Sleeping Outside for Homeless Prevention

Fort Collins, Colorado is a community that has been named among the best places to live in the United States. Its awards have included #4 healthiest city in the U.S. and the second best place for job seekers in Colorado. Though our community prospers with the university atmosphere, the thriving microbrewery culture, and physically active residents, there has still been a 36.5% increase in homelessness since 2000.

Last night I slept outside in Fort Collins as part of an annual initiative to raise awareness for homelessness in Larimer County, and to empower youth to take action. I learned so much about the homelessness in my back yard, and about different organizations that are working to end homelessness and to support those living in poverty throughout the region.

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Our make-shift box homes for the night

As a chaperone for the event, I watched leaders in homeless prevention host a series of educational activities to help the high school students learn about homelessness in Larimer County. From talking about statistics in the community, to engaging with a calculator created by New York Times about cutting deficit and the challenging issues that face our politicians today, we spent hours learning about and empathizing with our neighbors in need.

Following these engaging activities we watched a documentary film called Storied Streets, which follows several people living without a home throughout the U.S. and discusses the circumstances that led them to living without a home. Each of the individuals in the film had experienced circumstances that could happen to any of us, like unexpected medial bills and paying for education. According to the film, the main causes of homelessness include; 1. Lack of affordable housing, 2. Lack of a livable wage, 3. Medical issues/conditions, 4. Domestic violence, 5. Mental illness. (For more statistics and facts like this click here).

The film discusses stereotypes about the homeless in the U.S., and the dehumanization that has led to violent abuse. One example of the abuse was a series of Youtube videos called “Bum Fights,” where the film makers would pay homeless individuals to commit dangerous acts including lighting themselves on fire, and fighting. This was considered entertaining because many in our society don’t see the homeless as humans–they are considered the “other.” Homeless are commonly stereotyped as having something (a disease or illness, for example) that those who have a home don’t, or missing something that those who have homes have, which in tern makes them unworthy to fit into our society. “Bum Fights” showed the film makers urinating on, throwing glass bottles at, and abusing the homeless in other senseless acts.

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Gathering outside between 12:00am-1:00am

Following the screening of Storied Streets, our group headed outside to the box tents we had put together earlier that afternoon. We stayed by the fires for a few hours until about 2:00a.m. then headed to bed. Sleeping outside helped bring to light quite a few things that might seem small, but are details about living without a home I might not have realized otherwise. When we went to sleep, I had to take off my boots, two of my jackets, my scarf, and hat, just to get in my box. I left my jackets and belongings outside of my box because there wasn’t room inside. When I woke up this morning after 4 hours of sleep, my jackets and boots had filled with dew and were frozen stiff. Unlike those who experience homelessness on a daily basis, I had a building to walk into, but many who live without a home day in and day out have to wait for the sun to come up to defrost their clothing. Covering my face from the cold, tossing and turning from having my legs folded into my chest in my small box, and the dew soaking into my box, I started to feel what hundreds of people experience every night.

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Frost collecting on my box and my belongings at 6:00 a.m.

I noticed I was hungry when I woke up, not having had eaten since 7:00p.m. the night before. If I were homeless, I know that I wouldn’t control when, where, or what I eat. The lack of sleep and slight hunger made me think to myself… If I were homeless, could I interview for a job today? Could I find childcare for my kids today? Could I do this again tonight?

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Closer view of the frost on my jackets

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Frost gathering on my belongings

My night sleeping outside was an engaging and eye opening experience. Talking with the high school students who, full of energy and enthusiasm, discussed engaging with the national, state, and local government to create change in our community and nation. We discussed ways that we can help individuals who are experiencing homelessness today. We discussed humanizing homelessness and bringing this issue to light.

Storied Streets mentioned that there are four times as many animal shelters in the U.S. as there are homeless shelters, and this November 2014 one of the high profile issues in Larimer county was funding for a new animal shelter (those of you who know me, also know I am not speaking against animal shelters). I do think it is interesting to note that we have so much compassion for animals, but not the same level of compassion to our neighbors who have been sleeping on the street because they are unable to find affordable housing.

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Gathering around fires for warmth.

A man who has featured in Storied Streets spoke about his experience facing homelessness. He had lived on the street for 18 months, and during that time there was a three-month span where no one had called him by his name… He hadn’t heard his name in three months…

I think his story represents the work we have yet to do to treat our neighbors with respect, honor, and dignity, and to help those who are facing a time of difficulty.

