I was born in a third-world country. Like so many, my family moved to the United States in search of a better life. In the Philippines, homelessness, among many other problems, is a part of daily life for many people.
I grew up in Kodiak, Alaska, where it rained constantly. For the past four years, I’ve lived in Fairbanks, Alaska. The coldest temperature I’ve experienced was nearly 50 degrees below zero. I still remember people standing at intersections, in the middle of winter, holding a cup out for drivers to discard excess change.
I was always aware of “poor” people, but my work with AmeriCorps has really forced me to look at things in a different light. I have lived in Wenatchee less than a year, but I think it’s such a beautiful, “homey” sort of town. People water their yards here. The sun shines a majority of the time. Kids play in the parks or play sports while their parents watch. This all screams out “great community” to me.
But then there’s the other side of “community.” Joblessness. Boredom. Homelessness.
I remember one of my AmeriCorps team’s meetings in which all 50-plus of us volunteers role-played as people living on the poverty line. Throughout the afternoon, “children” were put into social services and even our imaginary “jail.” Meanwhile, “parents” were constantly struggling with money, jobs and transportation. Even social service organizations were not as helpful as they could have been. It was one of the most insightful outlooks I’ve had thus far while serving with AmeriCorps.
Working with struggling readers at an elementary school had its fair share of eye-opening experiences as well. This year I worked with kindergarteners all the way up to fifth-graders. Many of my students did not have stable family lives. I remember one day when a second-grader had mentioned that she didn’t go to school one day because her mom didn’t have enough money for gas.
I never would have expected to hear that — especially from a child. When I think of a homeless person, I picture a dirty, ratty-looking bearded man. But it really can be anyone. Incarcerated individuals, domestic abuse victims and teenagers are all at great risk.
Working at a school has shown me that, unfortunately, “adult” problems aren’t just for adults. The problem extends to every part of our community. It’s an issue that not only affects those who are currently going through it, but everyone else as well. Just like you can picture faces with names, there’s a face on the homeless as well.
Jeric Quiriza spent the past year as an AmeriCorps volunteer in the Eastmont School District. He writes about homeless issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org