The Columns

Changing Perspectives: Hannah Falchuk ’18 Changing Perspectives, Shepherd Intern, Bowery Residents’ Committee, New York, NY

— by on September 29th, 2016

Hannah Falchuk '18

“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.