A First Hand Account of Interning at VSH

Posted on May 18, 2010

I have asked Heather Williams, VSH’s spring semester PR intern, to write this week’s blog. Thanks, Alice

A few months ago I became the PR intern here at VSH. When I started my position, I quickly realized I knew less than I thought I knew about the crisis of homelessness. I knew that I had compassion for people I had seen on the streets since I started my college career at VCU. I knew from my friends working on their social work degrees that many people experiencing homelessness had mental health and/or addiction problems. I knew that there had to be a solution and that I wanted to help. VSH has allowed me to do just that.

My job at VSH has included writing the “Did You Know” blogs, gathering and writing Stories of Hope and putting together the newsletter. In the past three months, I have learned more about homelessness than I ever thought I could.

I must admit that my very favorite part of my job was interviewing VSH clients who were previously homeless for the Stories of Hope. Hearing their life experiences and world views was a rare opportunity and one which I will never, ever forget. It was an unbelievable feeling to know that, through my interpretation and writing, the public would hear a story that otherwise may have never been told.

The first VSH client I interviewed was a woman a year older than me who had five children. As I asked her about her life, three of her children played in the living room. She had been homeless for years, walking and living on the streets of Richmond with her children. I will never forget the point in the interview when tears streamed down her face and then mine as well. I could barely tell my Public Relations class about the interview without choking up. No one else had an internship like mine.

In order to collect Stories of Hope, I organized and conducted two interview sessions at New Clay House. I interviewed between five and seven clients during a two hour time period. At the end of one of the sessions, it began to storm severely outside. As I am extremely frightened by thunderstorms, and this was a bad one, I could not push myself to walk to my car in the rain and lightening.

One of the clients, Terry, stood outside of New Clay House with me for more than thirty minutes while I waited for the storm to pass. We talked the entire time. He talked about his son and grandchildren living in Colorado. He asked me about my upcoming graduation and wedding. He then walked me to my car claiming that because of his height, lightening would strike him before me. We laughed the whole twenty feet we walked to my car.

Terry is one of many VSH clients I will never forget. I can’t quite express how moved I have been by the number of lives VSH has touched and changed forever. I consider myself to be one of them.

By mid-May, my internship at VSH will come to an end. I will no longer be required to write “Did You Know” or Story of Hope blog entries. Instead I will use what I do now know and my experience with clients to continue to make the argument for supportive housing. Instead of just having compassion for the homeless, I feel like I am now armed with much more useful facts and experience. Every time I hear someone complain about their “tax payer dollars” going towards people who “just choose not to work”, I will know what to tell them … the truth and the solution.

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