How Working with the Homeless Population Changed My Life
This summer I interned at the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, a non-profit organization that works to help serve the needs of the homeless and those who are at risk of becoming homeless. Located in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the organization hosts various programs and tools to help people transition to safe, affordable, and permanent housing. They also advocate for policy change within their community in order to better help the needs of the homeless.
Two of the most utilized programs at the Elizabeth Coalition are rental assistance and first month’s rent. When individuals are at risk of becoming evicted due to unpaid rent they owe, the Elizabeth Coalition offers funds for eligible candidates. Additionally, the first month’s rent is a program for those who are currently homeless. If they can prove they are homeless, have an apartment to move into, and are able to keep up with the rent, the organization will help pay the first month’s rent. Both of these programs are extremely popular at the Elizabeth Coalition, but this means funding is depleted very quickly. During my internship, I had to turn down a lot of individuals who were eligible for these programs because we did not have enough funding. It was eye opening to see how a lack of funding really affected the Elizabeth’s Coalition ability to help those in need.
Another one of the tools the Elizabeth Coalition uses is screenings. Screenings consist of asking potential clients questions such as their age, how many kids they have, their current living situation, and medical history. These questions help the organization see if clients would be eligible for the various programs offered. In addition, it allows the organization to create a file for the potential client in the case they start working with a social worker. As a non-certified social work student, it was incredibly nerve-wracking to interact with clients, afraid of saying the wrong thing or upsetting a client while asking personal questions. However, with practice I soon got the hang of it.
In addition to being exposed to the amazing programs at the Elizabeth Coalition, the interactions with the people there was what truly made the experience so rewarding. The population that utilized the services of the Elizabeth Coalition were extremely vulnerable. Most of the people were living on the streets, sleeping in cars, or facing eviction with nowhere to go. Despite all of the adversity they were facing, they were always incredibly respectful, kind, and grateful towards the staff. The stories that the clients would tell me during the screening process would always break my heart. Each client I interacted with had such a unique story, yet the amount of strength and courage each of these people possessed, still inspires me to this day. Interning at the Elizabeth Coalition made me feel as though I was making a difference in these people’s lives.
Homelessness is not just an issue in New Jersey but all over the world. Having a home and a sense of security is a fundamental basic human need, but it should also be considered a basic human right. People who are experiencing homelessness are an extremely vulnerable population of people because they are often stuck in a systematic cycle of homelessness with no way of getting out. While organizations like the Elizabeth Coalition help to make a difference, there is still a severe lack of funding and programs from the federal government for homelessness prevention. Going into your community, volunteering, and advocating for policy change is something everyone should do, no matter what one’s area of study is. Even though there needs to be improvement in prevention of homelessness on a macro level, interning at the Elizabeth Coalition proved to me the value of small organizations in making a difference in people’s lives. Overall, the knowledge I gained this summer at the Elizabeth Coalition has helped me to grow not just as a social work student, but also as person.