J500 Media and the Environment

My experience with the Lawrence Homeless Shelter by christinewerem
July 26, 2009, 6:50 pm
Filed under: J840 Week 6 | Tags: ,

Before the service-learning project began, I thought I knew what to expect while working with homeless clients at the Lawrence Community Shelter. Not only was I wrong but I was also unaware what it’s like to communicate with full-time employees who work for a non-profit.

As an undergraduate I completed a two-page photography spread about the homeless for my student newspaper. At that time, I was bringing lunch to the homeless twice a week for a religion class and felt the people that were taking the lunches deserved to be brought to life. My undergrad was in downtown Milwaukee and a student couldn’t help but walk by a homeless client at least once a day. This experience led me to believe I would interact with a homeless client who would embarrass me by saying something off-color during conversation as this is what happened to me as an undergraduate.

It’s no big surprise that I was dead wrong (I’m usually wrong about a lot of things). I talked to Pam who is a huge success story, I talked to Jerry Nyhoff who had ideas on how homeless clients can recycle and help the Lawrence community out and I talked to Robin who, along with her husband, were previous homeless clients and are now full-time volunteers. Everyone I talked to disproved my stupid theories about homeless clients’ personalities. These theories were created years ago and deserved to be distinguished.

Receiving communication from employees at the Lawrence Community Shelter (LCS) and the agency that was suppose to provide pro-bono work for the shelter was difficult. While receiving communication from the shelter took a few days, my group had no response from the agency. I expected communication between my group and the LCS employees to be difficult which is completely understandable considering the few employees and numerous clients the shelter has.

So working with the LCS employees was not surprising but working with its homeless clients was. And I am so glad to be proven wrong.

Christine W.

Best Wishes to a Great Organization by carrieshoptaw

The Lawrence Community Shelter project has been great is so many ways. I met some amazing people in Lawrence: Guests, staff and community advocates. I learned that this facility has friends in high places and a grass roots team of volunteers committed to making a difference in this important community effort.

I was reminded of how fortunate most of us are who have a network of family and friends to guard us from transitioning through homelessness and that we should be grateful for every day we have shelter, clothing and choices about what we eat, where we go and how we live.

I learned that some people make taking care of people look so easy, not

Loring Henderson, Executive Director LCS July 2009

Loring Henderson, Executive Director LCS July 2009

only because they are heroes, but because if you really do care, it is easy.

I learned that with a little help, friendship, encouragement, food and a place to rest, you can get back the strength you need to fly over  seemingly endless challenges.

I learned you can make dinner for 50-70 in a few crock pots and pans and that fruit salad is a hit every time.

I learned that some politicians are champions for change, regardless of their next election campaign.

I was reminded, in one of my interiews, that senior citizens are the smartest of us all. (I already knew that!)

I am looking forward to the future of the Shelter and wish everyone connected every great happiness and success. No group deserves it more than they do.

We are all pulling for you, LCS!


The Homeless Perspective by TreyW

I am 6’5″ tall and 200 lbs. on a good day. I wear a size 14 shoes. To accompany my stature, I’ve inherited my family’s booming voice, one nearly incapable of replicating what most people would call a whisper. Despite all of this, I can’t help but realize after tackling the issue of homelessness in class that I am very, very small.

As I interviewed clients at the Lawrence Community Shelter for my group’s service-learning project, the topic that was brought to my attention most frequently was society’s perception of homelessness and the homeless themselves. Homeless individuals are stigmatized as “a bunch of drunks and crazies” as one interviewee stated. What I found more interesting than the homeless’s understanding of how they are perceived is how this image affects the way they see themselves. How can one person ever change the way a man sees himself?

As I spoke with one man living in the shelter after he lost everything to divorce, I started to pick up on a major difference in the words he used to describe himself and his actions. “Can’t…” “Dirty…” “Sad…” Down…” I never once heard an uplifting or positive phrase come from his mouth unless he was speaking about the Shelter and its workers. He often brought the discussion back to public perceptions of the homeless.

