By Shiri Yadlin, Shepherd Intern 2010
Yadlin will begin a Masters Program at Georgetown University this fall. She is a 2012 graduate of Washington & Lee University.
“We are N Street Village. We are a community of respect, recovery, and hope. We create a safe and welcome place with our words and our actions. We expect kindness, and we respect honesty and diversity”
These were the words that started each and every day of my Shepherd Internship at Bethany Women’s Center, a day program for homeless and low-income women in Washington DC. These inspiring words paint a vivid picture of the hopeful and welcoming atmosphere I enjoyed during my eight weeks at the center, part of the larger organization called N Street Village, which focuses on providing housing and recovery support to women of the District. Though my time there was brief, the impact this Shepherd Internship had on me was anything but trivial.
The majority of my days as an intern were spent on the floor, engaging with the diverse and multi-layered women who came in every day. Together we ate meals, completed puzzles, worked on art projects, and danced. I asked questions, and they offered stories and advice. The complexity of their backgrounds completely transformed my understanding of poverty and homelessness. These women were dramatically unique. No two stories were alike, and each taught me something different about the face of homelessness. Growing up in suburban Southern California, I knew homelessness existed, but I had never interacted with it in such an intimate way. While I had always imagined myself working in third world nations, providing aid and support to the poor abroad, this experience and my Shepherd coursework re-enforced just how much inequality there is in my own backyard. I found myself at a loss for what to do with all the information these women were sharing. The relationships I built with the women, which were not always positive, only made the issue of homelessness more complicated for me, and I became more confused than ever about everything my courses and experiences had taught me about poverty. Yet one thing became clear: I had found my passion.
I came away from the internship with both direction and intellectual curiosity. I began to focus my coursework and community engagement on housing and homelessness. In my final year at Washington and Lee University, I conducted a study on affordable housing in the Rockbridge Area, working to better understand how rural housing and poverty differ from the urban affordable housing concerns I had seen in DC, and the suburban ones I interacted with during another similar internship in my hometown. This world began to take shape for me and the opportunity to connect my coursework with tangible field-work and service opportunities only made me more passionate about my studies, and more intellectually invested in my service.
My research led me to the Housing First movement, a campaign to provide housing without preconditions, with the understanding that what homeless individuals need most is, simply, a home. As I delved further into the topic I began to believe that this is the future of housing policy and the most effective way to end homelessness. Thanks to another Shepherd program, the Elrod Fellowship, I was able to connect with a job working for a direct service organization that operates under the Housing First model. After a year-long hiatus immediately after graduation from W&L, spent Austria as a recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship, teaching English to middle and high school aged students in a small town outside Vienna, I moved to Washington DC to work for Pathways to Housing. I have now been at Pathways for almost two years, working to cultivate stability and recovery in adults with severe mental illness and a history of homelessness. This work continues to add new elements into my understanding of the nature of homelessness, and not a single day goes by where I don’t have some theory challenged.
Working with my clients on accessing services, navigating systems, and battling through bureaucracy has brought new challenges and frustrations, propelling me to take the next step in my academic and professional life: moving from direct service to a bigger picture role. This fall I will begin a Masters in Public Policy program at Georgetown University, with the aim of focusing on affordable housing and homelessness policy within the context of urban inequality. As the Shepherd Program taught me, poverty is a complex, evolving issue, without any easy fix. Yet that understanding only deepens my curiosity and determination to better understand it. The Shepherd Program introduced me to both the fundamentals of our society’s inequity and the framework to integrate myself into experiences that will teach me more. With the toolkit I have as a base, I know I’m set up well to both pursue my own goals and seek the structural change that can improve the lives of the women of N Street Village and their neighbors.