The Beacon Day Center is finally open again!! WOOHOO!! This means Diana and I can start holding our meetings and providing safety information to the women. Another exciting thing is that Diana and I were on Great Day Houston! Check it out: http://www.khou.com/story/entertainment/television/programs/great-day-houston/2015/12/01/donate-cell-phone-help-homeless-women/76608078/
It was a whirlwind preparing for it and shooting the segment. I’ve never done anything like that before. We had to be ready at any moment to go early or even extend our segment to longer than 3 minutes. I’m glad it isn’t something I do regularly because I was super nervous, but enjoyed the experience nonetheless.
Diana and I held our first meeting at the Beacon after the closure, and we were able to get to know 2 very nice ladies. We hope to continue this relationship and involve them with future aspects of the project. As always, hearing their stories is my favorite part of being in the fellowship. It helps me keep my focus on the project and makes me want to do as much as I can for these women.
Recently, Diana and I visited with Angela House residents to discuss our project, their personal experiences with safety issues, and any ideas they may have for how Diana and I can help. One moment that really stood out to me from Angela House was when a woman was telling us about how she used to walk all night instead of sleeping because she never felt safe. While she was homeless, she encountered some wonderful people that helped her out by giving her blankets and just talking to her. She said, “kind words is medicine sometimes.” That quote, says it all for me. Just taking a minute to say hi and ask someone how he or she is doing is such a simple thing to do, but so few do it. We value our time so much that we can’t stop for a second and speak a kind word to someone. One of my friends recently had an experience where she pulled over to give a bag of apples that she had just bought to a homeless man who was sitting by a bus stop on the side of the road. She sat down to talk to him and was there for about an hour. She told me she couldn’t make out most of what he was saying, but could tell that he just wanted to talk. It really impressed me that she took the time to do that, and I’m proud to call someone like that my friend.
Diana and I are seeing some progress in our project. We have found a cell phone company that will send us preprogrammed phones that can only call 911. Pretty soon, we will start collecting donated phones from our schools to send to this company for programming. We would like to give out these phones in safety kits, which will provide women with contact information for shelters and other resources regarding personal safety and domestic violence. Ideally, these kits would be given out as an incentive to participate in a self-defense class. We are still in the process of finding a self-defense instructor or program as well as a location that could accommodate us. The Beacon may still work for a self-defense class, but we will have to see what the renovations look like. I’m very excited that our project is moving forward and taking shape. I’m also very hopeful that our project can provide homeless women with tools and resources that they need to help them protect themselves.
This month we held our first focus group. In the beginning of the group, we had snacks and went around the room and introduced ourselves. As an icebreaker, we asked them what their favorite ice cream flavor was. My favorite part was when one of the women talked about her favorite flavor was from Blue Bell, and the room erupted in a roar of excitement since the ice cream was returning to stores the very next day. I appreciated how the seemingly small detail of enjoying Blue Bell ice cream connected us all. One of my biggest revelations when working with this community was how little separates us. All it takes is one change of circumstance, and I could be where they are. One lady even told us that she used to drive by the homeless and stare at them wondering why they weren’t helping themselves. She’s now been homeless for about 6 weeks. You never think it could be you.
Diana and I are finally in Houston at the same time, so our project should be moving forward with more speed than it was previously. We just finished our last preliminary survey session with women at The Beacon. The results of the surveys are not as clear as I would like, but I am optimistic that the focus groups will shed more light on which direction our project will go in. We are scheduling our first focus group for the end of August and have already identified some women we think could help us dive deeper into the concerns of homeless women. I’m looking forward to getting to know these women on a more personal level and hearing what they have to say.
Diana and I have started going to the Beacon on weekends to administer surveys and to let our faces become more familiar. We hope to generate some good will and trust with these visits, so that when we start holding focus groups in a few weeks, women will want to participate and be open with us. One of the aspects of the project that I really enjoy is being able to sit down and talk with the women one on one about what is going on in their lives and learning what they are concerned about. Some of the women we surveyed really just wanted to talk and be social which had Diana and I thinking maybe we should hold a monthly meeting for women where we just talk and socialize. There is something about human contact and a good conversation that just makes you feel good inside. I want the women that we meet and work with to feel good and to feel like we truly care about what is going on in their lives. I am excited to see where the project will go and to get to know some incredible women.
Diana and I are excited about finally rolling out our project this month! The initial vision for our project was to identify and address hygiene needs specific to homeless women that are often overlooked, specifically those related to personal/menstrual hygiene, e.g. reliable access to feminine hygiene products. This was inspired in part by recent media attention surrounding menstrual hygiene among homeless women (e.g. see this recent NYTimes article). Despite our initial focus, the first step in our project involves asking homeless women in the community to tell us about what they view as their most pressing health/hygiene concerns—issues that we expect will include not only menstrual hygiene, but other issues known to impact homeless women: family planning, reproductive health concerns, and domestic violence, among others. This month, we’ll be going to The Beacon, a Houston-area day center affiliated with HOMES Clinic, a student-run clinic for the homeless, and sitting down with community members on weekend mornings. By chatting with them over their morning coffee, we hope we can not only get to know them better, but also discuss ways we might all work together to better meet some of their needs. In the next few months, we’re hoping to collaborate with women in this community to develop an intervention (for example, distribution of female hygiene packs that include things like pads/tampons) that specifically addresses womens’ voiced concerns. We anticipate they have a lot to say, and are really excited to give them an opportunity to have their voices heard!