Amy and the true essence of humanity
September 6, 2016
By Sarafina Robinson, guest writer
Memories become elusive with the passing of time. The clouding of memories occurs inevitably, yet some recollections remain etched in our minds for a lifetime. The moments we remember enable us to retell stories—allowing others the chance to peer into our past experiences. Amy could recall the time her mother sat her down to share stories about dinners she hosted for neighbors in their community. One neighbor would prepare a huge pot of rice while another brought over a homemade side-dish for everyone to share. Even when there were modest amounts of food, the warmth of community was felt by everyone there. These stories made an indelible impression on Amy. To Amy, her mother’s unadulterated effort to convene neighbors for dinner embodied the true essence of humanity. “Everyone would come together and eat,” Amy recalls. “Today, we have lost what the meaning of humanity is. We all need each other, and it is so hard to have people realize that in the long-run, but we all need each other.”
Amy has recognized the importance of fostering community and depending on others for quite some time. Upon moving to Miami, Florida from Connecticut in 2006, she unexpectedly lost her job in the midst of her mother and daughter experiencing debilitating health problems. She did not have the luxury of job flexibility, which would have provided her time off to take care of her family and adjust to a new city. Amy did what she could—balancing work with caretaking—for quite some time; however, she ultimately lost that job. “I went from having everything to having nothing,” she explained. With no consistent income and a limited social support network in South Florida, a downward spiral ensued and she and her family were led to seek housing assistance.
They moved into emergency shelter in Homestead, Florida for six months. Afterwards, Amy and her family moved into transitional housing where they resided for two years. This supportive housing model undoubtedly provided stability during an otherwise uncertain time in their lives.
Amy’s experience, wrought primarily by economic uncertainty, is something all too common for others who face periodic episodes of homelessness. According to statistics shared by Camillus House, an agency who provides a system of care for those experiencing homelessness, the majority of those experiencing homelessness in Miami-Dade County (83%) are homeless for a short stint and only need a rental subsidy to assist toward their journey of breaking the cycle of homelessness. Resources like transitional housing provide this type of support by linking families to employment services and community resources while simultaneously subsidizing their housing costs to ensure only thirty-percent of their income is spent on housing.
“Everyone has a story,” she explained. “You can be a blue collar banker, make $55,000 a year and then be out of a job the next year.” Amy realizes that it is easy for people to stigmatize homelessness—often not taking the invisible family or recently unemployed into consideration. This, in particular, has motivated her to educate others in her community about the state of homelessness while supporting those who have faced obstacles similar to those she experienced when transitioning to a new life in South Florida.
Today, Amy facilitates peer support groups for women and children residing in transitional housing. She has a career working with the formerly incarcerated to offer rehabilitative and community support services, and she serves on three nonprofit Boards specially focused on supporting affordable housing and healthy living initiatives in low-income communities. She said, “If I’ve changed one life, I know I have done a lot. If I have guided one person through their life, encouraged them, and have been a stepping stone…I consider that rewarding.”
Amy regularly attends meetings and keeps abreast of policy changes that impact the lives of those facing housing instability. Part of her success in advocating for others is directly linked to her relentless quest to remain knowledgeable about the resources and policies shaping the community in which she and her clients live. She has become a voice for the voiceless and someone others can count on because of her lived experience and passion for restoring the sense of humanity she feels has been lost. Amy, in her own way, provides the type of nurturance her mom offered through those communal dinners several years ago. She continues her mother’s legacy by working on behalf of those facing homelessness and providing safe spaces for people to share their own stories. When she meets a homeless person on the streets of Miami, she takes the time to get to know them. She often asks if they mind eating with her. If they agree, she finds her way to a nearby Publix to pick up two deli sandwiches—one for her and another for the person she has met. She goes back to sit next to the person, share lunch, and lend a listening ear.
After lending a listening ear, she will often mention, “No matter the obstacles you face in life, there is always another day.” She also reminds herself that helping others in need provides an opportunity for her to continuing moving forward while never forgetting the road she has travelled along the way.
Note: Guest writer Sarafina Robinson is an alumna of the Public Allies Miami program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts from Furman University and recently completed a Masters of Arts in Community Psychology. She currently works in the nonprofit sector in New Haven, CT.