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Showing Our Humanity: Housing the Homeless in St. Pete

During winter intersession, I participated in an immersion trip to St. Petersburg. The trip was led by Associate Dean of Faculty Jennifer Cavenaugh and Assistant Director of Student Success Jerrid Kalakay. Our immersion was a service-based learning experience focused on homelessness.

On the first day, we arrived in Reeves Lodge at 9 a.m. to discuss the books we had read in preparation for the class. We also took part in emotional exploration activities that helped us to connect prior to our experience. Then we headed to St. Petersburg to start working.

On the second and third days, we helped build homes at Habitat for Humanity. We arrived on site at 8 a.m., where three homes were being built. My group taped paper on the floors so that the painters would not mess them up. We also painted the exterior of one of the homes, took inventory, and unloaded and installed furniture.

The homes were much nicer than I had ever imagined. It is great that people in tough financial situations are able to earn these affordable homes. One of the contractors explained the organization to us, stating that home recipients are not just given the houses for free. They must apply, receive approval, work 350 hours for the organization, and pay for their home through an interest-free, 30-year mortgage. Habitat for Humanity is a worthwhile organization and working with the organization was a rewarding experience.

It was especially significant after working with families and meeting with people who are currently or were formerly homeless at the Orlando Coalition for the Homeless. It was so eye-opening to talk to them and hear their stories. They were just regular people who, due to various circumstances, had ended up homeless. It really scared me to think that all people are truly vulnerable and it is a real possibility that anyone could end up homeless. Some of these people even had college educations.

I always thought that my college education would provide me with enough financial security to at least support myself. I really wanted to help the people we met. They were so kind and positive and it was upsetting to leave some of them with no place to spend the night. It made me feel incredibly lucky to be in the situation I am currently in and reminded me not to take that for granted.

At the end of our experience, we created a group action plan to help combat homelessness. Our experience had a profound effect on all of us. After the immersion, I felt that I had a much clearer understanding of homelessness. Hopefully, with the help of the Rollins community, we will be able to carry out our action plan and help change the lives of those in need.


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