Homelessness in Las Vegas, seen from the perspective of a Norwegian
My name is Annika, and I am a volunteer at the Samaritan house in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Currently I’m studying at the United World college in Montezuma, but primarily, I live in Norway. I moved here in august 2017 to attend the World College, and since then I have been going to the shelter with a group of other people from my school, every week.
Considering the background I come from, I was not very familiar with homelessness before coming here. In Norway there is only a small group of people without homes, and they are mostly people with expired resident permits or asylum seekers. In other words, they are mostly people who, unfortunately, never really were a part of the Norwegian society. However, through conversations I have had at the shelter over the last months, I’ve come to learn that this is not the case many places here in the US, since it is not unusual to be a part of the society but then fall on the outside after a while.
Although I was aware that the US was, and still is, struggling with a lot of homelessness, I soon got to see and hear for myself how easy it is to go from being a self- sufficient citizen, to end up without a home. All it takes is bad luck. Over the months I have been here, I’ve had the chance to actually talk to some of these people who, for a variety of reasons, have lost their homes. The people I’ve talked to are hardworking, inspiring, creative and kind. One Wednesday night at the Samaritan House I had a long conversation with two ladies who were concerned with the environmental changes, another Wednesday I got to read self- written poetry a man had brought with him, as well as talk to another man about his earlier life in which he travelled the world. These people showed me how much alike we are, sharing the same interests, discussion topics, taste in food, and so on. The main thing that separates me from them, is the fact that I have a home (two, to be honest) and lots of opportunities provided for me. Why? Because I’ve been lucky so far in life, growing up in a country where there is a safety net to catch me if I ever fall, whereas in a place where all it takes is an accident and a hospital bill or simply some bad choices, to end up on the street for good. Social mobility is great, but not when all it takes is a little push on the social ladder for people to fall and never be able to hang on to it or climb again.
Therefore, being at the Samaritan house has taught me to first of all appreciate my privilege, but also to think about others who does not have the same opportunities. It is important to remember that we are all the same, some more lucky than others, and to consequently not create an “us” and “them” situation that will lead to distancing ourselves even more from the common problem of homelessness around the US. I acknowledge that I still have a lot to understand, and that there is a limit to what each person, including myself, can do to help the situation, but quite frankly I believe that it all start by seeing each other. It starts with saying “hello” to each other, talking to one another, offering help, so that we from there on can create a feeling of “us”, as a united people. If you see someone walking the cold streets of Las Vegas on a winter night, offer to give them a ride to where they are headed. If you meet someone who hasn’t eaten all day, offer to share your food or buy them something on your way to Walmart. Simply offer your company if you’ve got some time to chat. We might not be able to solve all of the US’s issues, but we can at least start with our own local community here around Las Vegas, New Mexico- Because one thing is for sure; nobody should ever have to experience not having a home.
Finally, I have to give credit to all the dedicated people at the Samaritan House who volunteer and show up every week to make the shelter a safe place where everyone is welcome and taken care of. You are taking the first step in the right direction, so that the rest of us can take the next one.
-Annika from Norway