It was then that I realized the battle to curb homelessness shouldn’t just be fought with the goal of taking the homeless off the street. As civic-minded individuals, it’s our duty to only help the homeless find the tangible resources to lift themselves up but the mental and spiritual resources as well.

As I mentioned in our last class meeting, the idea of “sustainability” for me now goes beyond the earthly to the humane as well. Acting sustainably preserves industry, health, families, employment, and pretty much everything I can think of. There’s a variety of ways we can “help the homeless” other than just donating food. Homelessness goes so much deeper than lack of money and food. The homelessness need help regaining their influence and voice in the world.

Thinking of homelessness as small parts of a larger whole makes me feel a little bit bigger. Everything I do, no matter how small, helps give the homeless a voice. Mine is big enough as it is…I don’t need all of it.

*Trey Williams*

Learning by Serving by monicadela

Who’s on my list of heroes? The staff and volunteers of the Lawrence Community Shelter. Day after day they give the very best of themselves to those who are out of options. Working with LCS reminded me how rewarding it is to help those who have so little. It also reminded me that life doesn’t play favorites.  Anyone can be out of a job, out of money and out of luck. There’s so much need right under our noses in Johnson and Douglas counties. There are so many who are invisible and so few people who see and help them. It was a great feeling to put not only my mind, but also my heart into helping LCS.

David Pirtle really hit my conscience when he said, “you are what society names you.” In his case it was “trash,” “bum” and “homeless.” He hadn’t been called by his own name in two years. I can’t imagine going through life completely disregarded. There’s no greater feeling of hopelessness than loneliness.

Every morning I pass at least three homeless men on my way to work. They stand on the corner of I-35 and West Pennway.  I always felt guilty as I passed by, avoiding eye contact. I pretended they didn’t exist.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, courtesy of www. uweb.ucsb.edu

I sit here reflecting on Mother Teresa and her selfless leadership in helping the “untouchables” of Calcutta. She said, “being unwanted, unloved, uncared for and forgotten by everybody is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”

I now make eye contact with the homeless men on my way to work, throwing in a little grin now and then. I’m working my way up to a “hello.” I want to offer them a sign of acknowledgement, an affirmation that they exist. We all deserve that dignity.

-Monica D.-

A Change of Heart by jennibro

Growing-up in Kansas City, and living off the Plaza, I had always viewed homelessness as a problem, and I didn’t feel it was my responsibility to help change it. Driving home from work I grew weary of seeing the same people everyday holding up signs asking for handouts, or a “downpayment on a cheeseburger”. I never felt much toward these people other than resentment, thinking that I worked very hard to get my money and they shouldn’t just expect me to hand it over because they didn’t want to go out and get a job. Articles, like this one by Wes Laurie, helped fuel the idea that most of the homeless, in my opinion, were scam artists.

This final project has opened my eyes and come full circle to change my opinion. I now see the homeless as everyday people. People just like myself who happen to have fallen on hard times. They may be asking for a little help every now and then, but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t working hard to pull themselves out at the same time. The living conditions these people had to deal with were beyond anything my imagination could grasp. This article entitled, Ghost World, in my opinion doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface of what the shelter was really like.  It does a fantastic idea of explaining the living conditions of the shelter, but what has inspired me to help are the individual stories of people trying to help themselves.

People like Robin, who work every single day to make the situation better for her husband and herself. She works at the front desk, takes odd jobs, and helps lead the campaign to get people’s stories out and ignite change in the shelter itself.  I was humbled by these people because even though they were in a less than adequate environment, they still worked for the good of the people around them. I think more people should have these characteristics in themselves, and I hope to one day help make changes in the homeless community and work toward living a selfless life the way people in the shelter do.

-Jenni Brown

Memory Lane Revisits Homelessness in Lawrence: Would I Have Acted Differently? by erinleap

As an undergraduate student at KU, I remember fearing the homeless as I walked on Mass Street at night. Now as a graduate student at KU, I have a whole new perspective as I walk down the same street.

