This is an excerpt from a Community Immersion Project I participated in for school. I already volunteer at the River of Life helping Veterans find resources and get back on their feet. But in this instant I had the opportunity to really immerse myself by spending the day with a homeless veteran to see what it feels like to “walk in his shoes”. Although this was only a day it was an eye opening experience and only re-enforced my desire to serve those who served.
What is a “community”? Webster’s defines a community as “an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location.” (Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2012). Social Workers see a community as an interaction between the people in the community and the community itself. The interaction between the two is a reciprocal bond. The people define their community and in some sense the community defines the people who live in. So how important are communities? In today’s society a community can tell much about those who live in it. Affluent communities usually suggest that its residents are higher on the Socio-economic scale, where as a community with pawn shops, payday loan stores or discount grocery stores may suggest that the residents of its community are the lower end of the same scale.
The community I had the privilege to immerse myself in was the community of homeless veterans. This community is centered on the River of Life Men’s Shelter located in downtown Boise, Idaho. The Boise Rescue Mission ministry or the “Mission” as it known here in Idaho is the parent organization that oversees the day to day operations of this facility. The Mission has been providing services to the communities of Ada and Canyon counties since 1958.The initial idea of my immersion project was going to be working in the River of Life and interact with the homeless veterans there. I soon learned that the River of Life is a short term residential area so many of the homeless veterans stop by in the morning to get basic hygiene items, razors and toothpaste mostly, clean up and then leave. So I decided that if I was really going to understand them I needed to immerse myself even more into their world. On May 15, 2012 I worked at the mission doing manual labor tasks with some of the veterans who were staying at the shelter. This gave me the opportunity to “get my hands dirty” and I soon began to build a bond with the residents. We talked about our experiences in the military and many of them were eager to tell me about their lives and the circumstances that had brought them to situation in which the currently were in. Many of the residents seemed just happy to have someone listen to them and treat them kindly.
I began to hear stories of brutality towards them on the streets and how people would look down on them when they “flipped their signs”, a process of holding a sign that usually briefly describes the situation the person is in and also asks for money. I decided that I wanted to see it for myself and see how people would treat me if they thought I was a homeless veteran and not a graduate student at the University of Southern California. I began to prepare by not shaving and allowing my facial hair to grow out, I also did not shower for two days and at my fiancé’s request could only sleep on the couch. I am not assuming that all homeless people smell but I wanted to get into the part as much as I could. I have been in many situations during Field Training Exercises (FTX) and in combat where I did not have the opportunity to shower, so I know how a shower can make you feel revitalized and uplift your spirit.
This is only the first part of a 3 part series that will cover my time researching what it is like to be homeless from the perspective of the veteran. I hope it will bring to light this real and sadly problamatic situation homeless vetreans find themselves in.