Tamara Lucas works at the South Bend Center for the Homeless where she is an adult coaching specialist. For those experiencing homelessness, food, shelter, and other resources are just one part of what they need. Tamara offers counseling to women who experience homelessness to help them see their value and give them hope.
I always tell them, ‘Hey, you don’t have to do anything for me to love you. You’re just valuable because who you are.’ And I remember that everybody is worthy of respect. Everybody has a story, and everybody’s story is valuable.
(Meet Tamara, adult services coach in South Bend, Indiana.)
Tamara: I was always taking home animals that had no homes. And so as a teenager, I would go down into the streets and seek out those individuals who had no home or who were suffering with severe mental illness. My dad would just always say, “Be careful, because I know you love this kind of work.” But it never stifled it.
(Tamara greets a client in the hallway.)
Attending to the needs of another individual — you know, trying to help somebody who needs a warm place to stay while it’s snowing outside, or just listening to somebody who’s having a hard time. If that individual is just coming in hungry and it’s dinner time, we get them to the cafeteria so they can get something to eat. We also seek to find out: “Do you have any hygiene products? Do you have clothes?” And then we have somebody who gets linen for them and sets them up in their little space with a bed. But all in all, we try to make them feel as comfortable as possible.
(Tamara moves through the different areas of the center for the homeless.)
We don’t have to give people all the money — we don’t have to do all of that. Yes, those resources are necessary. A lot of the times, all it takes is just to listen, and to hear somebody. And to let them know, “I see you you. I see you and I hear you.” That means a lot.
Working in this job keeps you humble, right, because you realize homelessness can happen to anybody. There are definitely lots of misconceptions about individuals who experience homelessness, and I think one of the big ones is that they have to have this certain look. That’s not true, let me just say. We see lots of people who lost their jobs, and who — because they lost their jobs — it was a domino effect, and they lost their homes. They may not have a big family. They may have strained relationships with family members for whatever reason. So when they find themselves in a predicament, they don’t have those family members to turn to.
I think a huge misconception is that most individuals who are homeless are on drugs, and that’s not true. Untreated mental health illnesses also contribute — it’s also another contributing factor. Poor health leads to unemployment because they can’t maintain their job — or high medical bills — then they lose their housing and then they end up without a home.
I know we have lost individuals in the past to hypothermia. Some of them will go behind the back of buildings, but where the cold air could kind of be blocked — some will sleep there. Some individuals will just sleep in doorways and stuff like that, and they’ll wear layers and layers of clothing.
Can you imagine sleeping outside?
I’ve heard them say, “I don’t think that I matter. I don’t think that I’m worth it. I don’t think I’m valuable.” And I always remind them, “Yes, you are. And it’s going to be a journey, but one day you will realize that.”
I always tell them, “Hey, you don’t have to do anything for me to love you. You’re just valuable because who you are.” And I remember that everybody is worthy of respect. Everybody has a story, and everybody’s story is valuable.
(Tamara responds to a question about how people can respond when they meet someone experiencing homelessness.)
Sometimes I may tell them, “Hey you know, we have the homeless shelter down the street where you can go, you can get a warm meal and stuff like that.” Sometimes some people may say, “You know what, I’m gonna go back.” You may circle around, go and buy a meal, and come back and give them. You may circle around, come back, get a pair of socks or something, and give them — or a coat. Those are the ways I would suggest.