Orlando: the hub of the homeless

It was a shock, a complete and utter shock.  Being away from Orlando made it seem like the problem of homelessness was only in Saint Petersburg but today i was reminded that it is not; homelessness is an epidemic in every major city in the country especially in Orlando.  It is a literal divide, on one side of the train tracks are high price condos, successful buisnesses, clean streets and parks filled with playful children and their Mothers.  On the other side there are houses with boarded up windows, run down buildings, no trashcans and a much more noticeable population of people living on the streets.

This world is 15 minutes away from Rollins, from me. After witnessing this part of Orlando, we went to the main campus of the Coalition for the Homeless where we met Jenn.  Jen is a wonderful, friendly women who worlds for the coalition.  She explained how the Coalition operates and gave us a tour of their facilities.  If there is any place in Orlando to volunteer at is the Coalition.  We did crafts with Mothers and their children who were living at the Coalition, it was an amazing day, and I would go back there every day if I could.

Today showed me that this problem is much closer to home then any of us thinks.  The fact I go to school and live in this beautiful area while these people, these children, live like this so close to me makes me so uneasy.  Now all I want to do is help.

These last few days have completely changed my perspective of the homeless and now that I understand what it entails I am ready to make a plan to help end it. I have had great times and emotional times this week and I wouldn’t change any of it.

So please PLEASE consider volunteer at the Coalition and for the local Habitat for Humanity, I promise you it will be worth it.

 

me at the job site

 

Just across the Railroad

At ten o’clock this morning, armed with my suitcase, backpack, and knowledge collected from the first half of this week, it was time for our little immersion group to leave St. Pete and head back to Rollins. That was actually a pretty eventful car ride for me. Instead of everyone besides Dean Cavenaugh and I falling asleep as they’ve successfully done on every car ride without fail (personally I think I have a chronic disorder that leaves me incapable of napping), Becca Kleinman, Callie, Kate and I all covered a wide range of global topics, from the crisis in the Middle East to our views on religion and spirituality (a conversation Becca particularly loved was whether or not Messianic Jews should actually be considered Jewish). Of the two cars I think we were more productive, since the other car was singing along to the radio for an hour and a half (I’m so sorry Jerrid).

When we finally got back home, we had an hour to put our stuff in our rooms, relax for a bit, then get right back into the cars for a drive around Orlando before heading for Central Florida’s Coalition for the Homeless. On that drive, Meredith took us along back roads to get to downtown Orlando and explained how the “haves” and the “have-nots” in Orlando, and many other major cities around the country, can be separated by something as short as a railroad track or a two-way street, where rich communities with expensive homes and fancy restaurants are on one side, and run down neighborhoods and convenient stores are on the other. It was actually kind of shocking to me to be honest. I’ve lived in the Winter Park and Orlando area all my life, and I have never been in or even heard about some of the poor areas we drove through. Meredith challenged us to count the number of trash cans we could find in these areas, and I only found one small bin at a street corner. That just shows how support for these areas really isn’t there from the government or the community, which is sad. If it doesn’t start with these types of institutions to help these areas improve and thrive, can it actually start at all? That is definitely something for me to think about.

The Other Side of the Tracks

After returning to Orlando this morning, we went on a kind of driving tour around the city. The differences in cleanliness, safety, and newness of the buildings and sidewalks between one side of the train tracks, Division Street, or other kinds of physical barriers and the other– the differences between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parts of town– are painfully obvious. We would go from driving past high end restaurants, luxury condos, and boutiques to driving past run-down homes, pawn shops, and 24 hour laundromats in a second. The ‘haves’ can walk over to their windows and look directly down from their high-rise buildings and condos on the ‘have nots.’ There’s something very medieval about the whole thing. One of the many things that’s so disturbing about this trend is the vast difference between how the city and the city officials treat the two ‘sides’ of town. The police presence was easily three times as noticeable on the ‘other side’ of town, the city provided next to no trash cans (and thus a way to keep the area clean) to the area, and city ordinances have prohibited panhandling. I’m not here to tell you that anyone who lives on the ‘safer ‘ or ‘good’ or ‘better’ or ‘our’ part of town is to blame. But I do think we should all be aware (at the very least) of the conditions that many people live in– just a few miles away from our beautiful, warm, and safe abodes.

which side do you live on?

xx Kate

Just like any other kid

After driving back to Orlando today, we went to the local Coalition for the Homeless here in Orlando. We were given a tour of their “campus”, which includes houses for homeless men, women, and families. They take in all needy people, giving them hot meals, a safe place to sleep, help with childcare, transportation, detox for addicts, assistance in finding employment, and even opportunities for education.