To donate to an organization that is working to end homelessness in Larimer county and who helped put on this event, visit Homeless Prevention Initiative online (Click here to donate) or Homeless Gear online (Click here to donate).

Community Cafe Feature: SAME Cafe

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I recently started volunteering for a non-profit cafe in Fort Collins called FoCo Cafe, which stands for Feeding Our Community Ourselves. FoCo Cafe follows the community cafe model which integrates pay as you are able model and often times locally … Continue reading

Blog Feature: A Mighty Girl

One of my favorite websites for inspirational tid-bits is “A Mighty Girl.” The site was started to empower and inspire young girls with books, stories, and other resources that represent a positive message for equality. According to the site’s description, “[A Mighty Girl] was founded on the belief that all children should have the opportunity to read books and watch movies that offer positive messages about girls and honor their diverse capabilities.” The site features clothing, books, movies, music, and countless other resources with empowering messages for girls and women of all ages. My favorite part of the site is the daily summary of an empowering woman figure throughout history.

For Labor Day, A Mighty Girl put out a list of books about women and work labor throughout history. This section features a unique section on Rosie the Riveter, which includes an excellent book for young readers about women working on the home front during WWII and a Rosie the Riveter poster, puzzle, action figure, and t-shirts. I had a connection to Rosie the Riveter this Labor Day weekend at an annual bike race in Fort Collins called Tour de Fat.  At the festival thousands of Coloradoans dress up in costumes and ride through the streets of the home of New Belgium Brewing company to celebrate the company, and donate to area non-profit organizations. This year I dressed up as Rosie the Riveter as my own little Mighty Girl mission.

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Annie dressed up as Rosie the Riveter for Tour de Fat over Labor Day weekend

I encourage all my followers to visit A Mighty Girl, particularly if you have young children (girls AND boys), to learn more about empowering resources and stories. Find A Mighty Girl on the web at http://www.amightygirl.com/, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/amightygirl on Pinterest at  http://pinterest.com/amightygirl/, on Twitter at https://twitter.com/amightygirl, or on Tumblr at http://amightygirl.tumblr.com/.

In the words of the Might Girl staff, “Girls do not have to be relegated to the role of sidekick or damsel in distress; they can be the leaders, the heroes, the champions that save the day, find the cure, and go on the adventure. It is our hope that these high-quality children’s products will help a new generation of girls to grow and pursue whatever dreams they choose — to truly be Mighty Girls!”

Empowerment for Sustainability

If you are not already following “Humans of New York,” my recommendation is to start today. The blog was started by a guy named Brandon in the summer of 2010. Brandon left his job in finance in New York City and started creating a unique and comprehensive “catalogue”of the inhabitants of New York City. His original mission was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers and document their stories on a map. Along the way he began to ask his subjects questions about their lives along with documenting their stories through photography. He would include short quotes from them with their pictures. The result is an incredible social media site that gives glimpses into the trials and triumphs of everyday people like you and me. It is incredible the result that comes from asking your neighbor a few questions about themselves. The blog now has over nine million followers and in the words of Brandon, gives “worldwide audience with daily glimpses into the lives of strangers on the streets of New York City.” Check out Humans of New York on the blog website and Facebook.

The blog has now teamed up with the United Nations to launch the Humans of New York World Tour. From August-September 2014 the website will be documenting experiences of people around the world. Check out the Website to learn about unique stories from places like Kampala, Uganda.

I recently came across one HONY entry that struck me, and I think hits home for the development world.

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“We don’t like pictures like this. It is not good to deduce an entire country to the image of a person reaching out for food. It is not good for people to see us like this, and it is not good for us to see ourselves like this. This gives us no dignity. We don’t want to be shown as a country of people waiting for someone to bring us food. Congo has an incredible amount of farmland. An incredible amount of resources. Yes, we have a lot of problems. But food is not what we are reaching for. We need investment. We need the means to develop ourselves.”

(Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo) View original post here.

There are different and often conflicting models in the development world, but the majority of successful models seem to cross at the all-important idea of empowerment. I was deconstructing this notion to bring it to the most bare-boned structure possible, and here is what I have come up with.