A view down a Massachusetts Street sidewalk in Lawrence, Kansas (photo credit: Jenni Brown)

A view down a Massachusetts Street sidewalk in Lawrence, Kansas (photo credit: Jenni Brown)

I still remember one instance in particular. It was around 10 p.m. and I was walking to Buffalo Wild Wings to meet some friends out. As I walked by an alley, a group of homeless men stopped me and asked if they could use my cell phone. I was alone, it was dark out and I was a little frightened by their request, so I didn’t say anything and walked on. As I continued down the sidewalk, they started to yell at me, telling me how rude I was and all they wanted was to use my cell phone for a few seconds.

Now that I’ve had this experience with the Lawrence Community Shelter, I wonder that if I went back in time, would I have stopped? Would I have allowed them to use my phone? At the very least, I know I would have at least stopped for a second to talk to them. I could have referred them to use the phone at the LCS if I still didn’t feel comfortable giving them my phone to use. At the very least, I know I would not have completely ignored them like I did that night.

Being able to talk to guests at the LCS really broke down some of my own stereotypes I had about the homeless. Talking with one family at the shelter really made me rethink the issues of homelessness. The situation of circumstance is one thing I never thought of when it came to being homeless.

My stereotypes about homeless shelters were also broken down. While the LCS provides food and shelter for the homeless, it also provides sustainable programs to help people towards a life of self-sufficiency. This very much aligns with the old proverb, “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today.  Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.” The programs at the LCS help the homeless to find long-term solutions to become self-sufficient.

The opportunity to work on a project for the LCS was a very eye-opening experience for me. This project pushed me out of my usually introverted self to talk to people, learn about the situations others were going through and appreciate that places like the LCS exist if I were ever in a similar situation one day.

-Erin Pursel

Do You Know What Being Homeless Looks Like? by hollyee
July 26, 2009, 12:40 pm
Filed under: J840 Week 6, Society + Media

Two children enjoying the summer.Children having a snack.

Children enjoying snacks and having fun.


Do you think you would be able to identify who is homeless? There are two pictures–  one picture was photographed by Richard Gwin and published in the Lawrence Journal-World to illustrate the closing of a homeless shelter and the other is of my children. In these pictures, one child is severely disabled. Is the disabled child homeless?

We have come a long way as a society in accepting and helping people who are different. Yet we still make assumptions about people depending on their “label.” Because I told you the children in one of the photographs were in a homeless shelter, did you assume the children were homeless and that their parents were irresponsible? Our assumptions hurt.

Over the last two months, our KU graduate class has stepped in to do service work for the Lawrence Community Shelter. I went beyond the research and spent time with the people staying at the LCS. Like you, I thought I could pick a homeless person out of a crowd.

I shared stories, laughs and time with people on the porch. Late at night, they like to talk, just like we might on our front porch. Their stories were of repeated obstacles–lost jobs, severely sick children, family deaths, business failures, imprisonment and loss of family connections.

Like all of us, they made mistakes. They paid dearly for their mistakes, unlike many of us. The most surprising thing I learned was that most have hope for the future and a delightful sense of humor. They also have a community at the LCS. They care about each other and give each other support.

I was touched by the informal “families” that have formed at LCS. One couple I met are raising a baby together and planning for a better life. They met on the streets, and he is looking after the child as his own.  Maintaining social structures is critical, and I truly appreciate the importance of the LCS. The homeless are not that different from you and I. Consider helping the homeless rather than shunning them.

Holly E.

Volunteers sustain organizations by jenniferedw
July 26, 2009, 12:25 pm
Filed under: J840 Week 6, Justice + Outreach | Tags: , ,

After college I worked in a public relations position for a domestic violence shelter for about two years. I was somewhat familiar with homelessness due to my work there. I learned there that some women and children can become homeless due to domestic violence. And in my position I was able to share with others how organizations like the one I worked for helped make a difference.

The LCS volunteer I interviewed has inspired me to make a bigger impact.

The LCS volunteer I interviewed has inspired me to make a bigger impact. Source: move.org.sg

Even with that background, I learned many things about homelessness from our class. Dr. Mark Holter, associate professor in the school of social welfare at KU, helped open my eyes to the fact that homelessness is a relatively new concept — I had never considered the historical context before.

