Spotlight: Student raises homelessness awareness in Foggy Bottom

At first glance sophomore Brian Miller, 21, may seem like your typical GW student. Miller, a double major in human services and political science, is often busy with schoolwork and his job waiting tables at a local restaurant. While this does not seem all that unusual, there is something very special about this student. When he is not in the classroom or at his job, Miller dedicates nearly all of his time to combat homelessness in D.C. and educating people about the issue, specifically in the Foggy Bottom community.

It really bothers me that people don’t recognize that homelessness is still a problem within D.C., Miller said. It was a trendy thing in the ’80s to be concerned about, but homelessness is still a huge problem and nothing is being done about it.

Miller said GW should do more to help the less fortunate.

It kills me that GW has so many resourses, so many people, so much money, so much everything, and we’re not doing anything about it, Miller said. We really should be because there’s a lack of services, especially within Foggy Bottom.

Miller interns at Miriam’s Kitchen, a non-profit program founded in 1983 that aids Foggy Bottom’s homeless. Miriam’s Kitchen serves breakfast to about 150 homeless people daily. Miller got involved with the program after visiting GW’s Office of Community Service last year and meeting Community Service Director Amiko Matsumoto, who serves as a member of the board of directors for Miriam’s Kitchen.

Brian is a solid force and has such tremendous assets, Matsumoto said. His work with Miriam’s Kitchen has been fabulous. Brian is proof that one student can really get involved in the community and set an incredible example for other students.

Miller said he spends 10 to 15 hours a week working at Miriam’s Kitchen and many more hours organizing activities and events on his own.

I also do other things like getting people involved with things like Help the Homeless Walk, so I don’t know how many hours it really is, Miller explained. Lately I’ve been doing massive fundraising and contacting numerous people about the walk. I wrote the grant (proposal) for the walk, which was interesting because my boss was out of town at the time and I realized that it was due the next day, so I accidentally got to take care of that.

The walkathon, an annual event sponsored by Fannie Mae, took place Saturday. All proceeds from the event benefit local social service programs that serve the homeless. The Help Homeless Walk was especially important because the money raised is helping the organization buy a house in D.C. where Miriam’s Kitchen plans to start a transitional housing program for its clients, Miller said.

This is a huge undertaking for us because we’re trying to raise half a million dollars to buy this house, Miller said. I know it’ll happen because Fannie Mae is doubling all the money that walkers under 25 years old raise. This is a huge year for us in terms of the walk and it is the perfect timing because we need all the money we can get right now.

Giving back to the community has always an important part of Miller’s life. While in high school in Evanston, Ill., Miller was involved in a student volunteer program called Leader’s Corps. A speaker came to talk to the group about an AmeriCorps program, National Civilian Community Corps, for volunteers ages 18 to 24. NCCC participants serve 10 months at one of the program’s five principal stations around the country, but may also travel around the country serving individual communities.

Miller said he knew almost immediately that he wanted to join the program after graduating from high school.

I thought it sounded great and from there I started researching NCCC, said Miller. I knew I didn’t want to go to college right away because I was tired of being in school and feeling inactive in the world. I really felt like my life wasn’t making an impact and AmeriCorps was an outlet for that.

So while most of his classmates were in their first year of college, Miller traveled around the United States with NCCC helping people in poverty.

We went to rural Pennsylvania and rehabbed houses for low-income people, Miller said. We also did disaster relief in Oklahoma because of the tornadoes that had taken place a couple years ago.

Miller spent most of the year with NCCC in the D.C. area, where he worked for the D.C. Housing Authority and fought forest fires for Northern Virginia’s Prince William County. Miller said his experience with the D.C. Housing Authority convinced him to attend college in D.C.

Originally I wanted to go to Syracuse or a school in southern California, Miller said. Then I came to work in D.C. and I just fell in love with the city.

Miller saw a completely different side of the city than most of the people who decide to attend college in D.C. after visiting – he lived in an apartment, house, describe the neighborhood in Southeast, D.C.

Honestly, the bad reputation that Southeast gets is totally undeserved in my opinion, Miller said. I rode the bus back and forth from Northwest to deep inside Southeast and I never had a problem with anything. I really got a great history lesson of D.C. living there. There are amazing things there like Frederick Douglas’s home and the Anacostia Museum, which is a part of the Smithsonian that specializes in African History. There are countless interesting resources there.

Miller said major differences between living in Southeast and Northwest, where he now lives, include the lower number of minorities outside of Southeast and the fact that people tend to overlook the problem of homelessness in the Foggy Bottom Area.

I live in Dupont Circle now, and it’s completely different because D.C. is predominately black and this is not reflected by the people who live in Northwest, he said. Also D.C. has 10,000 homeless people on any given night, but you don’t see that because one in four or one in five are the people you would see on the street. There’s others who are in shelters, so people in Foggy Bottom don’t understand the extent of the problem.

Miller is trying to educate the GW community about the seriousness of the homelessness problem in D.C.

One in four people in D.C. are below the poverty line, yet people aren’t aware just how much homelessness exists, Miller said. I think people tend to ignore it too. There’s the whole syndrome where people will see someone who’s homeless and say, `Why can’t he just go out and get a job?’

Miller said that he constantly encourages people to become involved with volunteering. He said people usually become interested to find out what they can do to help the community when they hear about his job with Miriam’s Kitchen.

He’s introduced a lot of GW students to community service, Matsumoto said. He’s served as a contact person for people who want to work for Miriam’s Kitchen and has done a lot of recruiting for them. His knowledge has been a great asset. The fact that he came from his NCCC experience and is still so active with community service is just great.

Miller knows that giving back to the community will be always be a part of his life because he believes that it is a personal responsibility that everyone should have.

I think as a fortunate human being you have to do something to give back, Miller said. I don’t like the term `community service’ because it usually is about doing something just so that it makes you feel good about yourself. That’s not what volunteering should be about. It’s about giving something back, and I think that’s an obligation we all have.

After GW, Miller said he wants to attend the Industrial Area’s Foundation in Chicagoa school that specializes in community organizing, and work to help people living in poverty.

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