Journalism Meets Homeless Advocacy

This week has been pretty exciting for me. Life is shifting right now and I’m not sure where I will sit when everything calms down. At the very least, it’s not boring. I’ve spent a lot of time with the editor at the paper I recently started writing for, and I got to sit in on a meeting with important people for my first *real news* story. A writer from the daily paper was there, which was a little intimidating for me. However, the fact that I got to go to a meeting I’d be interested in anyway and then I got to write about it…how much better can things get?

The meeting was scheduled at our civic center and hosted several non-profit, religious, and government workers. The meeting is was the first public meeting in a planning process that will culminate in a couple of weeks with an annual Homeless Census. Since social non-profit work is so close to my heart, the editor felt I’d be well-placed at this venue and I’m glad he gave me the opportunity.

I’d participated in this census last year during my AmeriCorps term in Olympia and I’d previously done some work at a non-profit that was inputting data into HMIS– a massively painful database that supposedly tracks the locations and services of transient individuals. With this backdrop, I wanted to see how my hometown would respond to this event.

Like many other towns, we’re pretty mixed about what to do with “the homeless problem.” In college, we were convinced that the police dropped off homeless individuals in a neighboring town. Here, there’ve been some pretty big debates over where should we put them? what can we do with them? how do we get rid of them?

Now, we’re simply going to count them.
So that we can get government funding.
So that we can give them stuff and count them again next year.

Giving away joyAnyway, after the meeting I spent some time talking to people in attendance. The editor had told me to be sure to talk to one woman who has gained a lot of attention in the past few years for her place in this whole issue. He told me she was a character. He told me she was both homeless and a homeless advocate. What he didn’t tell me is that she would end up calling me darling in between puffs of a cigarette as we chatted.

Mrs. Darling and I chatted for a good half hour, and she told me stories about what brought her to where she is now. She lost a son to suicide, she has had things stolen from her. She’s been beat up. She’s had six tents and their contents confiscated.

She has also collected lots of supplies to distribute to the homeless people in this town that she calls her family. She takes care of them, and she does it with a smile. She told me, “My kids are grown and gone. These people out here needed some guidance,” and thus she entered their lives. She wishes everyone good day, laughs at our obsession with living in the comfort and security of our four walls, and she tells me, “I believe in the Good Lord and he makes it work. Some people don’t, darling, and that’s okay, but he keeps me going.”

We chatted a while longer before she asked me to take a picture of her in her favorite hat to send along to my editor, along with th
e message that he needs to look up the word character in a dictionary. I walked away smiling to myself, amused and interested in this conversation. Regardless of how many homeless people are counted in the city later this month, this is one woman who will make sure that her voice is heard, and who will make it known that her opinion counts.