3 years ago

We must see ourselves in these people’s eyes

by Jenna Farhat

The rampant misconceptions surrounding homelessness and the life circumstances that put homeless individuals in the situations they are in plague the homeless community and immobilize us from working towards a solution. We tend to separate ourselves from homeless people by categorizing them as others; a group outside of ourselves and our communities. We act as though we are not susceptible to the difficult life circumstances that can lead to homelessness. We treat the homeless as though members of our own communities and our own social circles have never experienced extreme poverty and homelessness, with or without our knowledge. It becomes all the more important that we have a living soul to associate with- a face, a pair of eyes, a set of aspirations that make them all the more human and relatable to us.

The stereotypes we use to categorize homeless individuals only serve to dismiss them as different from us. We rationalize our lack of action by choosing to believe they are different from us; that they lack our work ethic or our dignity or our intelligence. We believe people are homeless as a result of choices they have made. These false assumptions have the effect of dehumanizing homeless individuals and preventing us from working towards solutions.

In order to solve the problem of homelessness we must see ourselves in these people's eyes. We must understand that none of us are immune to falling on the same hard times that these people have fallen on. In taking down barriers of understanding, we may find that we are able to relate to the dreams and values that they possess and realize that they are not much different from us after all.

I met Juliana and her son Jose through Carolyn Kell, a friend of mine and house manager at the Inter-Faith Inn. Soon after I expressed to Carolyn my interest in journalism, she took it upon herself to help me get the experience I sought to begin making tracks in my future career as a journalist. She introduced me to Juliana and Jose, who are residents at the Inn, and I had the privilege of conducting an interview with them. It was a pleasure to hear about their experiences and an honor to be a means for helping them tell their story to others who are willing to listen.

Juliana:            "My name is Juliana and this is Jose. What brought me here was I was in an abusive relationship. …I had a very good job, I was making $18 an hour and he was going out there, he got me arrested at my job. I lost my job. I lost my home. I lost everything in a split second. And I ended up here and I have literally no one to go to. …In the blink of an eye I lost everything. …Everything is just downhill. But I have ComCare trying to get me a place to stay. I've got two weeks left here and if ComCare doesn't help me find an apartment I don’t know where I'm gonna go. [They] will give you a voucher but sometimes you have to be mentally disabled and the only thing I got is real bad depression."

How long have you been at the Inter-Faith Inn? 

Juliana:            "I've been here two weeks."


What is your favorite thing about the Inn?

Juliana:            "I like the people that work here for us… I love the fact that they do that. And the men have to stay away from us… You know what I mean?" 

Jose:                "There's a TV room."


What do you not like so much about the Inn?

Juliana:            "I don't like being around so many people. I get a lot of anxiety. And I love working, I've done aircraft for ten years. My life is to work and take care of my family and the hard thing is to stay here and not have really nowhere to go but we gotta be out looking for jobs. …It's kind of hard to walk everywhere. I have to walk [Jose] three miles to school."

Jose:                "We can't cook what we want."

 If you could change anything about your past, what would it be?

Juliana:            "The relationship that I was in. It was okay and then it got very abusive. I ended up with something good (gestures towards Jose) but I would change the relationship that I was in. [Jose's dad] was living in Mexico and he came back and was very abusive. Almost killed me. …He broke my nose twice and messed up my L4 and L5 disc and spit in my face." 

What are your hopes and plans for the future?

Juliana:            "My hopes are to get back on my feet and start working aircraft again. I wanna go to school for AMP (Aircraft Maintenance Program). I want to own my own home. That's my goals."

Jose:                "[I want to be] an actor."

            Juliana:            "Now you wanna be an actor but you wanted to be a police officer."

            Jose:                "I wanna be a SWAT!"

 What are your hobbies?

Juliana:            "I don’t really have any hobbies right now. Mine were just work and work and work, and taking care of [Jose]. He's got ADHD. …He's supposed to be on Strattera, which is supposed to help because he's getting real aggressive."

 Where do you go to school?

Jose:                "Marshall [Middle School]."

What is your favorite subject in school?

Jose:                "P.E. and basketball."

 What do you want do when to help your mom when you grow up?

            Jose:                "Buy her a car."

 What lessons do you hope to instill in Jose?

Juliana:            "I would teach him to be independent. To stay in school and to go to college. Not to depend on nobody. You have to be independent and work hard. …You have to depend on yourself and you have to keep going to school and getting good grades. He's actually in the honor school. So that's what I teach him… I've worked since I was twelve years old and my grandma took care of me and I had to take care of her and take care of myself."

Do you have any role models?

Juliana:            "I look up to my mom because… my dad died when I was nine months old so she has always worked hard to take care of us. I have a nephew in the hospital that had an aneurysm- a blood vessel popped in his brain- [he is] twelve years old, so [family members] are not able to help me right now- all of their money is going to him… we're trying to keep him alive right now. He's paralyzed from the left side."

            Jose:                "My sister."

 Where is your sister?

            Jose:                "With her dad right now."

Juliana:           "She just didn't wanna come here. …They're in Chicago. …She actually lives with me but coming over here would be really hard. She has a lot of anxiety problems."

Did Jose's father have a good relationship with Jose?

Juliana:            "Yeah he did. …But he doesn’t wanna talk to his dad no more. I've seen him get real angry but the psychiatrist said that it's because of the ADHD he's got a temper. But he's very intelligent. He can snap out of it… he can be real nice. He'll tell me he's sorry and he loves and he don't want me to die."

"I was with my daughter's dad for five years and he almost killed me. He almost stabbed me in my back. I've known [Jose's] dad since I was little and I got with [him] and then he went to prison. He took care of my daughter when she was one year old and then he went to prison and he hasn't had a very good relationship [with her]. They get on Facebook and talk. And he lives in Mexico now. He got deported. So I don't get child support. I don’t get nothing." 

So is your daughter safe with her dad?

Juliana:            "Yeah my daughter is safe with her dad. He's got his own company but I still don't get child support. He doesn't help me with nothing."

What can you do to keep yourself and your son out of this situation in the future?

Juliana:            "Save up money. Not get in a situation with a guy. I don’t wanna be with a guy anymore. I wanna just take care of my kids and if God wants me to meet a guy, he'll find me. I'm not gonna go out looking for one. But I'm gonna have a savings account and I'm gonna work hard and go back to school."

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