When our group visited Lawrence Community Shelter, we saw first-hand how volunteers help keep the shelter alive — and I would say that was the key thing that will stick with me the most in the future.

I knew previously that volunteers provide a huge boost to organizations. However I never really considered why volunteers keep coming back to organizations and how they stay so committed. After talking with Bob, a key shelter volunteer, for our final project, I learned how volunteering can impact not only the organization, but also the volunteer. I was truly inspired by Bob’s story and the impact the organization has made in his life. He helps sustain the shelter and the shelter helps sustain him. His work helps me tie back to the sustainability themes we discussed throughout class.

Since my interview with Bob I’ve spent time considering what I can do to make a bigger impact. I’ve been thinking about going back to the domestic violence shelter where I previously worked to spend time as a volunteer. I hope I can provide them with even just a portion of what Bob does for LCS.

-Jennifer E.

What they taught me by Victor Vijayakirthi

Back in India in the late 80s, for a high school photography competition, I took pictures of the homeless and downtrodden and won a prize. Nothing more came of it but the germ of an idea was planted in my brain that exposing their plight shocked “polite society”, even in the India known for its social commentaries by the likes of Satyajit Ray.

Homeless in Chennai, my hometown

Years later, as I reflect on working with the Lawrence Community Shelter and with the Coalition of Homeless Concerns I can’t help thinking again about the homeless and their plight. I also can’t help comparing that to what my average day looks like, and noticing, with despair, the disconnect.

This experience has taught me a lot, from understanding some of the causes of homelessness, to acknowledging that this is not an abstract problem that cannot happen to me. It also helped me come to the realization that I can make a difference. It doesn’t take much – being a vocal advocate of the cause is a start. The project has given me the tools I need to do that more effectively. Following through on a commitment to do something tangible to help would be a good next step.

It also helped me refine my original definition of sustainability. A society that doesn’t care for the unfortunate, or take both preventive and remedial steps to tackle homelessness, poverty, social and mental issues, and, instead blames the victims, isn’t going to care much about the well being of any of its citizens in the long run. Such a society is not likely to remain sustainable.

I’m hoping I can apply what I learned to ensure I don’t allow ours to become such a society.

-Victor V

Sustaining Hope by jasonmer

My sophomore year in college had an inauspicious start—a bicycle, a backpack full of clothes, and fifty dollars to my name.  A father’s disdain for his son’s summer of excess provides the backdrop on a difficult lesson.  I spent a few weeks sleeping in parks, dodging police cars at night, and eating “dumpster burgers” when my money ran out.  It was strangely trivial at the time because I knew there was a quick and definite end in sight.  School would start soon, my tutoring job would begin, the work study in the metal/woods shop would be waiting for me, and everything would be O.K.  I had hope.

My Service-Learning experience shows that the Lawrence Community Shelter provides hope.

Through my own observations, hope comes in many forms at LCS.  Staff and volunteers provide hope by treating the homeless with compassion and sensitivity.  Hope comes in the form of successful case management; taking the “less” out of homeless.  Hope comes from community donations and volunteerism—they sustain LCS.

My Service-Learning experience also taught that volunteering is good for the volunteer.  Research consistently points to the benefits of volunteering on both physical and mental well being.

My Service-Learning experience demonstrates the impact of undertaking the small and seemingly insignificant.  For example, during a visit to the shelter I brought in a surplus of toiletries (i.e. shampoo, razors, soap, toothpaste, etc.).  Within the first few minutes of my visit the razors became the most valuable donation.  I almost left the razors at home because I thought of them as…inconsequential.

Social sustainability issues such as homelessness need an advocate.  Advocacy journalism serves many purposes but few more important than the social responsibility to humankind and the need for shelter.

The week of my college graduation I told my teacher thanks for bestowing an education to me.  My teacher replied, “Thank me in five years.  My success is defined by your inspiration to learn more.”  I haven’t forgotten that talk.  

Today, on the broader subject of sustainability (people, planet, profit), I have inspiration to learn more.

Jason Merckling