Faces of Homelessness Panel Held at Elon University

Multimedia Reporting by Erin Valentine

Nearly 700,000 Americans are homeless. 1.2 million children in America are without a home.

Michael Stoops, of the National Coalition for the Homeless, gave these facts at the ‘Faces of Homelessness’ panel this evening in Whitley Auditorium at Elon University.

Three panelists spoke on their past narratives of homelessness.

Dae'nah and Ressurrection Graves listen to Harrison speak about his 7 years of being homeless, Photo by Erin Valentine

Dae’jah and Ressurrection Graves listen to Harrison speak about his 7 years of being homeless,
Photo by Erin Valentine

John Harrison, Jr. was the first to speak on his history of being without a home. Harrison came from a supportive family and, after graduating high school, decided he could take care of himself and get a job and begin his life. His lost his first job after his job position was no longer seen as vital.

After Harrison lost his job, his house burned down. However, he stayed positive.

“I can always get another job,” Harrison said.

Harrison got a job delivering packages until his car broke down and he could no longer complete his routes.

“It became crystal clear that I was homeless when that car got towed away,” Harrison said.

Homeless for seven years, Harrison spent most of that time on the streets.

“It seemed that I had turned invisible,” Harrison explained. “It’s easy to get lost out there.”

However, Harrison was able to find kindness in strangers.

“It was this guy walking by and he saw me and kind of stopped and said, ‘Hey, it gets better.’ And he told me about this church where I could go and get warm,” Harrison said. “He helped by not just walking by. He stopped.”

Infographic by Erin Valentine

Infographic by Erin Valentine

Another speaker on the panel was 17-year-old Dea’jah Graves. Graves had come home after school one day when she was 13 and was told by her mother to pack her belongings because they had to “Go and go now.”

She and her mother were able to keep their car, but would sometimes have to stay two to three hours away from her school.

“In my brain, I was responsible for getting us out of homelessness,” Graves said.

She became depressed as her homelessness continued year after year. She began looking for outlets for her energy and frustrations.

Graves joined the drama club at her church and the softball team once she was in 9th grade.

However, she did not share with her classmates or teachers that she stayed in shelters and her mother’s car.

“It was not fun. It was not cool,” Harrison said. “It did teach me a huge lesson.”

Graves’s mother found a stable job and housing before she went into her sophomore year of high school.

Graves, now a senior, is looking to her future and has even applied to Elon University.

Ressurrection Graves speaks about her journey from small business owner to homelessness, Photo by Erin Valentine

Ressurrection Graves speaks about her journey from small business owner to homelessness,
Photo by Erin Valentine

The final speaker, who surprised the audience at the end of the panel’s discussion as Dea’jah’s mother, was Ressurrection Graves.

Ressurrection Graves was a small business entrepreneur who was the proud owner of a massage center. She was a single mother with a house with a two-car garage and two dogs.

“I was in a place where I felt secure and that things were really taking off,” Ressurrection Graves said.

Yet, it would not last. Living client to client and having one too many bad months of business, Graves had to close her doors. She had no one in her family to call to help her with money so her house also went into foreclosure.

“That was the difficult part – that I had to ask people for help,” Ressurrection Graves said.

She realized that her plight may have been influenced by her past. Ressurrection Graves had been sexually abused as a child and was emotionally scarred. She even stated the fact that 97% of homeless mothers have experienced sexual abuse or rape.

“My response was anger. I was very angry,” Ressurection Graves explained.

Ressurrection Graves has since been uncomfortable with people assuming her past once they found out she had been sexually abused.

“If someone is going to be telling my story, it’s going to be me telling my story,” Ressurrection Graves said.

Graves now works to educate people about the true nature and complexity of homelessness.

“Assume nothing. Assume absolutely nothing,” Ressurrection Graves said. “When you go to talk to a homeless person and you assume nothing, you open a door to learn their story.”

Dea’jah and Ressurrection are going to speak to Congress later this week. The panel was held in honor of Campus Kitchen’s National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

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