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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

Introducing The Person First Project

03/12/15 01:39 PM | Person First Project | Person First Project

We are excited to share information about an exciting initiative called the Person First Project. The Person First Project gives people who are currently or formerly experiencing homelessness in Washington, DC the chance to share their stories.

From their Facebook page:

According to the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, on any given night there are 7,784 individuals experiencing homelessness in our nation’s capital. The goal of the Person First Project is not to raise money or ask for signatures on a petition. The Person First Project instead uses dialogue in an effort to reduce the barriers that separate people in DC, despite crossing paths every day.

In the end, we have all struggled. The Person First Project aims to connect us – and to make us all feel a bit more human.

A bit about person-first language:

Person-first language is about emphasizing the person before the condition, disability, or life circumstance. Language is a key component in shaping the lens through which we view the world, so it is important to remember that a person is first and foremost an individual with unique interests, abilities, and needs. That is why we choose to say 'a person experiencing homelessness' rather than a 'homeless person,’ because not having a safe and reliable home to live in should not be anyone's defining characteristic.

The dialogue the Person First Project creates is made from portraits and personal stories. Today, we would like to share one of their stories from a man named Scooby, originally posted in January.

"Right now I'm sitting with these bags so that others can be free to walk around. They're mostly full of people's warm things and blankets because we sleep here, on top of Capitol Hill, and it gets really cold. During the night, the wind makes these flags roar and your blanket will be covered in ice when you wake up. Hypothermia is absolutely a real threat.

I put together this ramshackle community so that we can work together to help get out of this situation. If one eats, we all eat, and we all take turns making trips to wash clothes and bathe ourselves. At first there were twenty of us but now we're down to six or seven. The best part about being a part of this group and supporting each other is that I get to see people elevate. Before I leave, I’m going to make sure they all leave. I’ll be the last person you all see out this way." —Scooby


"This guy saw a group of black people sleeping outside and approached us asking for drugs. Well, we don't sell drugs and we don't use drugs so we had no answers for him, but he sat with us anyway. He was a doctor and he was all upset because he takes home $3,500 a month, but that’s only half his salary because the other half goes to student loans. We couldn’t believe it! Any one of use would’ve taken that situation and been happy with it. Hey man – the college career you’re paying for is going to earn you millions! And you’re complaining to us, asking us why we’re out here? Man, you don’t understand.

The biggest problem with this country is isolationism. In DC, the privileged communities encapsulate themselves – they build condos and everything they need so they don't have to blend into the community, and then they move the underprivileged people out so they don't have to intermingle. Afterwards, the privileged people sit together and talk about the exact same things that we underprivileged people talk about. The issue is that since we don’t all sit together to talk, we’re going to each end up with our own separate opinions.

Privileged people might get together, maybe have some coffee and tea and then talk about how to solve our problems, but the truth is that if you haven't been where I've been then you won't understand. It’s the same problem with a lot of service programs that come out here. That’s why I love Capitol Hill Group Ministry and Ebenezers Coffeehouse. They will actually approach us and ask, “Well, what is it that you need?” Because let me tell you, this guy was genuinely upset about his $3,500 a month! And the truth is, we can't understand it and we can't relate because we just don’t intermingle with you all." —Scooby


"I’m that quintessential two paychecks away story. I broke my fibula when I was doing security work, and without my feet I didn’t have a job. Once the money from my savings dried up I didn’t really have a lot of options. I couch surfed for a few months but it eventually got to a point where I didn’t have any other resources. So I came here.

I didn't know my dad well, I didn't even meet him until I was twenty, but he taught me that you cannot build a house on a shaky foundation. If your situation isn't stable, no matter what you build, it is surely going to crumble. Everyone needs housing or a steady spot in order to start building." —Scooby

We are excited to help promote the work of the Person First Project through Threads. We will continue to share the stories of people they meet. Stay tuned for more.

Contact: personfirstproject@gmail.com