This post is part IV of a five-part series of interviews with my Jesuit Volunteer housemates in Baltimore. Parts I, II, & III can be found here.
So, I’ve kind of made a big deal about the lack of meat in my current diet with JVC (it’s been four months and I’m barely alive!). Well, it’s all Rachel Snyder’s fault. She’s a vegetarian and just a terrible, terrible person on top of that. She always forces her views on others and makes them eat vegetarian. Rachel is just awful to have around and nobody likes her…
…I’m just kidding! Just the opposite is true, actually. Rachel’s great! She works at Beans & Bread and, is passionate about helping the homeless. She also knows Worcester pretty darn well as she graduated from Holy Cross, my father’s alma mater (Go ‘Saders!). So, without further adieu, ladies and gents, my housemate, Rachel Snyder.
You’re a caseworker at Beans and Bread. Tell us more about Beans & Bread and about what you do there. What’s a typical day look like?
Beans and Bread, a program of St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore, is a homeless outreach center located in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore. The resource center provides many services to the clients who come in, including case management, housing placement, a hot meal, and clothing assistance, among other services. The goal is to meet the clients’ basic needs, but also to provide them with the resources, support, and tools needed to become self-sufficient.
There are also two housing programs affiliated with Beans and Bread. One is a transitional housing program for men (20 spots) and one is a permanent housing program for chronically homeless individuals (60 spots).
I’m a case worker, which means that I see clients on a walk-in basis and try to connect them with resources and other social services in the area. I meet with eight clients per day (the first 8 that sign up each day), three days a week, and spend about 15-40 minutes with each, listening to their story (as much or as little as they choose to tell me) and about what brings them into Beans and Bread. I then try to connect them to the resources they need. If they need clean clothes, I provide them with clothing; if they are looking for housing I discuss some housing options with them and assist them in the application process, etc. People come into Beans and Bread with various needs and I am often the first person they meet with in their process of meeting these needs. If a client comes through case work and needs more assistance than I can provide in the short amount of time I am able to meet with them, I refer them to a case manager who can meet with the client on a more regular basis.
I find case work to be challenging at times, but extremely rewarding. My interactions with clients often bring me great joy, especially during those times when I am able to successfully work with a client to link them with housing or other services because I can see a hopeful change in the situation, and often in the spirit, of a client.
Why did you want to do JVC and work with the homeless?
I grew up in a home that stressed service work and the attitude of “to whom much is given, much is required.” I grew up occasionally volunteering at soup kitchens and doing other service work. When I went to college (Holy Cross in Worcester, MA) I took many sociology and religious studies courses that explored social inequality and poverty. I went on a couple of mission trips to the Appalachian region and was actively involved in the student volunteering group at Holy Cross. I volunteered at Abby’s House, a homeless shelter and resource center for women, for three years and led this group during my senior year. Through these experiences, I felt God calling me to give my life to working for and with the poor and marginalized in our society.
What’s been most challenging for you working with the homeless?
There is a huge lack of affordable housing in many cities, including Baltimore. The wait list for Public Housing in Baltimore City is several years! There are also lengthy waiting lists at various other housing facilities and programs. It is frustrating when you meet with a client who is in desperate need of stable housing and the resources are just not there. I often wish I could do more for the people I meet.
How do you feel about homelessness? What measures can we take to prevent it? How should we treat the homeless on the street?
The issue of homelessness stirs up many feelings in me. I am saddened by the fact that so many people live in unsafe, unclean, or unstable situations. I am deeply saddened when a client comes in and tells me he’s been sleeping on a bench at the harbor for the past week. I am frustrated by the fact that there is not enough affordable housing. I am angered by the existence of unjust social relationships in our society, which often cause and perpetuate poverty and its consequences.
Last year Sheila Dixon, the Mayor of Baltimore, implemented a 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. Some of the strategies include creating more affordable housing and providing greater emergency and preventative services. Initiatives such as raising the minimum wage and providing after school programs are also intimately tied to ending homelessness. Preventing and ending homelessness is a huge task – but through the work of social service agencies, such as Beans and Bread, and progressive policy initiatives, I am hopeful that we can make a significant impact.
Individuals can make an impact as well. You can write to your state representatives to ask them to support your local social service agencies, you can volunteer your time to serve a meal at a soup kitchen, and you can treat the homeless people you see with respect and dignity. At Beans and Bread, one of the central beliefs by which we operate is that each person is just that – a person. And thus, just by the sheer fact that they are a human being, they have certain rights, one of which is human dignity. So the next time you see a homeless person on the street, look him or her in the eye. Maybe even say hi or offer the person some food. Acknowledge their humanness.
Aaaaand… Fun Fact!
I fell in love at age 5 – with otters. They have been my favorite animal since my family went to the Monterrey Aquarium in California when I was in kindergarten. To this day, I still squeal when I see an otter, just like I did when I was 5.
Thank you, Rachel!
On a similar note, Danny Brown (@DannyBrown), a person I greatly admire, and the 12for12K Challenge, a charity supported by social media (Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc.), are focusing on homeless awareness this month. Check out more information HERE and stay tuned for a post from me on the importance of hands-on service.