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Winter break is over and the spring semester is in full swing. As some of you may have heard, school was cancelled for two days due to Superstorm Jonas. Students took advantage of the 24 inches of snow that buried cars and spent the days sledding, building snowmen, and engaging in epic snowball fights. In this post, I want to share some of the things I learned from my Intersession class – B’More: Homelessness.

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Meet Billy PC: The Amazing Sabrina Chen

B’More: Homelessness was one of the nine B’More Intersession classes offered this year, intended to immerse Hopkins freshman into the Baltimore community. In this class, we explored the causes and implications of homelessness in Baltimore, present policies, and potential solutions. The class ran from 10:00am- 4:30pm with a two-hour lunch break in between for four days. The first part of the class consisted of lectures by Mr. Scott Gottbreht from the JHU Humanities Center and the second half comprised of guest speakers.

The required reading for this course was a piece of narrative journalism called The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood by David Simon (co-writer of The Wire) and Ed Burns. It follows the lives of individuals living on the corner of W. Fayette and Monroe St. in West Baltimore and the struggles they faced.

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The first day, we had three people who were previously homeless come in and tell us about their experiences living on the streets, staying in shelters, the process of obtaining government services, and their difficulties in attaining housing. Bill, a sixty-five year old man, related to us one of the difficult decisions he had to face on a daily basis. In order to secure a place to sleep that night, people would line up in front of the shelter at 2pm, right in the middle of the work day. Essentially, he had to choose between going to work in order to save up for a house, or having a roof over his head that night.

One of the encampments we passed on our Bus Tour

One of the encampments in which Bill lived

Another guest speaker was from the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Human Services. She spoke of the Office’s efforts to implement a “Housing First” model in which people who are chronically homeless would first attain housing and then get subsequent resources. The Mayor’s Office is also working to create a central database of the services in Baltimore. Currently, someone can seek help from one service and be told to get a form signed elsewhere, only to be redirected back to the first place.

The last guest speaker was the founder and president of a NGO in Baltimore called Flight 1 Carriers, an organization that serves senior citizens, refugee families, and the unsheltered homeless through weekly humanitarian aid programs to assist in crisis prevention.

This course also consisted of a bus tour of East and West Baltimore. During this tour, we learned about vacant housing, plummeting housing values, and how new buildings at the Med Campus affected the community members’ lives. We saw the encampments in which people who are homeless would live as well as the lines for the soup kitchens and shelters on “Homeless Row”. Within a mere block, we went from seeing mansions to dilapidated, vacant row houses, highlighting some of the city’s inequalities.

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After taking this class, it seemed as though the only way to solve the problem of homelessness was to be in a position that can allocate funds and impact policy. And we’re just college students – what can we do? Well, what can’t we do? Mr. Gottbreht pointed out that anything we do will help, no matter how small we think it is. We can volunteer at after-school programs so that parents can work and not worry about their children, serve breakfast in a soup kitchen, or volunteer at different events around the city.

These kinds of problems are intrinsic to any urban city in the nation. Keep in mind that not everything you see in the media or in shows like The Wire about Baltimore is entirely accurate – exercise caution and use good judgement and you will be fine. After living here for six months, I have never been so intrigued, amazed, and enamored with a city. Baltimore is truly a dynamic, growing place where one block is as different as the next. From the quirky shops in Hamden to the homeless shelters in West Baltimore, it is a community of people living and working towards a better future. And as Hopkins students, we are a part of it.

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This class has allowed me to learn more about the community in which I live and I am grateful that I was able to take a class like this as a freshman. It didn’t sugar coat the city’s problems and neither did it cover for the university’s impact on the community. We learned about what actions, deleterious or not, the government has made in the past and the ways in which Hopkins students can make a difference for the future.

Some key takeaways from this course:

  • Compassion is key – often we find ourselves ignoring or dehumanizing people who are homeless
  • The elimination of poverty is not a prerequisite for ending homelessness
  • The city is trying its best, however, there are not even funds and there is much debate as to where they should be allocated
  • Not all homeless people are panhandlers and not all panhandlers are homeless
  • Despite popular opinion, a significant portion of the homeless population is employed
  • Baltimore is their home and they are trying to make the best of their situation in a city that encourages them to move on to another place

There are plenty of ways Hopkins students can get out and impact the community. Here are just a few:

 

Photo Credits:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/e/ea/The_Corner.jpg

http://murallocator.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Final-front-view-of-Waverly-Mural-August-9-2010-reduced-size.jpg