Posts Tagged ‘The Homeless Voice’

By: Ashley Crane

Day one- 9/4/10
“Seizing Control in a Bloodless Coup.”


One iced Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte later, and my nerves were growing by the second. I was driving southbound on Interstate 95 to meet 17 other student journalists from all over the country. We all had one thing in common; we could not wait to spend our Labor Day weekend in a homeless shelter. We were getting ready to take over an issue of the largest homeless newspaper in the United States, The Homeless Voice, and we would have less than 48 hours to do so. As I pulled up to the Ramada Inn on Hollywood blvd., perpetual excitement mixes with nerves and utter curiosity creating a mind boggling array of emotion.

Most of the team of people that I would be spending my next 48 hours with had already arrived. As the rest shortly filed in and chose there new spots around the table, the group warmed up by playing a game to break the ice. Besides these unshakable feelings that I might potentially screw up this once in a lifetime opportunity, the over all vibe in the room was unexplainable. There was a feeling of freedom and individuality as well as this unique sense of unity among strangers.

Among the three advisors sitting comfortably on a table in the front of the room, was Florida Atlantic University’s former student newspaper adviser, Michael Koretzky. He gave a quick informational session explaining what we should expect as well as some history behind The Homeless Voice and The COSAC foundation (Shelter that we would soon be eating, working, and pretty much living in for the next 48 hours).

The privately owned shelter was opened and operated by Sean Cononie in 1997. Cononie was once a police officer, but had a long history with the homeless. When he had an accident on the job, he sued and took the money to open up COSAC. Unlike government-ran shelters in the area, COSAC accepts nearly anyone (with the exception of sex offenders). Most of the residents at COSAC work by selling or occasionally writing for The Homeless Voice. The shelter was explained as “rustic” and it kept many stories within its walls, including: deaths, a delivery in an elevator, Mersa outbreaks (We were advised not to use the bathrooms),     fire, robbery and overdoses (just to name a few).

I remember Koretzky explaining our mission as “seizing control [of the news] in a bloodless coup.” As Koretzky spoke, I can remember thinking that I haven’t felt this alive and a part of something in a long time (this feeling was nothing compared to what was soon to come).

The team headed towards COSAC shelter for dinner and tours. When we arrived, reality finally setting in. We were guests for the night, not journalists. We were advised to keep our equipment, pens, and note pads at the hotel for the first night. A photojournalist should never be without her camera, so I made sure it was tucked into my small backpack that I brought along.

While in the line for dinner I had my first encounter with John, a guest at the shelter who had just recently lost his leg. He was angry that the cafeteria was so full (due to our arrival) because if the chef couldn’t see him, no one would bring him a dinner plate. While trying to wave down the chef for him, I didn’t realize what an impact this one man would later make on me.

After John had happily received his dinner plate, there was a tight grip around my right arm. I instantly swung around in surprise to see Koretzky. He knew I brought my camera, and there was an ambulance discharging resident Lynn Williams, who had just been checked out of the hospital for erectile vomiting. While the rest of the team finished their plates, me and FGCU writer, Veronica Vela, documented the event. This wouldn’t be the last the two of us would miss dinner plans for the sake of good journalism.

I was a part of the last tour group, which included 12 other people. As all 13 of us filed into a 4 person, 14-year-old elevator, an ounce of claustrophobia began to set in. Tension grew when we started hearing noises and a light flashed. With every part of our bodies touching a different stranger from every angle, 12 minutes seemed like 2 hours. When finally off of the elevator, we started our tour in room 221, which was designed as a place to keep all of the psychopathic, or “socially nonfunctional residents.” The walls and floors were completely bare, besides some unidentifiable build-up and dirt. The smell could not be explained and cut through your nose worse than the clouds of cigarette smoke and body odor that filled a lot of the shelter. We talked briefly with a resident before departing to the remainder of the rooms. It was truly amazing the difference between every room in the shelter, some looked like souped-up college dormitories with flat screen TV’s.

We settled in to our make-shift news room for the first time and spent the next two hours going over story ideas and scheduling the long day ahead of us. My mission: to shoot four of the most important projects of the day with lots of personal projects in between. I hoped to leave with some good experiences and work for my portfolio, but I never could have imagined how much I would get out of these 48 hours.

The team was encouraged to go out for a little night on the town so that we could get to know one another in a more comfortable environment. To my delight, the crew all seemed to be in favor of a nearby hookah bar that was walking distance from the hotel. We spent the evening snacking on fresh humus and drinks and chatted about everything from travel adventures to journalistic ambitions.

Day Two- 9/5/10

“It‘s not what happens to you, it‘s how you react to it.”

7:30 am
The alarm had been going off for a few minutes when me and my roommate, Karla Bowsher, editor and chief of the University Press at FAU, decided it was time to make those hardest steps of the morning by finally rolling out of bed. We went down stairs to grab some coffee and a quick bite before I made it to my now familiar seat in the back of Koretzky’s truck.

A few of the students wanted to spend their day on the streets rather than in the shelter and three in specific actually wanted to write about the experience of homelessness. The only way to get those kinds of stories is to put yourself in the shoes of someone else.
Hannah Mobarekeh and Jessica Gillespie from UCF were doing two opposing stories. Mobarekeh would be dressing in the vending uniform worn by the residents and selling the papers, while Gillespie would be dirtied-up and costumed holding a make shift sign that asked for help. The two would write about there experience standing on busy Hollywood medians. As I laid under the strong heat in the back of a the pick up truck, I crashed into one wall, and the next with every U-turn. Sweat dripping down my skin, now grey from cigarette smoke and dirt, I concentrated on trying to steady a 300mm, manual flash shooting at a dragged shutter speed. It was at that moment I knew for the first time exactly what I wanted: to be a photojournalist. And I would settle for nothing less.

4:30 pm
The ambulance pulled up while me and three other girls who volunteered for the mission introduced ourselves to the rest of the outreach team. Yvette  and George Deckles (licensed metal health counselor and registered nurse) go on these missions regularly to provide water, blankets, coffee, medical care and cigarettes. The central aim of these projects however, is to get the homeless off of the streets and offer them a new opportunity. They regularly invite the people to come back to the shelter with them for a bed and a warm meal, but the homeless usually turn down the invitation.

About an hour late for our mandatory dinner (and many more hours past print deadlines), we pranced in to an old dinner on Hollywood to meet with the rest of the team. Around 8:30 on the way back to the newsroom, there he was, in the same spot I had left him at earlier that morning. John sat with his wheel chair facing the night’s traffic alone. I sat down on the dirty curb beside him as we enjoyed the silence together. My heart sank earlier that day when he had asked where I had been for the other interviews and I tried to make it a point every chance I got throughout the day to say hello, and tell him what I was doing next. Normally he pretended not to care so much, but now, as we sat in silence, he actually looked at me and asked me how my day had gone. I could hardly speak. He wanted to here about what I had done too. As we chatted for a while I couldn’t shake this guilty feeling of leaving him.

We finally made it back to the news room, and the last of us remained there writing, editing, and designing until 4:30 am. Still covered with dirt and smoke, completely sleep and food deprived, my mind rushed back and fourth over the events taking place that day. Twenty-something hours seemed like a month. While most probably couldn’t wait to snap back into reality, I admittedly had a hard time with it. Being thrown back into the world as I’ve known it for years seemed like a culture shock after those 48 hours. I can’t wait till the next time.