Williamsburg's Homeless & Indigent

P.O. Box 366, Lightfoot, VA 23090
Office: 757-561-3255
"Assisting people in re-gaining hope and a better way of life."

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Sometimes a single fact is all it takes to change your perception of the Williamsburg community. For me, it was learned in my first week here at the college as a freshman, when my professor explained the nature of the economy in Williamsburg as an hourglass with extreme polarization of the upper and lower classes, and very little middle class to stabilize it. The total impact upon me of learning this fact (hereafter referred to as “my fact”) was unbeknownst to me until now, and will probably continue to affect me. While unremarkable to some, my fact shaped my goals as a student and as a member, albeit for a decidedly transitory period, of this community.

Some of those who are more established in the community than students are, may be in denial that homeless people make up a growing percentage of the population. I can assure you however, to new students, the homeless problem is not common knowledge. Many simply do not know that the problem exists, or else are unaware that there are pitifully few services that advocate for the homeless. Students express surprise when I tell them that Williamsburg does not even have a homeless shelter, and the fact that most students would consider the existence of a shelter a “given” in every community further underscores the need for one. The efforts of the Sharpe community partners, Community Service Leaders, the Hunger Awareness Taskforce, and the Williamsburg Homeless & Indigent are that much more necessary and welcome. With their help, students are becoming 100% more aware than they were before: simply knowing that homelessness exists in a place like Williamsburg is momentous. Just as I experienced with my fact, a vast reshaping of perception takes place.

But how will you know when this fact slaps you in the face? Well, sometimes it requires a kick in the pants to get you started. My kick took the shape of a muddy, alcohol-stained woman with dirty clothes speaking at our Night in a Box event last year organized by the Hunger Awareness Taskforce. I had been involved in the Sharpe Community Partnership program and the HATforce, which had giving me an outlet for teaching others about my fact. When Patti McKenzie took the stage on the Sunken Gardens at our sleep-out, I was angry at first because she criticized our event and said that it did not accurately represent the situation most homeless people are in. I argued that she should not have been so harsh with her diatribe because all we had wanted to do was raise awareness. And what she wanted to do was raise awareness as well. She wanted to make people aware that the homeless are stereotyped (alcohol-stained, muddy clothes with mental or alchol problems) throughout the country. But the homeless in Williamsburg are hard to find or realize they are here because most don't fit the stereotype. Most of the time, you wouldn't know a person here was homeless, unless they told you. But instead of forgetting about it, I called her with more questions and spent an afternoon driving around town getting a tour of the Williamsburg that you don’t see in brochures. The value of my fact had expanded to lead me down another path.

It is impossible to know completely how influential a piece of knowledge can be. But only awareness can foment change, and awareness begins with a single fact. Here’s a way we can test my theory. After reading this article, you now know that homelessness exists in Williamsburg. What you do with this information is up to you. Will you allow your enthusiasm and awareness to be cultivated and shared, taught and expanded upon, to create a society in which a shelter would be embraced? Perhaps I will not have to wistfully hope for the day that such a society would exist here in Williamsburg.


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