Hannah Morgan, a former student at the University of Maryland, was the 2012 Student Stowe Prize College Winner. A budding journalist, Hannah submitted her entry from Street Sense, a newspaper sold by homeless individuals in Washington D.C., shining a light on the harrowing life stories of those living on the edge of society. Whereas many avoid making eye contact with people living on the street, Ms. Morgan wandered the city talking to homeless people and learning their stories. She gave voice to their struggles through a series of articles which were also published by the Huffington Post and DC Impact. “I heard harrowing tales of survival through hypothermia season, hurricanes, drug abuse and family tragedies,” says Morgan. “And through all of this, I solidified my commitment to journalism.”
We hope Hannah's article below - and her two other pieces on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which can be read HERE - inspires you and moves you to encourage young people in your life who are writing for social justice to submit their work to the 2014 Student Stowe Prize. Submissions are due by this Friday, January 10. For more information, visit the Student Stowe Prize page on our website or email StudentStowePrize@stowecenter.org.
"Transforming Lives at N Street Village" - Hannah Morgan
It is difficult to explain N Street Village in a few words. But a poster on the wall of this haven for Washington’s homeless women gives it a try.
“WE are N Street Village. WE are a community of respect, recovery and hope. We create a safe and welcoming place with our words and actions. We expect kindness and we value honesty and diversity.”
On a rainy Thursday morning, the N Street Village women’s center was filled with women cutting out cards, reading Cosmopolitan magazine, visiting the Wellness Center and conversing over hot tea, waiting for a 10 o’clock aerobics class and health appointments upstairs.
Outside, women mill in a gated courtyard outside of the center; resting in wheelchairs, on benches, chatting, smoking, thinking and sometimes nodding off.
The women come from all walks of life, from Georgia, New York City, Haiti and NE D.C. All are welcome and few, if any, questions are asked.
Mere blocks from a Whole Foods, upscale DC eateries and galleries, N Street Village is tucked into a residential neighborhood, N Street opened in 1972 across from Luther Place Memorial Church, between Vermont Avenue and 14th Street NW.
The organization offers endless services, from supportive housing to cups of coffee for nearly 900 women annually, said Tracy Cecil, the Director of Special Projects. According to the 2010 annual count of D.C.’s homeless population, N Street Village served roughly 46 percent of the adult homeless women in the District last year.
Women who stay in emergency shelters or on the street lack places to spend their days and N Street’s Bethany Women’s Center provides a safe haven to dozens dozens seven days a week.
Women from shelters all over the city are dropped off every morning to N Street and can enroll in classes, eat a hot meal, take a shower, chose new clothes from the clothes closet or and just hang out in a safe atmosphere; all that is asked of them is that they do a chore.
Softspoken Renee Moore, a former resident of Luther Place, a transitional housing program run through N Street Village, volunteers at the clothes closet on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She keeps a meticulous record of every item of clothing that comes in and out of the closet. She describes her involvement and experience with Bethany’s and how it changed her life:
“I came here, I was scared, confused. I came here with an alcohol addiction and this October, I’ll be four years clean,” she said. While she was living at Luther Place, she earned a CPR license, got dental work taken care of, and took control of her life with the help of a supportive community of women. She volunteers at the clothes closet as a way of giving back to the community that helped heal her.
Upstairs from Bethany’s is the N Street Village Wellness Center- affiliated with Unity Healthcare- is staffed by a licensed nurse. The center offers primary care, mental health education, psychotherapy, group therapy, crisis information and psychiatric referral services, as well as classes on stress reduction, yoga and relaxation and relapse prevention.
Ilana Krakowski works as the program assistant to the wellness center, and on Thursdays at 10 am, leads a movement and dance class. A group of about ten women stretch to a David Grey song, hugging themselves and rolling their necks in circles. Krakowski shows the women, dressed in tennis shoes, barefoot, jeans, dresses and heels a few simple moves, and they quickly pick up an upbeat dance routine to Lady Gaga’s, “Born This Way.” Members of the kitchen staff and women waiting in the health clinic wander into the room at the sound of laughter and music and join in. During a break, a woman declares, “I haven’t danced in a long time.”
The building is open every single day of the year, but closes at 4 pm; even during weather emergencies. However, N Street Village helps find women beds in shelters during emergencies. Kate Akalonu, Communications and Community Engagement Associate, remembers trying to place women into shelters last year during the, “Snowpocalypse,” and during Hurricane Irene.
“N Street Village also provides temporary housing for 94 women in four different programs,” Cecil said, “Thirty one women live at Luther Place, located across the street from N Street Village.” The shelter provides dorm living for women involved with the case management program. The program was used by 447 women in 2010, and each received individual case managers who assisted with the self-sufficiency goals of the women, according to the 2010 annual report. These goals ranged from mental, spiritual and physical health recovery to drug treatment and relapse prevention.
Robin Offutt, a Luther Place 2011 graduate, now lives in her own home in Northeast. She she used all the help N Street had to offer to get her life back.
“I was into everything,” she said.
At N Street, “you do have a sense that you are worth something,” said Barbra Parker, a team leader for the Wellness Center receptionists and renowned crochet teacher at the center. “To lose everything and to come here and to realize you can do something positive, in the meantime, [you] don’t have to wallow in self-pity.”
Twenty one beds are available on N Street for women with mental illnesses and chronic homelessness, an additional 21 rented beds for women in recovery programs looking for full time work and 21 rented beds within a therapeutic community for women with co-occurring mental health/addiction histories, said Cecil.
“Every one of us here brings something different to the community. This place is really a wellness center, I get to teach other people, it’s fantastic. I’m waiting for housing, but in the meantime, I can do this,” Parker said.