For those of you reading this article blanketed by the warmth of your dorm or apartment, consider this: over 500,000 people living in the United States will experience homelessness on any given night, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness organization.
The Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau, a D.C.-based program led by the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), gives those who have struggled with homelessness an opportunity to speak out. At Stamp Student Union on Dec. 6, Karen Ennis and Candi Darley, both residents of the Washington, D.C. area, shared their personal experiences with homelessness.
The event was coordinated by “A Helpful Hello,” a group on campus that advocates for others to gain a higher level of understanding and respect for people who are homeless, according to junior criminology and criminal justice major Antonia Dolan.
“I want you to know that when you see someone on the streets, they have a backstory,” Ennis said, speaking with regards to herself and anyone else without a home.
Ennis dealt has dealt with drug addiction and illness. At one point, she found herself hitting rock bottom all at once, juggling pregnancy and homelessness at the same time.
A few years ago, she went back to school and attended Howard University, where she ended up making the Dean’s List and earning a Bachelor’s Degree in interior design.
“You never know when this might be a position that you’re in,” said Ennis, who emphasized that any university student could very well be someone who is getting through college by couch-surfing around campus each night.
In her mid-20s, just five years into her nursing career as a George Washington University graduate, Darley too began experiencing signs of illness. Her marriage ended and her finances dipped. After three years of providing for her son on her own, she had no choice but to send him away and move in to a homeless shelter.
“When you know certain things it just changes your whole perspective on everything,” Darley said, making eye contact with each student in the room. “The things that are going to help the social ills of today are going to come from your minds.”
While living in a shelter, Darley put her name down on a list for request housing. After many long years of waiting, she became eligible.
“I used to believe that the opposite of poverty was wealth,” said Darley. “I now believe the opposite of poverty is justice.”
Both Ennis and Darley emphasize the importance of treating anyone living on the streets like real people, even with just a simple hello.
“Leave a footprint on this earth,” said Darley. “You’ve gotta give some love, or you’re living your life for nothing.”