Friday, April 29, 2016

No Walls to hide

Guest Blogger
Claire Martin
Craig's Place Staff

I have a memory of myself as a child, sitting in the passenger seat of my mother’s car, looking out the window at some new construction being built as we drove by. It was becoming a huge gray building, rectangular in shape, and impressive in size. As we drove past it, I said to my mother, “That should be a homeless shelter.” I’m not sure how I was even aware of the concept of homelessness given my very sheltered world – perhaps a movie on TV, or a story in the news, but I remember this interaction specifically because of my mother’s reaction to it – she laughed.

It took me years to understand why she thought my suggestion was so funny.  I saw a big empty building, a spacious place where there could be beds, and tables of food. It seemed perfectly logical to me at the time.

What I didn’t know is that our society’s attitude toward the problem of homelessness was very unlike my childlike view. There is a near unshakable belief in our minds that those who suffer without a home are a product of their own poor judgment in life, and homelessness is a kind of societal penalty that is well deserved.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Socioeconomic Implications of Being “Homeless”

Guest Blogger
Warren Nakazawa
Craig's Place Volunteer

            What does it mean for a person to be “homeless?” The implied definition of the word “homeless” refers to a person who does not have a home. But what does the word “homeless” really mean to us, to society? By the general American public’s standards, a homeless person is dirty or filthy. A homeless person is needy or weak. A homeless person is good for nothing, useless. A hobo. A drunk. A druggie. A bum. This attitude is a stigmatic paradigm that exists throughout communities here in Western Massachusetts and really, in communities throughout the United States. The American society’s view on homelessness translates to a prejudicial behaviour based solely on the assumptions associated with socioeconomic divisions. The institutionalized barriers formulated by our class-based country prevent the homeless from reintegrating into society. The homeless population represents a class of people that are pushed aside, forgotten, and deliberately ignored. Odds are inevitably against them; discrimination and deprivation of opportunity lie behind every corner, blocking people’s paths to escape. The American upper class look down on the lower classes of society, failing to realize the nearly unconquerable number of problems that the homeless face in reintegration to society.         
I have dealt first-hand with the homeless in Western Massachusetts communities, specifically in Amherst and other surrounding towns in Hampshire County. I want to dispel any negative biases of the homeless population in Western Massachusetts communities. I must emphasize, even with how easily it is forgotten, that each homeless person within the greater Pioneer Valley, no matter how “dirty,” “crazy,” or “worthless,” is a person. I have spent nearly three hours a day, six days every week, for the last four months volunteering at the Craig’s Doors Homeless Shelter, a shelter located in Amherst, Massachusetts. In this time, I have encountered over 200 individuals, and I am both
confident and proud in saying that each individual, despite their societal labels, 
has the potential to contribute to their community. 

Every individual that I have interacted with has a 

unique and interesting 

personality that makes them human. 

Each individual experiences the grief and sadness of loss and disappointment, the pain and frustration of life and futility, and the happiness and comfort of love and friendship. This is the same grief, the same frustration, and the same happiness that I experience, that each of us experiences, at any given moment. Despite the connectedness of emotions between all persons, many of the guests that come to the shelter still face the looming possibilities of harassment and alienation that dehumanize their very existence. Each and every day it happens. The people of Amherst bully, shun, and terrorize the homeless, but it is from these homeless individuals, the people that come into Craig’s Place every night, that I learn what it means to be human. For every tear that has been shed, every punch that has been thrown, and every profanity that has been screamed across the room, a laugh echoes louder, a smile shines brighter, and a passionate resilience, gratitude, and hope burn stronger. The sum of these emotions, the emotions that make these people human, pushes me to see past the negative connotations of homelessness: the dirtiness, the drunkenness and the worthlessness. Through these interactions, I am able to see potential in each and every individual who walks through the doors of Craig’s Place. The people. They are, not “what,” but, who I volunteer for, who I write for, and who I fight for.

          Craig’s Place is a wet shelter, meaning guests are permitted to stay at the shelter even while intoxicated. Because many of the guests at Craig’s Place are under the influence of alcohol and drugs each night, the adverse effects of substance abuse are immediately apparent; the environment becomes conducive to bringing out the worst in people.  Despite people’s aggressive attitudes and actions, Craig’s Place, being the only wet shelter for Amherst and its surrounding communities, plays an important role in housing people who may otherwise perish on the streets. The homeless are people. They are human

I have seen individuals resist the urge to give up on a system that has already given up on them. 

To see their efforts squandered by these institutionalized barriers is simultaneously infuriating and heart-breaking. Yet, I have seen their desires to succeed and their potential for change and growth. I have experienced their humanity. While it easy to view the homeless population as a drunken, disorderly, lazy, and uneducated group of people, in reality, most of the people I have encountered have been given no opportunity to succeed. As a volunteer at Craig’s Doors, I don’t just volunteer my time. I give them my ears, so that I may listen to their stories. I give them my eyes, so that I may share their tears. I give them my words, so that I may speak for their silenced voices. I give them my heart, so that I may ensure them that they are, really and truly, human. It is crucial that people understand the entirety of what it means to be a “homeless” person, because it is from this understanding that we, as Americans and as fellow people, can change the way system works and truly see each other as equals. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

At 9:20 I park in front of the First Baptist Church.  A line of guests stretches from the glass doors down to the end of railing.  As I walk closer I hear people call out to me "hey Rebekah!", "how's it going?", "let the lady through!".  As I reach the door, someone has already rung the doorbell for me, alerting the staff inside to my presence.  I smile, shouting back that I'll see them in a few minutes.

In Nov 2010, I spent my first overnight as staff at the Amherst Shelter.  That night, I learned a lesson that has stuck with me - the most incredible individuals in the Valley live on the streets of Amherst.

I admit. some of these amazing people have severe behavioral problems, some of them are loud and have no sense of occasion.  There are some who never shower, and some who struggle with addictions.  Some have even been to prison.  But these same individuals are also poets, story tellers, artists, musicians, avid readers, and philosophers.  They are veterans who fought for our country, and and they are grandfathers pulling out pictures of the newest grandchild.  They are someones father, mother, son or daughter, brother or sister, aunt or uncle.

It is uncomfortable to think about them as people, because then we have to acknowledge that it could have been us.

But they are people.  They are creative, resourceful, strong people.  It is an honor to know them, an an honor to work with them.

~Rebekah Wilder
Executive Director

In memory of all the amazing individuals who have passed away - Bongos, James, Jessica, Mubu, Mary, Sherman, Mo,  Brian, and Jimmy.  You will never be forgotten.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Welcome to the Craig’s Doors Blog!  Thank you for taking the time to read our thoughts.  Authors of these blog posts will include a variety of staff, shelter guests, volunteers, and board members.  We hope that each time you read, you will walk away knowing something new about those we strive to serve.
Rebekah Wilder

Executive Director of Craig’s Doors