A homeless camp in Duluth, MN. Photo taken from minnpost.com.

A homeless camp in Duluth, MN. Photo taken from minnpost.com.

To whomever may be reading this, I challenge you to take a moment and imagine yourself without a home, bed, job, family, healthcare, place to shower or groceries in a nice, cold refrigerator. This might be hard for you to wrap your head around, but hundreds of thousands of people experience this reality every single day. These things are just a tiny piece homelessness.

If you’re like some, you have never really thought much about being homeless yourself or gave any thought to the homeless community. This isn’t because you didn’t care, but perhaps because you simply did not know how severe and real the problem was. Up until this semester, I was one of those people. Thankfully, I was able to perform an advocacy study to bring awareness to homelessness in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and it has genuinely changed the way I view my life and the lives of people in need forever.

coalition

To begin my project, I decided that I needed to start from the bottom and learn much more about the homeless community. In an effort to fulfill that need, I attended the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless Annual Conference in Rochester, MN this past October. There, I learned about the daily life of a homeless person, the challenges they face and was able to listen to some incredible speakers. I also was taught how to be an advocate for the homeless by talking to our law makers and letting them know what we want. This includes making phone calls and writing letters to get our point across to those who make the big decisions.

From there, I continued to learn more and began to volunteer for a couple different organizations. I chose to work with organizations that strive to help those who need it, such as a free clothing shop for struggling teens and food banks in my home town. By bringing the reality of homelessness closer to my own “back yard,” it helped to put into perspective for me just how prevalent this is. Unfortunately, problems like this are easy to overlook if they don’t affect you directly… but what if one day they did? Would you want others to overlook it then?

Overall, this project opened my eyes more than I ever imagined that it would. It has shown me how privileged and lucky I am and has given me a new perspective on other people. I no longer look at others; I try to see them. See what they might be dealing with secretly or openly, and be aware that they may be afraid of things that I cannot understand personally. As a future counselor, it has given me insight into a population that I could work with one day. Along with that, it has driven home this idea: Never assume, never judge. We have no idea what people are going through at first glance and we definitely have no idea what their stories are. If you take anything away from this post, please take that. Do not judge others, smug others, or assume you know what another person is or is not. Take the time to listen and learn, with an open, helpful heart.

-Molly Serum

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