Awareness of My Lack of Awareness

Although in last week’s post I had discussed the relative absence of the issue of homelessness from political dialogue and conversation, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Duke was taking part in National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, hosting various events across campus.  I decided to attend a discussion of panelists from different non-profit organizations dedicated to providing support and services to at-risk members of the Durham community.  With Thanksgiving break and finals week just around the corner, I understood that it was certainly crunch time for students, however, I was still surprised by the extremely low turn-out for this event.  In addition to myself, there were only three others in attendance.  The number of panelists more than tripled those in the audience.  I wondered if this was still indicative of an apathetic attitude on campus regarding issues of poverty in the community.

The organizations each focused on different issues that can eventually lead to homelessness, such as, addiction, a positive HIV status, and mental illness. After hearing each representative explain the work their organization was accomplishing, it was interesting to see how each stigmatized issue was connected.  Indeed, the Director of the Triangle Empowerment Center explained that the Center was developed to not only provide preventative HIV care, but also temporary shelter for the many LGBTQ youth who would be kicked out of their homes after coming out or revealing a positive HIV status. Although it was promising to hear of the wonderful and impactful work occurring in the community, it was equally disheartening to learn that there is still much more need than there is support.  Sherrill Thomas of the Durham Crisis Response Center (DCRC) revealed that battered women are repeatedly refused shelter at DCRC due to a lack of space.  She stated that she found this especially frustrating given that there are “empty buildings everywhere that are owned by the city.”

The discussion made me more attune to the fact that I am still sheltered by the “Duke bubble.”  While I was familiar with the work of DCRC from my summer internship at the District Attorney’s office, I did not know that the other organizations present even existed.   In response to a question about what students can do to better assist the community, Thomas replied that students cannot have a “get up and go” mentality when it comes to service work, however, she also noted that the short time span of college is conducive to this problem.

Immediately, I thought about the implications Thomas’s words had in regard to my own project.  While the young women whom I am currently working with will also eventually depart from the groups, as families at Families Moving Forward typically stay for ninety days or less, and the eighth-graders at Durham School of the Arts will matriculate to high-school, I still contemplated whether the ephemeral nature of my project also embodies this problematic, cursory “get up and go” approach to service work.