November 2018 Session Recap: Lessons about homelessness, hunger

This post was written by “Team Change Makers,” (pictured above) made up of LDA 2018-19 participants: Katie Lange, Blackhawk Technical College; Jacob Carter, ANGI Energy Systems; Erin Goepfert, Blackhawk Community Credit Union; Rebecca Veium, Community Action; Daniel Jackson, School District of Janesville; and Joann Nupnau, Advia Credit Union.

Lessons about homelessness

True to form, our November LDA session was packed with wonderful learning opportunities for participants.

The morning kicked off with a homeless panel sharing their insights about the homeless reality in Rock County. Homelessness is a multifaceted issue with many layers to address. The panel identified a lack of affordable housing as a primary contributing factor in addition to poverty, mental health, and substance use disorders.

Local school districts identify hundreds of homeless youth and unaccompanied youth every year. Within the Janesville School District, roughly 50% of the students qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch program and roughly 79% of students in the Beloit School District qualify. Living in poverty affects the physical and mental health of the individual along with the educational outcomes of the children.

How can you help? Contact your local homeless providers or school district to see how you can help those they serve.

Hunger simulation exercise

Following the homeless panel discussions, participants had the hands-on opportunity to experience challenges low-income people face day to day when trying to feed themselves and their families.

The Hunger Task Force lead participants through a hunger simulation where LDA members took on a persona and lived in the shoes of someone with limited resources trying to secure food for 3 days. While there were some laughs along the way from the “Grocery Store” owner making unreasonable demands and denials to customers, members came to realize the barriers faced in trying to access resources for food.

The morning ended with guest speakers from GIFTS Men’s Shelter in Janesville. GIFTS has an impressive volunteer base that makes it possible for them to serve homeless men in recovery. Members heard first-hand from one of their participants how GIFTS is giving him the opportunity to turn his life around and how grateful he is of their help.

Our afternoon started with lunch sponsored by Visit Beloit and time to chat with our project groups. The room was filled with laughter and brainstorming energy while groups took advantage of their time to plan. We were all so focused that we got ourselves a bit behind schedule for our afternoon agenda.

Communication & courageous conversations

Linda took charge of the group and broke us up for a REAL Colors activity; continuing to reinforce how to communicate best with all colors. Note: those were some pretty impressive interpretations of a sailboat!

The session ended with Courageous Conversations about diversity and inclusion. Astounding statistics were shared with the room regarding racial inequities in the State of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is one of the worst states rated in a number of measures reported in 2010 and appears that more recent numbers will be about the same. Presenters lead activities to defy stereotypes and to challenge the group to become more inquisitive about those around us.

Our takeaways

At the end of the day, be kind to each other as you never know what they are going through. Homelessness doesn’t discriminate and compassion is the medicine that everyone can prescribe.