Community Connections For Students And People Living In Shelters

Talking Sidewalks, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2008

Talking Sidewalks is a literary magazine and support group collectively created by people who are living in shelters or outdoors.

PURPOSE

When I learned that the Chapel Hill men’s homeless shelter encouraged everyone, including students like myself, to join their community meals, I began sharing meals and forming friendships with shelter residents. I learned that many residents felt a deep disconnect with the town of Chapel Hill, one another, and their families. I too was craving more connection and community.

PROCESS

Together with several residents of the shelter, some folks who lived in camps, and other students, we formed a small group of people interested in building connection and addressing some of the misperceptions about homelessness. Our first idea was to create a magazine to share the stories of people who were experiencing homelessness. We put a submissions box in the shelter, and it sat empty for weeks. We realized that building community would require much more presence.

OUTCOME

We began to meet weekly inside the men’s shelter and, later, the women’s shelter and a public location. Each meeting was part writing workshop, part group therapy. We built friendships, a biannual literary magazine called “Talking Sidewalks,” a community garden, a documentary about the intersection between homelessness, addiction, and mental illness, and what’s now a financial services nonprofit called the Community Empowerment Fund. All of it began in our weekly meetings. We supported one another through life transitions, reuniting with families, recovering from addiction, finding stable employment and housing, hospitalizations, being jailed, loss, and grief.

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