Dialogue teaches literature to homeless

Fifteen students, two professors and six homeless men and women sat in a circle discussing author Martin Amis’s short story “The Immortals,” Tuesday morning at Western Presbyterian Church on 24th Street and Virginia Avenue.

One homeless man said he relates to the immortal character’s need for companionship and how hard it must be for him to live forever alone, watching the world pass him by.

The five-week-old literature class, called Miriam’s Dialogue, is the brainchild of GW graduate students Marina Iosse and Wendy Rubin, who host the class every Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. GW professors Aimee Weinstein and Amy Nelson teach the classes

“I’ve never done anything like this,” Iosse said. “I’m really glad we put in the work. It gives me an adrenaline rush to last all day.”

The program shares a room with Miriam’s Kitchen, which serves free
breakfast to homeless people from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. each morning.

Karen Krantweiss, Hillel program director, said the class levels the playing field, giving GW students an opportunity to see homeless people in a new way, and to see how intelligent they are.

Eugene, a 50-year-old homeless man who participates in the class, said
he enjoys reading to the group, which grows each week.

“I like the class because to read to a group makes me more secure … (and) to know that my mind is still functioning properly,” Eugene said. “It’s important to read and to understand.”

Sitting in the class, Eugene said he is “impressed by the relationship between human beings.”

Rubin and Iosse got the idea for the class from a newspaper article
about a Notre Dame professor who held similar classes for the homeless on
the campus. They started the class through a grant from Hillel.

Hillel was recently recognized by the Tzedek Foundation, a Jewish organization that supports and funds community service and outreach programs. Iosse and Rubin are two of Hillel’s seven Tzedek fellows.

Eugene said he likes the class because one can “re-have what you read” by discussing it in class.

GW students who take part in Miriam’s Dialogue said the class opens their minds to how much they underestimate homeless people.

“It hits me how bright these people are,” Krantweiss said. “It’s just about luck, where you’ll end up in life.”

David, another homeless man who participates in the class, said the class “fosters an exchange of ideas.”

Rubin said GW students and Miriam’s students get to know what each other’s interests are.

“This interaction with people, and getting to know them is what the program is all about,” Rubin said. “This has been a rewarding experience for everyone involved.”

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