Friday, February 3, 2017

BWSC Volunteer Bethany's Experience

Things tend to evolve quickly. We grow, we make decisions, sometimes bad and good, but overall things change: hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. The changes currently occurring in society have been at the forefront of my thoughts, worries and fears lately. During my time in Virginia, I have been working with two at-risk populations: homeless people and immigrants, both groups who are at risk in the current climate.

When I began my time at Transitional Housing BARN, I was so excited to be learning the ins and outs of homelessness and housing laws, but also to be working with the families one on one. I was given my own case to manage, which later would evolve to two cases. Although it is emotionally exhausting work, it is rewarding work. Seeing “your” family succeed and overcome their troubles is something that can’t be put into words. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t bad days or tough situations; I’ve definitely had a few of those. However, even in my short time here, I clearly can see why this program has the successes that it does. BARN is a program that works one-on-one with families, using extensive case management to teach budgeting and job searching, effective parenting, and providing a space for families to thrive on their own before helping to transition them back to their own living environment: an environment that they are proud to call their own and one that shows the hard work that they have put into the program.  Granted, not all families that come to BARN transition out successfully, but those who are willing to put the work in and to work with us frequently succeed.

Come May 1st, transitional housing will be no longer. The State of Virginia has cut funding and has moved it to “Rapid Re-housing.” Although this program provides case management, services are less extensive helping families mainly by providing funding to aid in their rent payments. The program does work but the numbers are much smaller. It isn’t my point to say that one program is better than the other; each family’s circumstance is different. Some families are short of the money one month for rent, some families aren’t so experienced at saving and budgeting; both need help but, as time goes, we won’t be able to provide families with the help they need to transition.

Housing is a broken system. Families are often single income families earning approximately $12.00 an hour (I’m being very generous in my amounts of hourly wages). A parent who works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, will make about $25,000.00 a year. Not too bad, right? Well, if they live in a three-bedroom apartment at $1500.00 a month, including utilities (I would like to note that this apartment would not be in what society considers a “good” neighborhood… the cost would be around $2000.00 for a good area), that is a total of $18,000.00 a year, just for housing. That leaves $7,000.00 for the entire year to pay for groceries, transportation, maintenance, medical insurance, doctor’s visits, etc. Families can’t afford to be single income earning families with children and all necessary costs that come with it. Families don’t make enough and rent is too high. We live in a society that clearly undercuts the “American Dream” and it leaves individuals struggling to keep up, or completely in the dust.

Snow at the Monastery this week!
It was enough to cancel my classes,
but lasted only a few hours!

I want to talk now about an incident that occurred yesterday in a class where I was substituting. I was handing out an informational flyer for students about an immigration screening process that puts them in touch with a low cost immigration attorney who will be able to explain what rights they have and precautions they need to take. Students began to discuss the current political climate and the Muslim ban. Two students were from Libya and as they talked about their experience getting to the United States (they have only been here for a few months and are current residents with all paperwork required) I began to cry. It’s one thing to hear about the atrocities occurring in the news, but to have two students in front of you clearly articulate their struggle and the pain of separation from their families, who are currently stuck in Libya, was eye-opening and heartbreaking. These aren’t just terrible stories; these are things that are actually happening to people who are no threat to me or any others in the United States!  Although I was mortified that I was crying in front of these students, I think it was important for them to see. I might not be able to understand exactly what they are feeling and the fears they have, but I can empathize and be an advocate for them … and that is exactly what I plan to do. We took the rest of class to discuss their feelings and concerns. I wanted them to know that they have an ally; they have an entire monastery and educational program praying for each and every one of them, for their wellbeing and safety. If they need anything, they know where to go. It might not be enough. It probably is not enough, but it’s all I can do to keep my sanity while every day changes are occurring. Changes that I can’t stop alone, but which standing together, in solidarity, we can resist.

Sending my love and prayers to all those in need today. Please continue to pray for me and for our country that we learn to be compassionate and strong allies to ALL those in need.
Picture of the massive crowd at the March!

Picture from Women’s March in DC,
this was my favorite sign.
It is a gentleman holding it who came with
his friend to support all women.  

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