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Interns: What I learned at the Alliance
August 27, 2012
Today’s post was written by Christian Brandt, Federal Policy Intern, Amanda Jensen, Federal Policy intern, and Maulin Shaw, Federal Advocacy Intern.
This summer I had the immense privilege to be a Federal Policy Intern at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Though I arrived at the Alliance with some independent research on homelessness under my belt (with projekt UDENFOR in Copenhagen, Denmark), I didn’t know that much about homelessness in the States. I came to the Alliance hoping to learn a lot more about the American homeless service system and homelessness in general. From my first week to my last day, I’ve learned more than I ever could have imagined when I started. If I were to make a list, it would go on forever, so I’ve distilled my experience into a few key points:
Numbers are important. I remember writing in my first college research paper on homelessness that “counting” homeless people was “slightly irrelevant.” Boy have I been proven wrong this summer! Not only do numbers matter to direct service organizations (how else would they be able to figure out demographics, gauge area need, or measure institutional progress?), but numbers are the driving force behind political advocacy and policymaking on issues surrounding homelessness.
The solution to homelessness is housing! In the back of my head, I knew this was true, but I couldn’t help thinking it had to be more complicated than that. Surprisingly, it’s actually that simple. Of course, there is a whole lot of other stuff going on, like mental and physical health issues, drug abuse, and other social issues, but generally speaking, we’ve seen the most success in ending homelessness through housing.
The Alliance and its staff are awesome. Seriously. From planning an annual 1,500 person conference and being committed to high quality research, to helping local organizations and agencies implement effective strategies to end homelessness, and doing (and teaching others how to do) effective advocacy, including Hill Day 2012 and the Site Visit Campaign, the Alliance does it all.
My time at the Alliance was a tremendous and invaluable learning experience. The most significant thing I learned in my time here is the extent of the immense dedication of those who advocate on behalf of people experiencing homelessness. Advocates and others working in the homeless assistance field are extremely helpful and passionate, and I feel fortunate that I was able to work with them during my time at the Alliance.
Another valuable lesson I will take away from the internship is the importance of advocacy and public education with regard to issues involving homelessness. When people have the right information they are much more willing to act and better able to produce results. Finally, the Alliance provided me with greater understanding of the issues that plague people experiencing homelessness. Different people require different forms of assistance. There is no single, universal solution for all.
Overall I feel I have learned a great deal in my time at the Alliance, and I am truly appreciative of the opportunity.
Even though I was at the Alliance only for a little while, I still managed to learn plenty. It’s hard to spend a summer at the Alliance and leave without picking up a few things.
The one I want to highlight took me the longest to learn, right up until my last week at the Alliance, in fact. From the name of the organization, to the website, and even to the shirts the phrase “end homelessness” is everywhere. As someone new to the field, that notion took a long time to sink in.
I saw plans, I saw progress, but for some reason I still glossed over that idea every time I saw it. My outside perspective caused me to assume not that progress couldn’t be made, but that some problems are truly perennial, and that “end homelessness” just meant changing the size of the problem significantly.
Then, in my last week at the Alliance, I was informed that homelessness has not been the perennial problem that I thought it to be, and that perspective was shattered. In fact, the problem of widespread homelessness is a relatively recent one.
Aside from making me realize that the phrase “end homelessness” truly means what it says, it completely changed my understanding of homelessness. My understanding as a layperson had led me to discount what could be done to end homelessness, something I’m sure is not unique to just me or the issue.
Realizing this, I’ve decided that, if I have to choose one thing to take away from my time at the Alliance, it will be that there doesn’t have to be such a thing as a perennial issue.