Our main purpose in visiting the center was to host an arts and crafts activity with women and their children in the center. I’m not sure what I was expecting from this session, but I came away with the distinct observation that these children are not unlike any others; they were more interested in playing with paint and stickers than they were in talking, they talk about themselves and their families, demand a lot of attention, and have no reserves when it comes to meeting new people. Aliza, the 4-year-old I spend most of the afternoon with, was shy and quiet at first, but quickly showed her true personality, which is sassy and energetic. As it is with children, it touches your heart when they become attached to you in no time at all, and I was smiling from ear to ear when she decided she wanted to move from the painting table to the jewelry-making table and told me that I MUST go with her!

In reflecting on this activity, however, I am reminded that while these kids appear normal in our short interaction, their lives are far from main-stream. Their parents cannot make ends meet, and the future for these families is unpredictable, to say the least. But it’s no use thinking depressing thoughts, because thoughts cannot change reality, and I can only hope that the little help I offered made a difference.

Today’s fun fact about myself: I’m so bad at art, Aliza may be better than myself!

~Becca

Coalition for the Homeless

Today, we volunteered at Orlando Coalition for the Homeless. We made arts and crafts with children and their families. The people we met were all really nice. They were really excited to participate in the activities that we had planned. The housing provided by Coalition for the Homeless provided these people with a friendly environment where they could try to improve their lives.

The children in the building seemed to not even realize they were homeless. They werte so happy and playful. It was really great to see that they could be so happy despite their situation.

After our visit, we watched Easy Street, a movie featuring some of the people we met on Tuesday night. It was so interesting to see them in the movie when they had still lived on the street. One man, G.W., has made a dramatic change from his role as a homeless man to the person he is now. In the movie, he looks tired and beaten down. Now, he appears strong and triumphant. The movie reinforced what they had all told us during our meeting on Tuesday. The homeless people are not bad, irresponsible people. They are good people in a horrible situation who need help.

That’ll do pig

Ahhh the sweet smell of hard work, sweat, mud, and salmon colored paint.  Today was a fun and interseting day on the worksite. I had the please of working all day with the lovely Katia under the supervision of the awesome, sassy David: the 86 year old house building wonder.  He wore a neon green hardhat and rainbow suspenders; if that doesn’t prove how great this man is I don’t know what will. Katia and I drilled and drilled untill we could drill no more and then we moved on to painting the house, where most of the paint ended up on us.

Even though we had only been working on the site for two days it is bittersweet to be leaving tomorrow. I really wanted to see the project through and marvel at the finished project.  Alas, Rollins is calling us home and I can safely say I am ready for my own bed.

Earlier today Katia and I were discussing how happy we were to have gone on this trip and how much we have enjoyed it.  It is definetly better to experience a subject like homelessness and poverty first hand instead of the classroom.  In the last few days I have heard stories about being homless from the homless and experienced seeing a family so excited to be getting a house that they can raise a family.  Saint. Petersburg has left a pretty deep impression on me and I can’t wait to share this experience with others.

But the story doesn’t end here! Even though we are going home, we will still continue to learn and reflect by going to the coalition for the homeless in Orlando tomorrow which should just as insightful.

So goodnight lovebugs, I hope you have had a wonderful last few days just as I have.

oh by the way, WE WENT GO KARTING (is that one word?). It was so much fun and scared the crap out of me.  This picture is after the final race and I think we all look pretty darn fierce.

Just Call Me Calipernacious

I am currently overwhelmed with adrenaline, excitement, and satisfaction for what I have done in the past few days. I haven’t had this much of a good time in quite a while.

I started the day off by painting around an entire house which may seem easy, but it was no small feat. Working alongside the future owners of the houses made it really hit home that we were making a huge difference in the lives of multiple people. After doing various jobs around the worksite for a couple of hours, the houses really began to come together. The cabinets were up, the trim was painted, and the appliances were delivered. I didn’t want to leave the site at the end of the day. I really want to help build the houses until the very end when the families move in. It would be amazing to see the faces on the family members’ faces when they see where they are going to be living for possibly the rest of their lives. I’m hoping I can find a Habitat for Humanity build site close to Rollins that I can help out with on a monthly basis.

After a tiring day of work, we headed to Panera for a delicious meal. Feeling rejuvinated, we decided to go to a nearby go-kart track.We had no idea what was in store for us when we made this decision. Tonight consisted of bonding while moving at speeds of 45 mph and cutting each other off to the point of almost spinning out. It may seem difficult to become closer to one another under these conditions but trust me when I say we are completely bonded together. Tonight was a perfect ending adventure to a perfect couple of days in St. Pete.

 

And They’re Off!

Today was the definition of awesome! After the seriousness of yesterday’s work and the conversations we all had, it was extremely nice to just do good work and have some fun. After waking up, taking an extra-long time to get out of bed yet again, and eating breakfast, we all braced ourselves for another day at the work site for Habitat for Humanity.

