Near the last week of my internship, I attended the 2012 National Alliance to End Homelessness. I often pride myself as being a part of a newspaper that represents the homeless, but as I sat in the pew with several hundreds, I could definitely say I was lost. I was lost by the use of acronyms, from HRP, ESG, HEARTH to SAMSHA. The audience as well as the speakers used the acronyms like “it was no man’s business,” throwing it out there as though everyone was familiar with the terms. In one instance, the speaker asked the audience if he needed to explain the acronym. Everyone, or at least everyone I heard, said no. I had replied with a yes, but quickly went silent when I realized I might be the only one. The lady beside me, possibly in a spite of compassion, whispered the meaning of the word to me.
That was when I realized that we as a newspaper for the homeless need to be familiar with the other intricacies of homelessness. it was a two-way street; even in the world of homelessness, there is the bureaucratic side of it and the human side of it. We need to be experts on both. We need to be familiar both with what the homeless person faces everyday and the processes these organizations that support the homeless face.
For that reason, as I leave, I do not want to leave with the knowledge I learned from the conference. So I created a survival handbook for future interns. In the handbook, it contains terms that every intern ought to know when covering a particular topic, from the difference between chronic homelessness and episodic homelessness and how it affects funding, to acronyms that people in a specific field throw out because they have come to need those organizations or funding like a person needs food, terms like HUD, SAMSHA, HUD-VASH vouchers, among many others.
But even more importantly, we have to remember the humans this is all about. Sometimes, in a race to learn the bureaucratic side of things, we forget the human side of things, the reason we got into it in the first place. My first experience out in the field was when I needed to got to take a photo for a fellow intern’s story. We had a specific topic we were trying to cover, but many of the people we interviewed had other problems they wanted to speak about. The question then is, are we representing them enough? It is easy to get comfortable in an office, writing about homeless issues without ever venturing out into the streets where the homeless actually stay.
And just as important as learning the ABCs of Homelessness, we have to learn more about the voices who actually face homelessness everyday. In addition to a survival handbook, I suggest we create a Homeless Voices column. My idea of these column is more like a stickies-looking design with words from each person, spread around on the page. Each issue could focus on one topic per issue: long lines for food stamps, adequacy of cooling centers during the heat, the neatness (or lack of) in shelters. That way, they can voice out their thoughts on whether they are satisfied with the services and if something needs to change.
I guess that from every sour thing comes something sweet. From the issue of being lost as a result of the acronyms, it made me more reflective. In the end, it brought about some change that I hope would impact Street Sense’s reporting in the future.
By Anna Katharine Thomas
Street Sense vendor Phillip Howard just turned 60, and offered to share a few lessons and stories that he has learned during his six decades of life.
Howard was born September 20, 1951 in Washington, D.C. at Georgetown University Hospital. He said his favorite birthday so far has been this one because, Howard said, he finally realized what his mother meant when she told him, “one day you are gonna stop…”
“Through the years, I realized what she was trying to tell me early in my life. And I have outlived my oldest brother, and I have outlived my baby brother, but I still have my three sisters and my one brother—and I love them all,” said Howard.
Howard has lost a lot of loved ones during his lifetime, but through it all he said he has learned how important it is to communicate with others.
“If we don’t communicate, how do I know what you need?” said Howard.
He emphasized the importance of communication, especially within families. Adults should “be responsible and communicate. Give good advice, not bad advice…enlighten one another.”
Howard said a child’s responsibility is to listen to their mother and father.
“They know. They know wisdom. They know strength, and they know love,” said Howard.
He has been with Street Sense since November of 2003, and if there is anything he has learned during his time as a vendor it is that “you can’t demand anything.”
“Be humble. Be kind. Be courteous, and understand. Don’t get frustrated…you are doing a community service. The people are doing a community service by buying the paper,” said Howard.
But in being humble, kind, courteous and understanding we must all remember
that we are human beings. We must treat one another as human beings, and demand that others treat us the right way, according to Howard.
“I’m not the richest guy in the world, or in the United States, but I am happy,”
said Howard. “I am not perfect as an individual, but I humble myself to everyone because I have learned from a wise person. I remember him saying many many years ago, ‘common courtesy
can carry you along.’”
Through all his days of struggle and difficulties, Howard said for his birthday he celebrated by thanking God.
“I didn’t do any parties or balloons I just prayed that thank the Lord for allowing me to see another birthday through my times of struggle,” said Howard. Because “You don’t know what’s gonnna happen to you.”
A few things Howard said he wanted everyone to remember: