Team Hairball: A Tale of Homefulness

By Katie Armstrong ’18

As winter break began to end, I had the privilege of spending my final week as a member of Brown’s Winter Break Project. For seven whole days, I lived in the basement of the Benevolent Street Church with 35 other phenomenal people studying social issues in Providence. There were five groups: refugee resettlement, environmental justice, urban education, social determinants to health, and housing & homelessness (my group). Having worked with HOPE last semester, I was eager to get more involved in the issue of homelessness, and to learn why it’s an incredibly large problem in Providence.

Throughout the week we attended various workshops about the issue of homelessness, different shelters around the Providence/Pawtucket area, and numerous agencies that aid individuals who are homeless. We even lobbied for signatures from state representatives for the Zero 2016 campaign. We tackled homelessness from several angles, concluding with assisting the Smith Hill Community Development center with the renovation of an apartment where homeless individuals would soon reside.

Winter Break Project Katy 1

            Something that stuck out to me throughout the entire week was that homelessness is an issue that can be fixed. The solution is to give people homes. This is so simple and intuitive that it is easy to glance over. Throughout our research, we found that the Housing First model worked extremely well for individuals, and it was even cost effective. Housing First is the idea that people should be put into houses without the requirement of having to be sober. The retainment rate of chronically homeless individuals in their homes through the Housing First model is overwhelmingly larger than traditional models (those that require sobriety). If this doesn’t work for some people, traditional sobriety housing programs are still a viable option. Housing people is also cost effective, as homeless individuals use less emergency medical services when in they’re in a stable living situation, and the state spends less money on providing emergency resources like food and shelter. The issue with the Housing First model is that there just aren’t enough homes. Rent rates are extremely high in Rhode Island, so government subsidies and housing vouchers are in limited supply. This is precisely the goal of the Zero: 2016 campaign: to get more funding for housing so that all the chronically homeless and homeless veterans.

“No one chooses to be homeless.” We heard this phrase countless times over the people. They stressed that no matter what a homeless person says, they never truly chose to be homeless. Many people who are homeless have experienced trauma. For some, it took place before they were homeless, and for others, it occurred on the streets.  Many homeless individuals have criminal records for minor offenses that make it difficult to obtain housing. If you’re looking for a way to help, the opportunities are endless (politics, direct shelter volunteering, offering medical or psychological services, helping restore abandoned homes, etc). Giving people homes not only gives them a stable place to live, but it also restores their sense of dignity and reconnects with their families.

Winter break project 2

Included are some lovely pictures of my group! While other cohorts could be called ‘Team Environmental Justice,’ ‘Team Homelessness’ didn’t have the same ring to it. So, Team Hairball (founded from a misunderstanding of a word) was our name until we realized it could also be ‘Team Homefullness’.

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