By Iyana Turner, Program Associate, & Bock Szymkowicz, Career Development Specialist
Last year, 38% of Byte Back students were homeless. Knowing that we have students who come to every class but have no place to sleep, store their food, or even take a shower, encourages us as staff to give everything we can to set them up for success in class and in employment.
For many experiencing homelessness, it may take months, even years, before they can get to the top of a waitlist for programs that offer the physical and mental space needed to overcome homelessness.
In an effort to educate ourselves, others, and better serve our students, Byte Back attended an event hosted by Street Sense and gained invaluable knowledge.
Homelessness Now in DC
At the time of DC’s 2015 Point in Time Homelessness Census, 7,298 people were counted as homeless.
With the recent decision to close DC General Family Shelter, the District’s larger shelter, the issue of homelessness is at the forefront now more than ever.
The Stigma of Homelessness
Beyond a lack of resources, an unearned label of “laziness” is associated with those experiencing poverty. Employers and the community as a whole frequently automatically assign this label. This prejudice can destroy someone’s chances at furthering their education, getting hired, and receiving services. It can also make homelessness cyclical – hard to permanently overcome.
Policies Affect People
Recently the Internet has been buzzing about “homeless spikes” being used to eliminate the homeless population in major metropolitan cities around the world. These are literal spikes, placed in locations where people usually sit or sleep, which are meant to get homeless populations off the streets.
In addition, some laws and policies haven’t made things easier for people experiencing homelessness. These are some of the laws and conditions affecting peoples’ lives today:
- Resting on sidewalks and sleeping in parks have become ticketable offenses in some cities.
- Panhandling is a constitutional right, although aggressive panhandling is illegal.
- People living in tent encampments must be given notice before being removed, and even then, people’s items must be saved and protected.
- Even with a housing first model (where housing is given immediately to those in need, with secondary support with other issues such as mental health), due to rules and regulations, it may take a while to provide a client housing, which slows down the process.
- People are being thrown out of shelters for small violations, such as smoking or drinking. While this may seem reasonable, many people experiencing homelessness turn to these things as a way to de-stress, and have nowhere to go if they’re thrown out of a shelter. This exacerbates the problem, rather than addressing their needs.
- There are currently petitions to change a major issue facing the homeless population in DC, which is lack of access to public restrooms throughout the city.
Your Turn to Offer H.O.P.E.
If you ask Street Sense, the best way to help the DC homeless community is to offer H.O.P.E.
Help support the Street Sense community, made up of those experiencing homelessness in DC, by becoming a regular customer and reader.
Offer your time by volunteering with community partners.
Participate in local advocacy efforts.
Engage in a discussion with friends and family.
Byte Back’s programs give people a permanent solution to unemployment and underemployment, the cause of homelessness for many. Many Byte Back graduates started class homeless, earned admin or IT certifications, and successfully secured permanent employment and stable housing.