Asa Daniels, Campus Carrier
While COVID-19 has caused many changes, homelessness has remained a problem. However, Berry Bonner Scholars continue to serve the Rome community, volunteering at the Davies Homeless Shelters, or The Ruth and Naomi House.
The Bonner Scholars is a community-based scholarship, with 80 students currently in the program. Scholars typically spend 10 hours a week volunteering for a total of 180 a year, but due to COVID-19 the total time needed to volunteer is down to 100, about eight hours per week, according to junior Bonner Scholar Juan Valencia.
The Davies Homeless Shelters currently houses 16 men and the Ruth and Naomi House houses 12 women, 4 of whom have children. The shelters are run by Executive Director Devon Smyth. She guides the shelters with its three principles.
“Everyone has sacred worth, everyone has a restorative journey, and everyone is to be met with a welcome community,” Smyth said. “When we think about how we’re engaging with anyone, whether it be our guests, a donor, or a volunteer, all of those things matter.”
The Shelters’ main goal is to provide a transitional period for their guests. These guests can be trying to find a new home, escaping abusive relationships or overcoming an addiction.
“We work with each of our guests on a case plan and we transition them from homelessness to stability,” Smyth said.
The Shelters employ caseworkers to help the guests with housing applications, balancing finances and other issues in their lives, according to Valencia. The Bonner Scholars help caseworkers and assist with everyday tasks at the shelters. Senior Bonner Scholar Fabien Cummings often helps make dinner at the shelter. Much of the food is donated from the community.
During COVID-19, The Shelters have implemented the use of mask wearing for all Bonner Scholars, as well as wiping down surfaces on an hourly basis.
“We are responsible to the Berry administration as well because we promised we would protect students who participate with us,” Smyth said.
Bonner Scholars are one of the few campus organizations that are still allowed to go out into to the Rome community. There are 12 volunteering at the shelters this semester, according to Michael Zirkel, coordinator of the Bonner Scholars program.
Within the Ruth and Naomi House, Valencia believes the COVID-19 guidelines have created a stronger sense of community with the women.
“I’ve noticed that a lot of them are reminding each other and keeping each other accountable,” Valencia said. “This is, for now, their home and the people that live in the house, whether they like each other not, [are] their family. So, they do try to keep each other safe.”
When COVID-19 first hit in March, The Shelters suffered a major loss in volunteers.
“That was a huge gap for us,” Smyth said. “We rely on Berry engaging with us to help run the programs that we have.”
However, The Shelters have been fortunate with help from others in the Rome community.
“We’ve not had to worry about meals yet,” Smyth said. “We’ve not been without food. I’ve not lost a ton of sleep about paying my staff, or having to lay people off, or worried about keeping the lights on. Generosity has been extraordinary.”
For Valencia, during his time at The Shelters he has learned a lot beyond just helping the guests at the houses.
“I’ve kind of learned a little bit about like at least a political aspect of it,” Valencia said. “A lot of times … Rome under records the amount of homelessness we have, which takes money away from foundations like [the] Davies Shelter[s].”
Valencia has also learned a lot in communicating between guests on how to deescalate issues and to communicate with others. Cummings has also learned a lot in communication, something he plans to bring with him into nursing.
“A big part of what we have to do as healthcare providers is, we’re meeting people in one of their most vulnerable states and we have to be understanding but also, reiterating that we still have a job to do and we have the person’s best interest in mind,” Cummings said.
Smyth also finds important value in the work student volunteers do at the shelters.
“If you’re a college student and you engage with a volunteer opportunity and you do it for a couple of years, you understand the issues of homelessness, beyond just the person who’s homeless,” Smyth said. “You understand the individual needs, but you also understand the issues that lead to homelessness, you understand the economy of it. I think that is extremely important. Volunteers leave with a greater sense of the world around them than just a book on it.”
To provide help or contact the Davies Shelters, visit their website at https://daviesshelter.com/.