A service-oriented life is fulfilling, that is saying that one who donate their time to others receives a “feel good” sensation. Volunteerism, and particularly international volunteerism is often criticized for this fact– that is gives the volunteer (often a person from a Western society) a good feeling for a few days/weeks/months, then they can return to their 50-gallons-of-fresh-water-a-day lifestyle. At its core, I do not think this piece of volunteerism deserves criticism. In my opinion (and the opinion of numerous psychological studies), the Western mind has some room for happiness and inner peace. As Simon Anholt speaks about in his TED talk, “Which Country Does the Most Good for the World?” many industrialized nations are very internally-focused and thus lack (as he calls it), the “good factor.” The countries that have the highest rank of “good” on the “The Good Country Index” are those that think externally before they think internally, meaning they put the well-being of other countries on par with that of their own. Countries such as Ireland, Sweden, and Kenya, are among the top ranked, if you are interested. Simon discusses that the countries who have higher “good” also have higher psychological well-being.

So if thinking externally, and volunteering, or living a service-oriented life is not bad, then where does the criticism of this lifestyle or philanthropic/ non-profit organizations come from? This is what I love about this HONY entry. Service goes awry when the recipient of the service does not have the opportunity to receive the same level of self-fulfillment as the volunteer/ non-profit employee/ donator/ giver receives. This man from the Democratic Republic of Congo is expressing that the people of his country need to feel empowered, they need to feel dignified, and respected.

In the development world we often talk about programmatic sustainability and empowerment– two things that coincide closely. Particularly in programs that focus on the well-being of humans, the program must have a model that will make the partners feel empowered, thus the program will be sustainable. As the person who is featured in this photo says, “Yes, [Congo has] a lot of problems. But food is not what we are reaching for. We need investment. We need the means to develop ourselves.”

A Passion for Energy Inititiatives

Every aspect of my life involves multitasking. I have been constantly juggling multiple activities for my entire life–so why should my senior year at Colorado State University be any different? My current “tasks” include interning for a local electric vehicle advocacy organization, researching my Capstone thesis “The Impacts of Renewable Energy at Fossil Ridge High School,” trying to keep my 2.5 year old puppy satisfied with sufficient W.A.L.K.s, and the newest addition to the chaos– applying for the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship!

I’ve been multitasking for many years, so why should my blogging be any different? I wrote this blog for my internship with Drive Electric Northern Colorado and it was posted in October 2013. By re-blogging my own blog, I hope to do two things. 1.) Show my lovely followers what I have been doing in the last few months. 2.) Tell you about the passion for energy initiatives, and particularly renewable energy that I have developed over the past year.

Northern Colorado Bonds as an EV Community

October 2, 2013     |    Originally Published, Drive Electric Northern Colorado

One of the best parts about being involved in the EV community is the ability to collaborate and take action in a visible and tangible way, against problems that we are all concerned about- like improving our national security by decreasing our dependence on foreign oil, and protecting the environment by reducing tailpipe emissions.

On September 30, 2013 DENC and the communities of Fort Collins and Loveland celebrated National Plug In Day at the Museum of Discovery in Fort Collins. I stood on top of the Discovery Museum with the event photographer and looked down at a parking lot filled with the EV models I have been talking about for the last five months working as an intern with Drive Electric Northern Colorado.  From the top of the building I could see the Northern Colorado EV owners smiling and proud to be wearing their black DENC T-Shirts.

National Plug In Day in Fort Collins was an event to gather the EV community to demonstrate the progress we have made to get EVs on the road. With 33 electric vehicles gathered to take photos, the event was a powerful collaboration between local EV owners, EV advocates, and DENC partners who have transferred their fleets to electric- including the cities of Fort Collins and Loveland, Morning Fresh Dairy, and the Fort Collins Downtown Business Association.

As an intern with DENC, I have helped to plan various DENC events, along with my other activities of talking with local businesses about transitioning to electric, and blogging about new EV owners in Northern Colorado. When I started as an intern with Drive Electric Northern Colorado I knew very little about electric cars, but I was eager to learn. I found that after just a few weeks of working with DENC I had learned so much about EVs that that they quickly became an integral part of both my personal and professional life. My friends and family now get annoyed fairly quickly on car rides with be, because I point out every EV model on the road as we drive.

Part of my “job” as an intern is to occasionally drive a Nissan Leaf. I love the ability to bypass the gas station and spend the extra time advocating for EVs. I also love the opportunity to talk to people about EVs at random places and times, like in the parking lot of the grocery store. It’s pretty evident that while working with EVs started as my job, over the past five months they have slowly turned into my passion.

