Guest Post: An Intern's Perspective on Tent City & the Homeless Epidemic

Madison Schneider will begin her junior year at Wake Forest in August. She has chosen to devote her entire summer to interning at The Human Impact. 

This job is not one for the faint of heart. 

It was near the end of my first week as an intern, and I couldn’t have been more excited. I had been to the streets multiple times. I had met the people on the corner and the people on the front porch. I knew a few people who worked at CitySquare. I had been actively keeping up with the blog posts.

I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. 

Madison & Julie with matching kicks.

Madison & Julie with matching kicks.

The first time I saw tent city, I was stunned. The air smelled like rotting trash and urine. My shoes were covered with dirt, which seemed to blanket everything around me. Water dripped on my head as cars sped down the highway above. There were 5 police cars all positioned at different angles surrounding the overpass. There had been a shooting only moments before we arrived. I saw a drug deal. I interacted with people on drugs, drugs I had never heard of before. Prostitutes walked past me, and then strut off with men like it was a routine. 

At the end of the day, driving back to my nice, air-conditioned house, tears welled up in my eyes. “This is their reality,” I kept thinking. “No one deserves to live like that.” I felt so overwhelmed by how little I felt in comparison to all of their big needs. How do you even begin to help someone when you can’t imagine what’s it’s like to be in their situation?

The next morning I showed up knocking on Elisabeth’s door. “We need to chat,” I told her.
I poured out everything that had been building up. I explained how helpless and sad I felt. I drilled her with question after question, just trying to understand how people end up living in tents under a bridge and why they had been there for so long.

It all began to sink in. I realized why people were still living in tents under a bridge: There is no cure-all. Soup kitchens and homeless shelters are important for meeting the short-term needs. Housing vouchers are important, too. But if a person hasn’t dealt with the deep pain in their life that led to the homelessness in the first place, they will end up right back where they started. 
Each person has their own struggles, their own story, their own pain. 

I now understand why The Human Impact does what it does. Elisabeth and Elissa saw what I saw: so many problems, so many roadblocks, so much pain. And the only way to know how to help people move forward was to meet them where they are and listen to them.