Homeless and Journalist

Taken from: Family Budgeting Blog UK. August 27, 2012


We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted,unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.
We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.

Mother Teresa

What a day!
Today I met with Aaron, who is a case worker for the mental health branch of Mission Services London (aka Streetscape). I was a little lost as to which entrance to go to, but one of the clients courteously showed me where to go. He smelled of cigarettes and despair, but he was really nice to me. Aaron took me to visit the courthouse where one of his clients would plea guilty for… well a variety of things. Aaron tells me this guy was a pimp in his glory days, but has since developed a terrible addiction to every drug imaginable. He’s pleading guilty for some assault charges and he’s been in jail. In fact he wants to stay in jail because he can get treatment for his HIV. Long story short, Aaron and I waited in the courthouse for 2.5 hours, the guy never showed. Aaron tells me this is not unusual, but it is disheartening.

I had a great conversation with Aaron. What a cool guy. When I first spoke to him on the phone, I got the sense that he felt dumped on because he didn’t sound very enthusiastic. But I opened up to him a little and he opened up completely. He even told me about his own brief encounter with homelessness and hopelessness.

I’ve realized that my interview style is very fly-on-the-wall and sometimes I get caught up in the conversations we have and I go off topic. But Sometimes the lives of the people I interview are so much more interesting than my topic, I can’t help but hear them out. And it also gives me a sense of whether I can go to them again for another issue

After that we visited two clients that he’s been keeping and eye on. One guy, who has more of an addiction issue, and has never been homeless. Aaron tells me that his case is so unusual because this guy has all the supports he needs (in terms of family support, Aaron described them as “a wholesome family”). The client even completed Highschool and a College diploma. The other client was a girl, who had been homeless on and off for several years. She’s been with the mission long before Aaron began working for Streetscape, and at first she was very difficult to work with. In talking to her I learned that her rock bottom was her own HIV scare a year ago. She knew she had to get out as many of her friends started to die (really heavy), but her own scare with death is what finally did it for her. She definitely has a glimmer of hope in her eyes, and in speaking to her I can sense that she’s a very positive person, but Aaron tells me that she’s still at risk of relapse. She has yet to be sober for more than a month. I wish I could have interviewed her at her house, but her grandmother was home and not comfortable with the interview.

Anyway, it was a great day overall. The interview, hands down, is my favourite part of journalism. Aaron tells me the girl I interviewed, never opened up to anyone like that before. And I take that as a compliment on my own skills, but it also shines light on the purpose of the interview. Sometimes people like this second client need a venue to not only express themselves. Not just for their own expression, but the hope that someone out there might be hearing exactly what they need to hear. It gives them purpose. And hope. This is my kind of journalism, idealistic though it may be.

And now the big question: Can I be a compassionate person to my subjects and produce good journalism at the same time? This is the tightrope I will be walking in the next few months. Wish me luck.


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