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In this post, Christina Smith, an AmeriCorps VISTA placed at the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance (MHSA), reflects on her first few months as a Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau Coordinator and how her perspective on homelessness has been transformed.
Here at MHSA, I am helping promote awareness of the need for housing solutions to end homelessness through the Massachusetts Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau. Our speakers are formerly or currently homeless individuals who share their firsthand accounts of their experiences of homelessness with audiences across Massachusetts and New England. During these first few months of my service year, my perspectives and assumptions about homeless individuals’ experiences have already begun changing.
Before starting my year of AmeriCorps VISTA service, I had no prior in-depth experience or knowledge of the many invisible struggles homeless individuals face every day. Perhaps the most significant part of my first few months has been the opportunity to meet many of our speakers and listen to their stories at different presentations throughout Massachusetts. Through their stories, we come to further appreciate what many take for granted—a personal space with ownership of a door key.
I remember listening to Peter share his story of the day he got housed after spending several years in shelter at Father Bill’s & Mainspring. The big moment for him was not the fact that he was now permanently housed, but had his own key. That key to protect his belongings and personal space in which he could now welcome whoever he wanted—or not— was the significant milestone for him.
Hearing his story made me realize that too often privacy is taken for granted. I have always thought of homelessness as the loss of housing; the loss of a permanent physical structure, or shelter, if you will. But, homelessness is also the loss of privacy.
As I have come to realize, there are critical differences between shelter and housing. Shelter is exactly what it sounds like—a haven from the elements. Housing takes that a step further, focusing on the all-encompassing mental and physical needs of a person by providing a secure, private place in which to reside. Hearing Peter’s story, I will never be able to forget the difference between shelter and housing, fully appreciating and recognizing the necessity of that distinction.
To partner with the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau in bringing a presentation to your community, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christina Smith is one of the AmeriCorps VISTA Massachusetts Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau coordinators. She helps book presentations and manages the grassroots outreach and communications efforts towards homelessness advocacy solutions.
Previously a development intern at InterFaithFamily, Christina is excited to translate her past speaker agency experience at Monitor Talent into a nonprofit setting through this year of service, expanding her communications and outreach experience. Christina is a recent Wellesley College graduate hailing from the U.S. Virgin Islands.
MHSA held its ninth annual fundraising event, Home for Good: Solutions Start Here, on the evening of May 16 at the Omni Parker House Hotel’s Rooftop Ballroom. With more than 330 people in attendance, it was MHSA’s largest and most successful fundraising event to date.
The evening, chaired by Rick Heller of Legal Sea Foods, focused on its honorees: Philip W. Johnston of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, Pamela Feingold of Eastern Bank, and Mark Winkeller of Caritas Communities. Phil, Pam, and Mark were presented with awards for their innumerable contributions to the statewide effort to end homelessness.
“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to congratulate three individuals who have put such significant effort, throughout their careers, toward ending homelessness in the Commonwealth,” said MHSA President and Executive Director Joe Finn.
The above video about MHSA’s ongoing efforts to end homelessness was produced for the event by videographer Chris Goff. It features comments from two formerly homeless individuals who currently reside in a housing program operated through a partnership between MHSA and member agency Bay Cove Human Services.
MHSA wishes to say a hearty thank you to this year’s Raise the Roof sponsors — Eastern Bank and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts — and to all who came out on May 16 to show their support for the ongoing effort to bring our poorest neighbors home for good.
Click here to see the photo gallery!