By Ilana Krakowski – Ilana is a member of AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps and serves as the Program Assistant in the Health and Wellness Center. Ilana organizes Wellness Center programing, coordinates volunteers, and manages the Wellness Center receptionist team. Ilana is from New York City and graduated from Barnard College with a BA in Comparative Religion.
As I sit here on my last day working at N Street Village, I want to take a moment to share what I learned working with individuals experiencing homelessness. The overall theme of the various realizations I’ve had this year is this: never think that you are immune to the challenges that other people face. Most of you would probably nod your heads, easily agreeing — but how much do you actually believe it could be true? What if one day you became homeless?
I believe that understanding the actual possibility of hardships like homelessness happening to us allows us to better connect with those who are currently experiencing them and eliminates the “us/them” mentality that prevents real social change.
It wasn’t until I started working with individuals who experience homelessness that I realized how little separated them from me. While poverty and homelessness disproportionately affect some populations more than others I met so many women who do not necessarily fit into our preconceived notions of “the homeless.” Some held steady jobs and raised their children in their own homes, and suddenly — either because of hard economic times, divorce, or health issues — lost their income and housing. Even those who had friends and family willing to provide a temporary safety net eventually needed to find income and housing on their own again.
For a while I was really upset at the realization that homelessness could happen to anyone. As the year went on, I decided to channel my feelings about this into really getting to know clients as individuals and focusing on how I could best provide services that would help them move forward. Now I see our clients as women working incredibly hard to overcome hardship while trying to enjoy each and every day. That’s why I like to describe them as women experiencing homelessness rather than women who are homeless. This mindset is what makes it possible for N Street Village to provide clients with the high-quality and meaningful services that we would hope to have for ourselves and our loved ones if we were in their place.
Spending my service corps year at N Street Village has been an eye-opening and insightful journey. I am forever changed and committed to the act of leveling the playing field for all in society. Thank you N Street Village for allowing me to have this experience.