“Housing” is in our name, but that’s not all we do. On Monday, June 15, nearly two dozen residents from different New Hope Housing programs gathered before friends and family to graduate from the 12-week Out Of Poverty course.
On that night, board members and volunteers served dinner prepared by New Hope Housing staff, and joined residents at their tables to talk about their experiences. Graduates took pictures with classmates and family at the photo wall. They were joined by their Out of Poverty facilitators who helped guide them through this course designed to help escape the poverty cycle.
Pamela L. Michell, Executive Director, spoke to the graduates about her love for this program, commenting that “While homeless, you’re so focused on survival that you have no chance to dream. This program allows you a space to dream and talk with others about your experience.”
Five class speakers shared their experiences before coming to shelter. One spoke about the other women she met in the program that became her friends and supporters. Another called her course facilitator Ms. Roxanne “the bomb.” Skye told the audience that being homeless and pregnant made her not want to face any of her problems. When she heard her classmates share their experiences, she felt able to share her own. “It became therapy I didn’t know I needed.” She looks forward to applying the lessons learned to her life and the life of her future baby boy.
The Keynote Speaker for the evening, Mr. Dana Woolfolk, connected with residents personally. Before launching into his speech, he pointed to the slide showing his career in addressing homelessness issues, saying, “I’ve done more than that! That’s just what I do about homelessness, I do other things, too.”
“You have all shown commitment to improving the quality of your life and for fulfilling your future dreams. What your facilitators may not have told you though, is that the work just started. Now you have to take the information you’ve been given and apply it to your day-to-day life. I only wish I had had a program like Out Of Poverty when I was homeless.
Not having a roof over my head, not having money to go into the store and purchase things that I needed, were very devastating to me but more importantly what really got me was how I was treated. You see, when you’re homeless, particularly street homeless, you become a non-human, you become a fixture. People no longer look at you, they look through you, past you. They walked around me, they cut a wide berth to avoid me.
If I went into McDonald’s, I didn’t have to worry about service. Because someone came from behind the counter right away to ask if they could help me – and if I wasn’t spending money, I had to go. So after awhile I couldn’t even just go use the bathroom in public establishments.
I’m purposely speaking to the graduates now, you can all hear me, but I’m speaking to the graduates because they need to hear this stuff.
All the friends I thought I had… (shakes head) I’m gonna tell you how bad it was with me. My family had a restraining order. Oh, yeah. They didn’t want me anywhere near them. And I take full responsibility for that. Because the situation I was in, some of it had to do with a little bad luck here and there, but mostly it had to do with my choices. Choices I was making on a daily basis that weren’t in my best interest in the long run.
You guys now have some wonderful tools to use. You have worked on changing some fundamental things that have created conditions in your life, which have caused you to end up in shelters. And you don’t have to do it again.
Now the bad news is that the greater predictor of future homelessness is past homelessness. But you’re one step ahead of the game because you got – Hold that up – (graduate holds up Out Of Poverty workbook and says “I carry it every day.”)
What I want to know is, when it comes to staying out of the shelter, can you do it? (mumbled yesses)
Nah nah nah. (raises voice) When it comes to staying out of the shelters, Can You Do It?
(louder) – YES I CAN!
Because I don’t want it to be worse next time for you. I don’t want you to have to live like I lived. 3 plus years I lived on the streets of both Washington DC and Northern Virginia and I mean I was Fairfax County, Arlington County, and I just happened to land in the City of Alexandria and I never left. I said, “you can’t get rid of me.”
I have been blessed to be able to work on issues of homelessness and poverty. I started doing it early on. My homelessness didn’t end technically until winter of 1998. I was working with Ms. Trotter at ACS by summer of 1999. So that’s what you do when you get focused, and when you start making different choices and you start listening to your mentors – the facilitators – these are your mentors, the staff that you work with, these are your mentors.
You see, your thinking got you where you are. You can’t always trust it. It’s really good to run things by somebody else until you get some practice at making good decisions. And once you have consistently made good decisions for a couple years, guess what? You can cut loose now. It’s not that bad. And I’mma tell you: it’s fun having a job, having a roof, having money in your pocket, having a bank account, having a credit score that’s above 700. These are all things that I hope you can do, but can you do it?
Yes I can!
All right. I just wanted to leave you with this. First of all, I want to congratulate each and every one of you once again on this important step that you’ve taken. I want you to know that I’m pulling for you. You all are gonna be in my prayers every night for your success. And if you continue to keep in your heart the principles that you learned in the Out Of Poverty program, you’ll never again have to experience what you’re experiencing now. And I’ll ask you one last time Can You Do It?
Yes I can!
At the end of Mr. Woolfolk’s remarks, each graduate was called to the front by their facilitator to receive a certificate of completion.
Dana Woolfolk is a subject matter expert on homelessness who began working in the field in 1999 after his own struggles and years living on the street.
- Formerly street homeless for more than 3 years
- Worked for 3 ½ years At Alexandria Community Shelter in various positions
- Worked as a Therapist/Case manager at Alexandria Mental Health Center for 12 years
- Currently the Homeless Services/PATH Coordinator for the City of Alexandria
- Served on the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Policy Academy Team in 2003 and was part of the Governors Policy Council until 2007.
- Presenter at the 2004 Virginia PATH Training Conference where he lectured on “OUTREACH TO MH/SA HARD TO REACH”.
- Presenter at the 2007 Virginia state housing conference where he presented, “CSB’s & Supportive Housing”.
- Technical reviewer of the manual, “Supporting Outreach: A Manual for PATH Program Administrators & Outreach Supervisors”
- Member of the Homelessness Resource Center Advisory Board (SAMHSA)
- Former board member of The National Coalition for the Homeless from 2003-2007
- Member of the National Coalition’s Faces of Homelessness Speakers Bureau since 2003