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."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Idealism 101
5 September 2005

by Hadyn Rickett, DSJ Staff Reporter

I’m tired and lost. And starting to understand why not-for-profit organizations have such a high turn-over rate for employees. It’s not for lack of caring or because the cause is not an important one. But the most important problems require an exhausting amount of dedication and an inextinguishable spirit that few retain once the cynicism creeps in. Although academics at the College make us question many of the values we once held strongly, I argue that idealism should not simply be cast aside as immature.

As an enthusiastic Sharpe scholar my freshman year, I allied with a local woman who brought sandwiches and clean water to homeless people living under the Bypass bridge. We felt called to a little-known cause in the city and energized to jump in and help.

Over the next few years we did our research, campaigned, fundraised, and looked at buildings and legislation to find the best way to put the homeless back into homes. But not only that: we wanted to break the cycle of homelessness for good, so we also focused on helping people to become financially secure, get help for a substance addiction if they needed it, find transportation, and provide a secure place to raise children. We created an NGO, Williamsburg’s Homeless and Indigent (WHI), and looked through Williamsburg for areas with the correct zoning for a shelter. We wrote articles for local newspapers and spoke to T.V. reporters. Patti, the local woman, was kicked out of two houses and nearly became homeless herself. For a while, WHI was operating out of a hotel on Richmond Road that offered us a number of rooms for low-income, long-term occupancy so the homeless could get back on their feet.

And now for the dreaded question: have I made a difference? We appear to be right back where we started. The hotel is gone, and we are back to making sandwiches and bringing water under the Bypass bridge and into the woods. For me, with dreams of creating a homeless shelter and leaving a legacy after I graduated, this has been a frustrating experience.

When they chastise him about not selling a bottle of expensive perfume and giving the money as a donation to the poor, Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 26:11 that "the poor you will always have with you." So is that it? This guy from two thousand years ago says that we will never completely eradicate poverty, so we should just give up? Have I done nothing in the past three years worth remembering?

The ultimate goal of relief organizations is their own demise. However, that should not overwhelm those people that selflessly take the little steps to save and improve lives day to day.

My original goal of totally eradicating homelessness in Williamsburg was too broad, and at the same time too limited. A homeless shelter, although necessary in this area, is not the only measure of success. Homelessness takes many forms, and not everyone who is homeless is ready to become a responsible homeowner again. Even without a shelter, WHI has managed to put almost 20 families into homes and has provided innumerable others with food, clothing and books. Awareness of the problem is on the rise as well: each year sees an increase in the number of students participating in Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week events, and a Google search of "Williamsburg Homeless" no longer comes up empty.

In the face of frustrations, sometimes all we have left to hang onto is idealism. And as long as problems continue to exist on this earth, there will always be a need for someone secure in the belief that change begins with one person


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