Infiltrating a Government-Run Homeless Shelter

Video by Mike Rice.

Photo by Michele Boyet

Loan Le is a sophomore at Fairfield University in Connecticut. During WWFF11, she decided to try to get into a government-run homeless shelter.

Coming here, I thought I’d be the last to figure out what the hell I wanted to do. I’m not usually good with picking topics, because I need the topic to be exciting and interesting. Sometimes that doesn’t happen in a college newspaper. Looking back, I realize that while I do my best, there are plenty of articles when there is no passion in my writing.

Writers, photographers and designers gathered in the newsroom Saturday night to throw pitches, and I began to panic, wondering if I’d ever find an idea to write.

I pitched an idea based on something I heard. Our tour guide, Roger Wickham, said, “I think we’re the only shelter here who doesn’t refuse anyone.”

When I heard this, I wanted the claim to be true. I developed a quick attachment to the community-centered atmosphere of COSAC shelter.  I liked the loyalty that residents had to Sean Cononie, the founder.

But how could prove the claim to be true? I dismissed my idea, thinking I wouldn’t have time to collect sources, to write up a lead, and to set up the framework of the story. Now that I think about it, I shouldn’t waste my time on this.

Michael Koretzky, director of WWFF, kept asking everyone, “So, are you married to the piece?”

Well, I guess I did marry my piece—or we eloped.

Suddenly, I found myself in front of my mirror, putting on mascara and purposely smearing it to perfect a tearful look. I walked into a government-owned shelter, expecting to be given the cold shoulder. Instead, I ended up on a mat, along with other sleeping homeless people. And I was there until I couldn’t do it anymore.

I spent three hours at the shelter, yet I’ve been so affected by it. Then, I imagine, how homeless people must feel.

You’ll read about my experience in the piece, but there are only so many words in which I can describe it. I have it in my head, and now, with this as evidence, I have the story in print. And I hope, possibly, that when readers come upon this piece, that they will remember it too.

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