, drug and alcohol users, who were looking to scam money away from at the first sign of compassion. But I was wrong, when I was viewing these individuals I was looking at the “losers” of society that had gotten addicted to drugs and burned themselves out of their families and their homes. It had never occurred to me to think that maybe these people were simply down on their luck and now terrible things were happening to them because they were homeless. In looking at the studies that I am using for my paper on LGBT youth and homelessness I have seen the shocking fact that most youth that end up on the streets have never taken drugs, abused alcohol, or been sexually abused, until they were on the streets. Studies like this shock me because they change my entire paradigm of how I view the homeless. Similarly works like Rachel and Her children have shown the shocking impact that homelessness has on the family unit, something I again had never contemplated.

    1. In running The Gathering Place, how do you determine the level of help that you can provide, and what amount needs to actually be achieved by the individual?
    2. Explain your decision to include Transgender individuals in your mission statement. Do you only except women who identify as males or do you also accept males who identify as females?
    3. What is the goal of The Gathering Place in terms of moving the women in the shelter to new places? Do you advocate a process of finding any job and taking it or do you encourage the women to pursue education and further training in order to access new job markets?

  11. What has been very intriguing about homelessness is its complexity. In the reading, I remember one character said that had to remind themselves that they were a person because homeless people are often treated like another number. At the welfare office there a number, and the food stamp office they're another number, in the shelter they are a number. I think this is because many people only see the homeless as just a number, or another person who was lazy and didn't work hard, when in reality the narratives of each homeless individual is more complex than that. You can't take a one size fits all approach when trying to help the homeless because not all homeless people got to where they are though the same exact path. Each person has a story and misfortune.

    1. What is the face of homelessness? Since the baby boomer generation is getting older are you seeing more older women in the shelter?
    2) Do you put homeless women in a sister shelter over night?
    3) Do you see the same women come back?

  12. What I have learned thus far about homelessness is that it can truly happen to anyone. The gravity of that statement has taken this entire quarter to truly sink in. I have always (I’d like to think subconsciously) separated myself from the homeless population. Even in trying to be an advocate for the homeless to some extent it has always been easier to make it us and them. But the truth is that in all reality it is just as easy for a homeless person to be an “us” as it is for a better off person to become a “them”. That thought is truly terrifying and exciting all at the same time. Mainly, because I realize that if more people became educated on what homelessness truly means, who are the real face of homelessness, and that they could have just as easily ended up on the street had they made a few different decisions then I feel like society could bridge the gap between the homeless and the not homeless. I realize that is a stretch because most people refuse to see that similarity but I feel as though this course finally instilled the meaning of that for me. The medium that really helped me gain this insight is Kozol’s book Rachel and Her Children, because this book is so old I would like to hope that America as a whole has reformed to some extent at least the living conditions the homeless receive as a part of their services. This book really made me think about what being homeless means and how nearly impossible it is to get out of it. Lack of housing, lack of funding for the homeless services, and then throw a few children on top of it; homeless families and more specifically single mothers are caught between a rock and a hard place that makes it nearly impossible to get to more stable ground. The impact of it can happen to anybody and then the fact that it is nearly impossible for people to get out of it has changed my perspective on homelessness almost completely.