Overcoming Homelessness


Brave Student Overcomes Homelessness to Give Back to the Community

By Erin Jayes, Community Engagement Assistant & AmeriCorps Public Ally

Alan Banks thought he was safe from homelessness. The 56-year-old DC native and Byte Back graduate didn’t see it coming, but found out that homelessness can happen to anyone.

In 2004, Alan was working for the federal government. He had a good income, was married for 19 years, and had two children. But after experiencing severe depression, he suddenly lost his job and family, spending the next six years of his life in and out of shelters.

“I wandered off and completely lost touch with myself,” he remembers.

For the first few months, he barely spoke to anyone, didn’t shower, and ate mostly from the trash. “I have been so cold that I just burst out crying,” he says about his years living without a home. “I’ve gone four days without eating. I had no idea what social services were, because I had a very comfortable childhood and adult life. I just never thought I would need help.”

Not knowing how to use the Internet was a huge barrier for Alan to access services. Through word of mouth, Alan found the National Coalition for the Homeless. There he joined a two-year program to learn how to manage his mental illness.

Finally, Alan found housing in March 2014 through Friendship Place, a center in Northwest Washington, DC, that helps those experiencing homelessness rebuild their lives. He found community there and became passionately involved with the organization, speaking at conferences around the country.

In November, Alan was hired as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at Friendship Place. As the community engagement coordinator, Alan runs the speaker’s bureau and shares information with the community. “It’s very rewarding. I’m able to give back to the organization that helped me.”

Alan was excited for his new position, but he knew that he needed to increase his computer skills to do an even better job. “You have to navigate computers to communicate in the world today,” he says.

After his supervisor recommended Byte Back, he signed up for Office Track, under the instruction of AmeriCorps Instructor Gifty Sarfo. “For years, I had been looking at the ribbon at the top of the Word document without knowing what any of it did.”

With the skills he learned in Office Track, now Alan makes PowerPoint presentations, uses Excel to keep track of his finances, and uses the Internet to sign up for services. He worked hard in class and even gave an inspiring speech at Byte Back’s Spring Graduation Ceremony in April.  “Heck, I was anti-computer!” he says. “Now the computer has become a huge asset in my life.”

After gaining housing, landing a job, reuniting with his family, and learning new skills, Alan says that he has surprised himself. “It might be hard, but its worth it.”

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