National Plug In Day and other DENC events act as a way to not only bring our Northern Colorado EV family closer together, but also to draw in more individuals to join the EV community. The DENC events allow me to meet each EV owner and to hear their stories about going electric. We then bond over our love of the torque on the Leaf or the Volt, or the latest news about Tesla or the soon-to-be released electric BMWs.  Electric Vehicles have intensified the sense of community in Northern Colorado, and have given yet another way for Coloradoans to take action in our world today.

Written by Annie Freyschlag

Intern with Drive Electric Northern Colorado

Globalizing September 11th

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ReBlogged from Cristao408. I think this is a wonderful view of one way our global society can unite in our pain and progress forward, together.

Originally posted on christao408:

2011-09-11 Remembrance

In remembrance of the 9-11-2001 attacks, I humbly suggest that we need to move beyond thinking of ourselves in terms of our nationality, our religion, or our race. We need to start thinking of ourselves as human beings. Only then will peace truly be possible. Easier to say than to do, but let’s use today as an opportunity to move towards that goal.

 

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Hey! You’ve Got Something in Your Eye…

My godson, Owen Daniel was born on August 23rd, just as I was stepping off the plane into South Korea. I held him for the first time when he was about six hours old, as soon as I arrived at the hospital on the Yongson US Army Base.

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99.9% of the reason I came to South Korea

Cultural standards for eye contact vary across the world. In the United States, we are quite forward with our mannerisms according to other cultures. In many countries I have visited including Spain, Dominican republic, Greece, and others, intense eye contact can signify other emotions that can offend or cause unwanted problems. I think the exception for this is when you are looking into the eyes of a newborn baby or a small child. When I hold my godson and look into his eyes, he looks right back at me and seemingly into my soul. There are no cultural barriers, there are no differences, just two beings and a whole lot of love.

Yesterday I went adventuring to the Changdeokgung Palace and Gyeongbokgung Palace. I walked through the palaces constructed in 1405 and 1395, and felt the history of each dynasty that lived through those walls. I drank cold plum tea sweetened with honey, from the modern cafe that has been recently built in the courtyard of Changdeokgung Palace. I analyzed the intricate designs that colored the outside of the royal buildings and I imagined the king being carried around within the walls of the palaces- the king was seen as an extension of the heavens, so he never walked directly on the ground (Jiwoo Song, 2013).

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Annie outside of Changdeokgung Palace

Later, as I toured the Secret Garden behind the palace, I learned of all the stories of the king who built the castle. In front of his library were three doors- one large part in the middle and two small doors on the side. The middle door was for the King, and the side doors were for his servants. But above the door is a Korean inscription that describes the relationship between a fish and water because the king understood that his relationship with his servants was similar- a fish cannot live but a few moments without water, and likewise the king could not live without his servants.*

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Secret Garden in Changdeokgung Palace.

Also in the Secret Garden of Changdeokgung Palace were a few beautiful ponds, but one in particular that stuck in my mind. This pond was built to symbolize the relationship between the universe and the earth. The water represented all that is the universe, all-welcoming and all-encompassing. The little patch of land in the center of the pond represents the earth.*

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My favorite pond in the Secret Garden behind Changdeokgung Palace.

I wandered with the tour through the Secret Garden for hours, lost in the sounds of the acacias and flowing streams. When I finished the tour I was exhausted, but had somehow rediscovered a sense of optimism for the world we live in. Understanding history and connecting it with the present has a way of doing that- reconfiguring the mind to see the light and life of this planet. That’s another reason I love to travel, it allows me to literally and figuratively touch history.

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Annie being a happy girl sitting in Changdeokgung Palace.

When I finished with my historical ramblings, I hopped on the subway (that’s putting it lightly, more like “got lost six or seven times on the subway”) and eventually arrived back at the home of my friends, and the house of my baby godson. After showering to get the yucky subway off my clothing and body, I picked up that little ball of future, light, connection, hope, serenity, and I looked into those eyes that shined with the new life of an eight day-old. It was at that moment that the experience of my day came full circle. I was content to be standing with that baby in my arms and the soles of my feet pressed firmly into the ground, ready to remain a constant in this child’s life. I was ready to relay the experiences of my life to him in the most open and affirming way possible- to allow him to explore this world without fear, but with a critical eye. I hope to be a friend and to show him that he is also mine. But the most important thing I hope to tell him is that the way those eyes view the world in intricately connected with the way he will make an impact on it. I will continue to remind him (as I have already written it in his first book) that I hope for him to see the beauty in this world so he will emphasize that and help it to grow.

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This tree is 1,100 years old and is protected as a national monument in South Korea. It is inside the Changdeokgung palace.

