Three times a week, I attend the breakfast program “Our Daily Bread” at Capitol Hill United Methodist Church where housed and unhoused neighbors join together to start their morning. As a part of Everyone Home DC’s Street Outreach team, my goal is to build and maintain relationships with our chronically homeless neighbors. Maybe that’s not a common thing to do for a German high school graduate. How did I get here?
My name is Max, I am 19 years old, and I am from Darmstadt, Germany. I am doing a voluntary service year with a German organization called Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP) that places volunteers in nonprofit organizations in Europe, Israel, and the United States. When founded in 1958, ARSP called upon the Germans to seek forgiveness and to practice reconciliation for the crimes Germany had committed during the reign of the National Socialists.
Many ARSP volunteers work in communities which have been persecuted by the National Socialists. Among those communities are survivors of the NS-persecution and their descendants, Jewish organizations, people with disabilities, and also people experiencing homelessness. About 10.000 people experiencing homelessness whom the Nazis called “asocial” were forcibly put in concentration camps.
Together with 23 other volunteers, I arrived in the US in September. Being here for the first time, I had a lot of new experiences: peanut butter Oreos became my favorite snack, I endured DC’s humidity for the first time, and I learned to live with American bread (which Germans love to complain about).
I work part-time for Everyone Home DC and part-time for another organization. Being on the Street Outreach team gave me the opportunity to get to know many great people and to learn a lot about homelessness. By building relationships with many friendly and welcoming people, I was taught to overcome my prejudices and to be open to everyone despite the burdens one might carry.
I learned that homelessness isn’t something that defines you as a person, but that it is a traumatic experience people are going through.
I also got to know the struggles people experiencing homelessness are going through and I saw what problems keep people from thriving in their communities. It is shocking for me that so many people are living in poverty in a city as wealthy as Washington, D.C. I was also surprised to find out how disproportionately ethnic minorities are affected by homelessness.
As I am wrapping up my service, I look back on a year full of great memories and intense experiences. I am grateful to Everyone Home DC for giving me the opportunity to work here for a year. I am sad to leave the organization, my co-workers, and the people I’ve met through my work as I am going back to Germany to start college there.