Before moving to Tucson for college, I lived in a tiny town fondly voted the most boring in Washington state. I lived just far enough outside of Seattle that I wasn’t really aware of its homelessness problem while growing up. However, homelessness was an issue that I couldn’t avoid in Tucson.
After growing too familiar with the faces I passed every day in downtown Tucson, I decided to learn more about the issue and spent three nights in a women’s homeless shelter for a class project. I have never been more unprepared for something in my life.
As a journalist, I struggled to get the women to consent to having their photos taken and being interviewed, and as a person, I was introduced to a whole different world of mental illness and addiction that I’d only learned about within the safety of a classroom. I had to calm down a drunk, belligerent homeless woman before she got kicked out of the shelter and would have to spend the night on the streets, and I watched pounds of food get sucked down the garbage disposal because of laws preventing the shelter from feeding the homeless women leftovers. I learned that rape of homeless women is so prevalent, it is almost a staple in their lives. I saw the director of the shelter cry because she could not do more to help these women that came nightly for a respite from their lives begging and wandering the streets. I photographed, I videotaped, and I wrote, and I became invested in the lives of these women who had formed their own community in the tiny shelter, every spare inch filled with cots.
As I lay on my own cot the first night formulating ideas for ledes and shots, kept awake by the snores of women finally able rest safely, I felt like I had stumbled upon something big. Here was a story, and a story that I cared about. I went on to write a profile on the founder of the shelter, featuring several of the homeless women, and I created a multimedia piece that I selfpublished to YouTube. After my nights in the shelter and hours editing my video and writing, I felt like I had contributed something meaningful and powerful to journalism.
However, even though I felt these pieces are the best story I’ve done, it’s also been my worst, because nothing changed. My article and video had no impact on the homelessness issue in Tucson, and nothing is more discouraging than feeling like something you’ve put hours into means nothing. I appreciated the experience of learning about homelessness from the perspective of a woman in a shelter, but I wish that I could have done more to help them.