As my time as the Homeless Shelter leader from the United World College draws to a close, I began to reflect on the year that I had spent involved with the organisation, and throughout this time a few things stood out to me. One being the importance of the commitment and dedication of volunteers. This is something I had to learn myself as prior to attending UWC-USA, I was the leader of my local Key Club, organising fundraisers, doing beach cleanups and collecting clothing. Despite this prior experience, I had never dealt with homelessness before. As with anywhere, homelessness does exist, but in the Cayman Islands this number is very low and often goes unrecognised. As something that was so new for me, I found it difficult to acclimatise to the pressures associated with leading such a crucial service to our community. Delegating work to other students and ensuring that they were fulfilling their requirements was a part of my role as the Homeless Shelter leader. Despite my lack of experience, I quickly began to understand the magnitude of the problem of homelessness in this country and in Las Vegas, particularly. In interacting with and getting to know guests, I learned the crucial aspect of homelessness that is often misunderstood in communities. The fact that in the United States especially, becoming homeless can happen in the blink of an eye. It does not mean that you were irresponsible or that you abused drugs, which is a common preconception, but it can happen to anyone. Often times we have a saviour complex of “us” helping “them” which can often lead to a feeling of superiority or the sense that we, who have – up to this moment – been lucky enough to be in the situation we are in, are somehow better than those whose circumstances have not worked out in their favour. Therefore it is so important to understand how similar we all are. That despite the personal satisfaction we get from helping others, we must understand how what we do affects those we are trying to help. The connections that I have made with other like-minded volunteers and guests from the shelter helped to strengthen this understanding that is so critical to an organisation such as this.
Im very grateful to have had the opportunity to have worked with the shelter this past year. My participation in the UWC-USA run experiential education programme is what has allowed this so I must commend those who have facilitated and organized such interactions to make this possible. It has certainly been one of the most valuable aspects of my UWC experience.
There is a very committed team of volunteers that works tirelessly to combat homelessness in Las Vegas at the Samaritan House. Since acquiring a new facility, there has been lots of work to revamp the location and make it as comfortable as possible for guests, while working on fundraising and rehousing for guests. This shelter is much needed in Las Vegas and I would like to thank everyone who puts hours of time and effort into keeping it running and continuing to improve the facility.