Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Erica Dewan Reflects On Her Time At LPCS

My name is Erica Dewan, and I am a sophomore at Xavier University. This summer I was given a remarkable opportunity of interning at Lincoln Park Community Shelter. My journey to this internship began in June of 2010, when I worked with two non-profit organizations in Liberia, Africa. Before going to Africa, I knew I was exceptionally privileged, but I was never fully aware of how fortunate I was. My remarkable experiences in West Africa led me to choose my major in Social Work. Since then, I have been searching for ways to increase my knowledge of the social work field and find ways to use my time to benefit the needs of others.

My internship at Lincoln Park Community Shelter did exactly that. The experience has helped me understand Social Work in a way that my school classes would never be able to teach.

The work that is done at LPCS is absolutely remarkable. Because LPCS only houses thirty-five guests at a time, each guest receives the attention and support they need. The staff, Guests, and volunteers all work together to create such an amiable environment. The comfort I felt working with the LPCS staff is indescribable. The staff here is so informative and knowledgeable with what they do and I was always treated like part of the team. The guests and graduates also help open my eyes to the causes and effects of homelessness. During my first year at Xavier, I learned about the many misconceptions about the homeless, but working with the Guests has eliminated all of my previous stereotypes. Not only did they give me a better understanding but they also taught me not to take anything for granted. One of the key things I've learned from working at LPCS is not to make assumptions about others. Each Guest at LPCS has a different story and different reasons for becoming homeless.

Although I've visited homeless shelters before, none of them were quite like LPCS. Unlike many shelters, LPCS stays in touch with their graduates by providing case management and support even after they leave. For example, we all know how oppressive the heat was in Chicago this summer. One of the projects I helped with was to find fans and air conditioner donations to distribute to LPCS Graduates. The Grads were so grateful that LPCS helped them deal with the heat in their new apartments. Because of this type of on-going connection, Graduates often call or drop-by just to say hello or thank you.

Interning at LPCS was an incredible experience and I am very grateful that I was offered this opportunity. I would recommend that others volunteer and support LPCS in any way possible. Unfortunately, I only had a couple months working with everyone at LPCS because I need to return to my studies at Xavier in Cincinnati, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. The only thing I would change about my experience is that I would like to have it last longer. I’ll miss everyone I met at LPCS. Thanks to everyone, both staff and Guests of LPCS who made me feel welcome and help me to better understand the problems of homelessness and how to help bring an end to it. I hope to visit again when I return to Chicago.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Albert's Reflection from D.C.

Albert meeting Brian Laughlin, Legislative Assistant to Rep. Jan Schakowski
Prior to going to the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference in Washington, D.C. this week, the only thing I knew about homelessness was how to survive it.

I was curious about where the funding comes from to the agencies that provide services to the homeless. At the conference, I listened to Mark Johnston of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). He stated that there is a federal goal set to end homelessness for some groups – the chronically homeless and veterans – by the year 2015. I also attended workshops on community-level efforts to end homelessness, partnerships with Child Welfare Services to serve homeless families, and how to help the homeless with substance abuse issues.

The problem I see with the HUD definition of homelessness (which dictates who is eligible for certain programs), is that one has to remain homeless for a long period of time (one year consecutively) to qualify for some services and housing programs. So if a person has been homeless for 11 months while applying for services, under the HUD definition, if he stays with a friend for 2-3 days, then he no longer meets the HUD criteria so he is unable to reap any services that work under that HUD definition.    

What I believe is the greatest idea in working with the homeless is wrap around services: rapid re-housing, rental assistance and comprehensive strategies such as home visits, follow-ups, etc. Unfortunately, as I learned, changes in the Federal, state and city policies relating to homelessness sometimes have an adverse affect on the funding agencies can receive, as well as what services that agency can continue to provide.  
There are unique models and formulas a county, state or city may follow in order to serve and eliminate homeless, but I find them to be too elementary and have discovered that many of them are not helping with their goals to better serve and eliminate homelessness.

Allegheny County, PA spends much of its resources and time with homeless prevention measures. I think that is more effective and makes more sense to do, so that the number of homeless people does not continue to rise. When I was a youth worker, I served youths that were at risk of falling through the cracks and most likely to end up on drugs or in jail. Today, 20 years later, a great majority of those youths are now employed, have stable housing and raising families. Some also have college degrees. Prevention works.

I also had the opportunity to visit the offices of two Illinois legislators – Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Sen. Dick Durbin. Along with representatives from other homeless services agencies, we pressed many concerns. One is to push President Barack Obama to approve a $2.3 billion budget towards serving the homeless and combating homelessness.  Personal testimonies by former homeless adults, including myself, were also given at the meetings.   

