Changing Perspectives: Hannah Falchuk ’18 Changing Perspectives, Shepherd Intern, Bowery Residents' Committee, New York, NY
“The introductions to policy and ethics were instructive, but the lessons in trauma and humanity were invaluable.”
This summer the Shepherd Internship Program allowed me to join a nonprofit whose 800 employees encounter homelessness each day. I was part of the transit outreach and case management teams at the Bowery Residents’ Committee, an organization that provides housing and health services to the chronically homeless of New York City.
I worked with another Shepherd intern during the early daytime shift, leaving our Brooklyn College apartment by 4:45 a.m. to arrive at the Manhattan office at 6 a.m. We finished work in the afternoon, with nearly the whole day to explore the ample (free) concerts and parks in the city.
I needed neither a computer nor a desk. We were “in the field” each day at train stations, shelters, and hospitals in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. The BRC transit program works with transportation officials to conduct outreach in each of the city’s subway stations. Although housing insecurity is not always observable, the outreach team tries to talk to anyone in the station who shows physical or behavioral signs of homelessness.
The job was far from easy. Many of the people we spoke to did not want to leave the train stations, and our offers of service were routinely refused. I learned the importance of meeting clients where they are — whether that is actually stooping to the floor or figuratively taking on their fears — and building rapport for the day when someone is ready to accept our services.
Once a client is ready, he or she is placed into a transitional stabilization or health program, while a case manager begins the application for permanent or supportive housing. I was able to shadow case managers on client meetings, visiting shelters and nursing homes to talk about any social or health issues that arise while adjusting to a new living situation.
Seeing the path to housing from both the outreach and case management sides showed me the necessity of providing a reliable support system at every step of the process. We listened to some clients consider the possibility of leaving the subway stations and helped others carry boxes into their new apartments. Many clients spoke openly about struggles they were facing and about their frustration with the slow pace of housing applications.
One of my biggest takeaways from the internship, though, was realizing the complexity and my own lack of awareness of common mental health disorders like schizophrenia and depression. This internship gave me the chance to learn directly from men and women typically ignored or discredited by society. The introductions to policy and ethics were instructive, but the lessons in trauma and humanity were invaluable.
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Hometown: Hockessin, DE
Minors: Poverty and Human Capability Studies, Philosophy
- Residential Life
- Real Estate Society
- Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity
- Compost Crew
- Interned with the advocacy group National Community Action Foundation as part of the Washington Term Program (Spring Term 2016)
- Interned with Bastogne Venture Partners, a social real estate advisory and investment firm in Philadelphia, PA (Summer 2015)
Why did you apply for this particular internship? I have been interested in supportive and transitional housing programs since visiting a unique housing program for people who have been released from prison and are homeless. I wanted to gain a better understanding of homelessness — how it is created, why it persists, and what systems are in place that might cause or prevent it. I also was grateful for the opportunity to do this in one of the most ethnically and economically diverse cities in the county.
How did your work apply to your studies at W&L? My poverty classes with Professor Pickett and Professor Brotzman (POV 101 and POV 102) gave me a social, philosophical, and historical context to poverty that I was able to consider and develop throughout the summer. Professor Hess’s Social Entrepreneurship course (BUS-381) helped me think more critically about the financial and practical operation of a social organization (whether non-profit or for-profit). I had recently finished the Professor Connelly’s Washington Term Program (POL-466) before arriving in New York, and the Madisonian perspective on competing interests followed me to my Shepherd Internship.
What was the most unexpected aspect of your Shepherd Internship experience? Everything I saw and heard in New York! I journaled in the park that was the real-life inspiration for the “valley of ashes” in The Great Gatsby and was a member of the audience for a free live taping of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. I didn’t quite master the social aloofness of the city (especially coming from W&L), and I had countless conversations with strangers and friends that showed me bits and pieces more of what New York City can be.
Post-Graduation Plans: I would like to work and write for a few years before entering law school or a public policy program. With that said, my ideas about graduate and career choices have grown in my first two years at W&L, and I am not expecting that to change for the next two!
Favorite Class: Professor Pickett’s course on Martin Luther King, Jr. (POV/PHIL 243) fostered some of the most engaging and practically applicable discussions I have had at W&L.
Favorite Campus Landmark: The rocking chairs outside of Holekamp Hall
Why did you choose W&L? The strong academics and tailored attention W&L provides are unbeatable, and — although I did fall in love with New York City — I knew that I would gain a completely different set of insights from going to school in a rural setting.
Why did you choose your major? Politics combines the history of groups, the economics of society, and the philosophy of power. I chose politics, philosophy, and poverty because the three disciplines inform each other in study and define each other in practice.
What professor has inspired you? The energy Professor Radulescu brings to theatre and literature is both contagious and inspiring. Professor Pickett has also helped me think about situations critically while also bringing my thoughts back to the solid, real-life question of “What are we to do with this knowledge?”
Advice for prospective or first-year students? Don’t be afraid to talk to people outside of your friend circles. Call an alum with a cool job, visit a professor you’ve heard about, or talk to a chef you see every day in the dining hall. There are a lot of wonderful people connected to this school, and we all share some common experiences because of Lexington and W&L. It’s never too early — or late — to build a friendship.