Alternative Winter Break Three Questions – Rachel Powell
By Sharon Schoenfeld
This is my fourth year participating in alternative winter break, my third year in Los Angeles. I have met many PEOPLE. I put an emphasis on the word people because if I have learned anything I have learned that the homeless community consist of people just like you and me that have just experience a different series of life events.
Monday we focused on the homeless community, a community I continue to be fascinated by. I am the kind of person that is never afraid to ask questions. I asked three questions that really changed and effected my experience on Monday. The first question was to a LAPD police officer. I asked him if there was separate training on how to respond to people when working on skid row, a 54 block homeless community in LA. Last year on AWB we visited skid row and ever since then it has been very important to me to keep up on the news going on there. I remember seeing a news story about a police officer who shot a man living on skid row this past year. When I asked he officer if there was extra training when working in areas like skid row, I had the hope that extra training would mean it was not necessary shoot someone or there would be other ways to protect than using a gun. To my disappointment I learned that there is no other option when someone’s life is in danger. I had never communicated with a police officer before and had such a meaningful dialogue. No police officer is a police officer for the purpose of killing people. It is the last situation they want to be in. It is there job to protect and sometimes, unfortunately, the only way to do this is with a gun sometimes. Though I still believe there should be more training when working in areas like skid row, I have an understanding of why what the officer did is necessary in certain situations.
The second question I asked was to an individual, I never got his name, so let’s call him Alex. I handed Alex a sandwich and asked him if he would be so kind just to talk to me for a little bit. However, this little bit turned into a good 45 minutes. In brief, he is a 60 year old man who had a college degree and worked for most of his life, but two years ago he CHOSE to take a different path. He CHOSE to stop working and wait for his social security which he would receive when he turned 62. He is extremely in touch with god, something I have noticed with a good amount of the homeless community. I asked him why he would choose to live this lifestyle. He told me that he didn’t want to work anymore and thought he earned his time off. It was that simple. I am still unsure as to how I feel about this answer but I will continue to think about it for quite a while.
The last question I asked was to an individual with a puddle of vomit next to hear body. I sat down next to her. I asked her if she was ok. She told me she has lost her self control. She explained to me that she has a very large appetite and can’t save her money to get healthy food so as soon as she gets $5 from someone she spends it on McDonald’s. This is a huge issue I have noticed within this community. $5 is not enough to keep someone healthy. I asked her if she had worked before and she told me her backpack was stolen with her ID along with other stuff and it was now too hard for her to get a job.
I keep referring to homeless people as a homeless community. Why? Because the most important thing I have gained from my experiences on AWB is these people are really a community of people. They live a different lifestyle but are still a community. Skid row is a community. Down town LA is a community. Although they may be a struggling community, they are still a community and no community in our country or anywhere should be ignored or forgotten.
~ Rachel Powell is a senior from Springfield, NJ and is the National Social Action Programmer on Young Judaea’s National Teen Board. She will be attending Young Judaea’s Year Course in the fall of 2017 after spending the summer at camp.