I will tell him with my eyes until I can tell him with my words, that he is the light and the beauty in this world and I can’t wait to see the footprints he makes on this earth.

*Facts from my tour guide at Changdeokgung Palace, I have not confirmed in my own research.

Adventuureee is Out There!

I like adventure. I find that I am able to think most clearly when I am in the middle of a city I don’t know, in a country that is foreign to me, surrounded by people I have never met. Today I found myself standing on the corner of a busy intersection in downtown Seoul having just told my friends to drop me off because the kids were getting fussy and my friends needed to take them home for a nap. So there I was, umbrella in hand and Birkenstocks already soggy, ready for an adventure (it always seems to be raining when I have my best adventures).

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I found a giant leaf and it made me happy.

When I have no plans and no ideas in mind, I usually find the most interesting things- it must have something to do with minimal expectations. I started walking in the opposite direction of the way I knew took me back to where I am staying. I passed a corner restaurant that made dumplings, and I made a mental note to return because it smelled amazing. I kept walking and when it felt right (I always adventure on the basis of impulse) I took a left hand turn down a side-street, made note of my surroundings, and continued on my way. I walked in the front door of teapot shop filled floor to ceiling with teapots of every make and color, and I walked out the side door onto another side street. When I looked right out of the shop I was surprised to find there was an outdoor market, exactly like what I had been wanting to visit while in Korea! Colorful umbrellas sheltered the vendors from the rainy day. Little old Korean men selling socks, fruit, and other things lined the small street, chattering and looking up with curious eyes. We bowed to each other as I walked past.

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Yongmun Market

I bought a few Korean pears, which are my favorite. If you haven’t tried one, it’s like a pear and an apple combined in a juicy explosion of perfection. I continued through the nuts, the spices, the meat, and the fish- ohhh the fish. Dead fish, live fish, flat fish, long fish, puffy fish, shellfish, every single kind of fish. While they were amusing, their smells were not. I still stayed over the amount of time I probably should have for the odor-removing power of my homemade laundry detergent back home.

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Big fish, small fish, long fish, thin fish, live fish, dead fish. All super smelly fish.

When I had my fill of the market I walked out and found a corner restaurant with Gimbap, the Korean version of Sushi. Of course I had to purchase when I learned it was only 1,200 Korean Won (Roughly $1). They rolled it up in tin-foil and I ate it while walking… fast food, anyone?? At this point I was soaking wet but most certainly content, so I half-hardheartedly decided to find my way home.

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Colorful Korean Gimbap in Fast Food Form

Just as soon as I started walking I got distracted again at the possibility of more adventure. I spotted a restaurant where everyone had to take their shoes off at the door. I had just eaten and half of my mind was telling me that I could eat at a similar restaurant later this week, but that would have totally violated my theory of, “If not now, when?”… so I went in.

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Oh, those soggy Birks

I was led over to a table and sat on my mat on the floor. I quickly discovered that no one spoke English there, but after a quick game of charades involving myself, the waitress and the two young Korean women at the table next to me, I placed my order. While I waited I checked out the rest of the room and noticed the diversity in ages of everyone sitting in the small restaurant. There was a young couple in the corner with their eyes glued to their smart phones (that’s not just a US American thing) and a group of little old women chatting and laughing at the table opposite of me. In the corner of the restaurant a 20-something guy sat by himself reading a book on his phone, and of course there were my silly “friends” at the table next to me who left shortly after that, smiling to me as they left the room.

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The Kimchi kept me company

My food came quickly, but not before the manager came over and adjusted the fan so it was directly on me (I must have looked tired and lost). They unloaded seven different bowls of Kimchi, a traditional food of pickled vegetables, and my bowl of noodles. They must have cooked the soup right in that little black bowl because it came out to me still bubbling. The soup was incredible, just the right amount of flavor, salt, heat and substance. I struggled with the noodles in the bowl, they were a clear rice noodle that were very slippery. Once again, I accidentally dropped my metal chopsticks on the table, making a lot of noise in the quiet restaurant, but I had already made “eye-contact friends” with everyone in the room so they just smiled and giggled with me. I scraped the bowl to the very bottom.

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Amazing charades food!

When I finished my food I got up, said “Homsomnidad (thank you)” to the waitress and manager, bowed very low (a sign of respect, especially in the presence of elders) and told them in English how much I loved the food- I think they still got the point. I found my soggy Birkenstocks and set out onto the brick streets, under the dipping trees, looking for the next part of my adventure.