The weather this morning was pretty dreary, with rain clouds hiding the sun well past 10 am. I was definitely still in the mindset from yesterday at first. But the work we did today was extremely rewarding, and my mood got happier as the day went on, which was mirrored by the improving weather.  Becca Kleinman and I worked under the supervision of David, a gruff 86-year old contractor with a bit of a sassy attitude, who I absolutely loved. He was definitely one of the coolest people I’ve met, attitude and all (any 86-year old has a right to be sassy in my opinion). We screwed door hinges to the sides of closet walls, put rollers on the closet doors, and even handled paint jobs. All the while, the fabulous David was being a tough guy, but we eventually got a glimpse of his hysterical sense of humor. Still, I could have sworn he growled at us a few times when we put a screw in crookedly! Overall though, the last day on the work site was extremely satisfying and so rewarding. It was tough work, but the end result of seeing the houses really come together in the short time we were helping was so amazing. I definitely have to do work with Habitat again soon.

After some down time in our rooms, it was time for us to have some carefree fun. After dinner at Panera, we made the fantastic decision to go to an indoor go-karting track! I don’t think I’ve had that much fun in forever! My Racer name was the Curly Menace, and I did my best to terrorize the others with my lightning-fast racing ability! Out of the three races, I really thought my 2nd place win was pretty awesome, considering I’ve never ridden a go-kart in my life. I’m really glad we got to do something like this, as a way to de-stress and get ready for the next half of the week, which I’m sure will be just as insightful and thought-provoking as the first half. I guess we’ll just have to see what comes next!

The Selfless Helpless

Today we put in another 8 hours at the building site and I can honestly say that I am feeling the burn in my muscles that tells me I really gave it my all! And although I had an interesting time at the site, I would like to dedicate today’s blog to elaborating on our meeting yesterday with some members of Coalition for The Homeless.

I was astounded by the unselfish nature and will to help possessed by these people, who are in so much need of help, themselves. For example, Lauren, who has an accounting degree, lost her job, her house, and everything else in rapid succession. Reduced to couch-surfing at the houses of her friends, she now goes to her church daily to serve meals to other homeless people. She commented that this is the way she gives back. The fact that she feels a need to give back when she has such personal struggles currently occurring in her life show her passion for helping others. G.W., how has two bachelors degrees, similarly ended up on the streets, where he lived a tough life for almost 8 years. Now that he is back on his feet, he dedicates his life to helping others who find themselves homeless without a means of fixing their situation. He does this by helping the homeless turn themselves into entrepreneurs, making them “pull themselves up by their boot-straps” and making themselves the “answer to their own prayers”. Another shared characteristic of this group of people is their eternal hope. They constantly talk about their plans for the future, which include making a living for themselves and building a full life. They talk about this with excitement in their eyes and they have the confidence in themselves and their work ethic to make their situation better. Stacy, for example, is a beautiful singer who wants to start performing at weddings. She also wants to become an author in order to continue sharing her story through written word. Art, as he calls himself, has a passion for photography and hopes to make it as a professional one day soon, eventually starting his own website and newsletter that can share how he sees the world with the people of the St. Petersburg community.

Since I didn’t fill you in on the details of today’s work, I will include a couple of the videos we took throughout the morning at the end of this blog.

Fun fact for the day: I am obsessed with big cats, especially lions, and one day hope to travel to Africa to work as a conservation volunteer.

~Becca

Video – Concrete is heavy!

Video – A Look at the Building Site.

Video – We Constructed a Kitchen!

Salmon.

It was a wonderfully positive day spent after a day of emotional turmoil and injustice upheaval.

We started off the day just as early as we did yesterday (although I made an effort to go to sleep just in time to wake up at the end of a sleep cycle ~ a wonderful new method introduced to me by Becca Hamilton, found on www.sleepyti.me). Heading off to the Habitat houses we were helping with, I felt a sense of optimism. I spent the day painting one of the houses a salmony-pink color that somehow managed to coat my arms, t-shirt, jeans, and shoes.

when we first began

I felt very accomplished when we drove off and the fruit of our labor was evident in the bright coloring of the house.

when we drove off

As I was painting, I loved the feeling that I was making someone else’s future home beautiful. That we are responsible for the future homeowner coming home and feeling welcome and proud of their shelter. After last night’s horrific stories, it was very rewarding to feel as though we were helping provide a reliable, comfortable, beautiful shelter for very deserving people. We also all enjoyed flinging paint at each other, resulting in complete annihilation of our clothes.

And then the real fun began.

Sassy pants Jerry (as one of the volunteers lovingly dubbed Jarrid) missed our exit so we got to cross the 8-mile bridge yet again. We got to see plenty of baby ducks but unfortunately no octopi. Plenty of shenanigans were observed and the other car was very angry. Why so serious?

 

P.S. I will be joining Kate Barnekow’s valiant efforts to donate leftover meal plan money. You should too.