Two homeless D.C. residents refuted stereotypes and presented their stories of misfortune and recovery in a candid talk before about a dozen students Monday night.
The two Washington residents who spent several years sleeping on the streets spoke about drug addictions and begging for food. The speakers, 55-year-old Frederic Savoy and 46-year-old Renee Lucas, talked about the importance of breaking down prejudices against the homeless.
“A common stereotype is that the homeless are lazy,” said Meredith Stewart, a coordinator for the National Coalition for the Homeless. She refuted the claim, noting that 20 to 40 percent of the homeless are employed for minimum wage, making it hard to support themselves.
She also said about 40 percent of homeless people include families with children and that 40 percent are involved with the armed services.
Stewart headed the homelessness awareness panel, hosted by the Office for Community Service, to give students knowledge about the several homeless people GW encounter on the streets around campus daily.
Savoy said he grew up in D.C. living with his mom and aunt, until they died within a week of each other, leaving him to live with his uncle. He said his uncle died soon after, and that his illiteracy left him unable to find a job.
Taxes on the house became overwhelming and Savoy started looking to sell, he said.
He then moved to a rented house for a while, but had no housing, family or money. He ended up sleeping in Lafayette Park and panhandling for money and food.
Even while homeless, Savoy got a job but couldn’t earn anything above minimum wage because he couldn’t read.
Savoy is now literate and works as a receptionist and speaker for the National Coalition for the Homeless, while living in a church-based shelter.
While Savoy was a single man down on his luck, Lucas had to support a child on top of her own problems.
A girl who never knew her parents, Lucas moved from home to home and school to school until she was 17 years old and had a child of her own. She said she did her best to care for herself and her baby, but started drinking when she turned 21.
She then sent her son to live with her family.
After she stopped paying rent for her apartment, she got evicted and was out on the streets, where she developed a crack-cocaine addiction.
Panhandling, working and stealing became Lucas’ means to support her habits.
But after waking up one day covered in snow, she decided to stop using. She entered a 28-day “detox” program, but ended up slipping back into her old habits.
Lucas said a close call with a near-rape helped her finally clean up her act.
Despite fitting the “lazy bum” stereotype, Lucas said her situation was a cry for help.
Both Savoy and Lucas said they worked hard to get off the streets.
Lucas said she has been alcohol- and drug-free for five years and resumed contact with her son.
Although she now shares an apartment, Lucas said she is still homeless.
“I’m part of the homeless you don’t see . if you’re over 21 and your name is not on the lease, you are considered homeless,” Lucas said.
Besides the panel speakers, organizers showed the film “Faces of the Homeless,” which shows images of people from multiple backgrounds and various ages along with statements like “Down and out but not forgotten” and “Poverty is slavery.”
The songs in the background contained statements like “Spare the time, spare a dime,” “Help the homeless” and “Saw a man break down today.”
But attendees said they are unsure of how those living on the streets can get out of their situations.
“There isn’t much to help you if you’re homeless,” freshman Tripi Oka said.
This article appeared in the November 14, 2002 issue of the Hatchet.