In conclusion, I did learn a lot about the topic of homelessness, including but not limited to where agencies receive funding from, and the types of approaches utilized in attempts to curb and/or eliminate homelessness. I don’t think there ever will be one universal formula or model that will eliminate homelessness, as every community, individual and family is unique. With the whole country’s great attempts, I find it very hard to believe that homelessness will end by the year 2015 or 2020 or by any year, but I am encouraged to see the number of advocates, service providers, and even legislators who are doing all they can to alleviate the problem. 
By Albert, LPCS Graduate

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Meet Jack

Jack came to LPCS after years of suffering from mental illness and substance abuse.  He had, in fact, stayed at the LPCS before.  When he returned this time, he was already engaged in outpatient substance abuse treatment with the assistance of a case manager’s referral while he was on the waiting list. Jack successfully completed treatment while a guest of LPCS.

Jack knew that he wanted to go back to working either in sales, where he has extensive experience, or in a new trade.  He identified, however, that this time he wanted to make sure that he was ready to work so that the same pattern of substance abuse and missing work due to mental health symptoms did not occur again.  While staying at the LPCS, he was referred to mental health treatment, where he worked with an individual therapist and in group therapy to develop more understanding of his illness, and develop healthy coping skills.  

Jack was able to establish a period of mental health stability and recovery from substance abuse while at LPCS. With his therapist’s agreement, one he decided he had reached a desired level of stability in which he would be able to handle on the job stressors, Jack turned his focus to employment.  He worked diligently to update his resume and cover letters and began applying for jobs. Jack was accepted into an IT job training program, which he completed successfully. The same week Jack completed his job training, he was also able to move into his new subsidized apartment.  He was also immediately offered work through the agency where he completed job training.  The stars seemed to align at the same time for Jack.

Jack reports that he loves his new home.  He focuses on his health, walking around his neighborhood every evening after work, and enjoying life.  As Jack continues to work, he utilizes the skills for a healthy life that he built upon while staying at LPCS. 

 By: Brianne Spresser
LPCS Case Manager

Thursday, July 5, 2012

History of Volunteerism in America

America is cherished for many things, not least of which is the country’s capacity to step up and help each other during historical times of need. Many organizations find themselves with a surplus of volunteers, calling in every day with the hopes of spending their time helping a cause. Even here at the Lincoln Park Community Shelter, I am in awe of how dedicated our volunteers are, even on holidays. This tradition goes back much further than the shelter. In fact, America may not even be a free country today if it were not for the tradition of Volunteerism. Perhaps I should explain…

 As the earliest pioneers came to America, they found themselves without supplies or a structured governmental support system. Colonists understood that “togetherness” was crucial to their survival. They formed support systems to help each other with farming tasks and household necessities. They nursed one another when people were sick to overcome illnesses that were new to them. This time period marks the beginning of dedicated volunteer work.

            In the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin (a personal favorite) founded the first volunteer firehouse, a tradition that still exists today in many small towns. He is also responsible for our library system, encouraging people to bring finished books to his home so that he could redistribute and share knowledge. Imagine living in a world where you couldn’t share e-books through multiple readers! The 1700s also brought the Revolutionary War, in which people raised funds to support the war efforts and would boycott any British goods (tea party, anyone?).

            By the 19th century, America experienced a rejuvenation of religious fervor with the Great Awakening. Churches would have youth outreach programs and they would house the homeless. Many organizations formed during this time that still exist today, such as the YMCA, which emerged on a Michigan college campus, the American Red Cross in 1881, and the United Way. During the Civil War, many women spent time sewing supplies for soldiers and families in need. War has shown to be an important time in which people step up to help one another.

            By the 20th century, America was no stranger to volunteering. The country had a great deal of practice, and just in time, because by the 1930s America was experiencing the Great Depression. It was during this decade that the first soup kitchen emerged to feed and shelter people and breadlines were created to help fulfill basic necessities. People were no longer giving and volunteering based on religious fervor. Some mainstream organizations that emerged were the Rotary Club in 1910, the Lions Club and Kiwanis in 1920.

            By 1930, Roosevelt began the first wave of environmentalism (that’s right, long before Al Gore brought An Inconvenient Truth to theaters). The Conservation Corps began in the 1930s and has since been planting over 3 million trees a decade!

            World War II had civilians supporting servicemen from home and also encouraged women to do many of the jobs previously reserved for men. During the 60s, a liberal movement began against poverty, inequality, and violence. Lyndon B. Johnson called it the “War on Poverty” in 1967. The Peace Corps was soon after created. Today, more than 2 million people each year are served by volunteers. Volunteerism is one of America’s largest human service organizations.

Discussion –
Hope that you enjoyed this trip through the history of volunteerism – please share where you think America will go from here? How does volunteering shape our country today and what can we expect for the future?

 By: Meghan Freebeck