Often when the topic of aiding the homeless comes up, many turn to the argument that people simply choose to be homeless. They lack work ethic, they’re hooked on drugs or they simply don’t care. It’s ’06 graduate, Erin Feichtinger’s job to shift this mindset.
Feichtinger got her Ph.D. studying urban poverty and holds a position on the Metropolitan Community College Board of Governors, District 2. She also directs advocacy and outreach work at the social service organization Together, Inc.
Just like many others growing up in a suburban area Feichtinger admits, “I grew up not knowing much about this problem [poverty].”
She became interested in urban homelessness and poverty when she attended college in Chicago where “homelessness is a lot more prevalent and visible.” After teaching others about poverty as a history professor at Loyola University Chicago and Elmhurst College, Feichtinger decided, “maybe I should stop just teaching about it and actually go and do something.”
Feichtinger describes social services like Together Inc. as being “any organization that’s running programming to help people get out of poverty.” Together Inc. aids the homeless and impoverished through services such as a food pantry and setting up doctor and mental health appointments.
One of the most important programs Together Inc. does is rapid rehousing. According to Feichtinger, “Rapid rehousing means that the first thing we should do when we find someone who’s homeless is to find housing, because it’s much easier to provide other support services they need.”
As the director of advocacy and outreach, Feichtinger is a “lobbyist for poor people.” She explains, “I have to go talk to elected officials and community members about homelessness and poverty and what we should be doing about it.” Having to advocate for an underprivileged and underrepresented group can be hard. “It’s incredibly frustrating, because you interact with a lot of people who don’t believe the homeless deserve to have a home,” Feichtinger said.
Important officials and community members are often apprehensive to provide more services and funding for the homeless because they assume homelessness is one’s own fault, but Feichtinger believes that homelessness is the cause of the “failures of society as a whole, not failures of the individual.”
Those who are homeless often don’t have access to resources such as aid for addiction, affordable housing, healthcare or even people to look up to or rely on. “This is a complex problem and there are a lot of reasons that people become homeless,” Feichtinger said.
Just because someone becomes homeless doesn’t mean that they’re any less of a person. At the end of the day a homeless person is lacking basic resources. “It shouldn’t matter whose fault it is; the fact of the matter is that we’re all human beings and we’re all deserving of dignity, compassion and respect,” said Feichtinger.
There are many ways to approach solving Omaha’s homelessness problem. According to Feichtinger, the city and state government should “prioritize building affordable housing, expand eligibility for childcare subsidies, and devote a lot more of our city and state resources to support services.”
Feichtinger has simple advice for Marian girls who want to help solve the homelessness crisis. “Be nice to the people that you see on the street,” said Feichtinger. “Smile and acknowledge that they’re human beings.” Homeless individuals are often treated as less than, so even a sign of respect can help.
She also suggests that Marian girls keep up with city news and stay involved. “There’s no reason that Marian students can’t show up at city council, call their mayors or write letters.”