Helping the Homeless
When people think of research, they often think of it as something done exclusively by scientists in white lab coats while bent over test tubes.
Having completed an in-depth research project in preparation for her creative writing thesis, English senior Jessica Lowe knows that isn’t the case.
“Research is about anything that you're interested in,” she said. “All creative writers have to do research before they write a story in order for it to be realistic.”
Lowe found her research opportunity as part of her internship with Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless (CAAH), a local non-profit organization of diverse agencies providing housing and support services for homeless persons in the area. During her internship, Jessica assisted in surveying nearly 800 homeless individuals over a three-day period.
“It was really exciting for me,” said the Shreveport native, who currently serves as a youth intern at University United Methodist. “We set up tables in different shelters along with a couple other organizations to just get out the manpower to find as many people as we could to fill out the survey.”
The survey, required by Federal Emergency Management Agency, will also be used as part of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a national movement of communities working together to find permanent homes for 100,000 of the country’s most vulnerable homeless individuals and families by July 2013.
“I feel like a lot of people have this idea that people who are homeless want to be homeless,” Lowe said. “There’s this idea that if they really didn’t want to be on the streets, they would work harder and then be off the streets. But it’s not that simple as that.”
An aspiring pastor, Lowe first became interested in homelessness after studying poverty in Louisiana during her first semester in the Honors College Louisiana Service and Leadership Program (LASAL).
“We have so many homeless and people at or below the poverty line in the South and it really struck me that there were so many people in Louisiana and the U.S. who didn’t have food or shelter,” she said. “And people still had stereotypical ideas about who the homeless were or what being homeless consisted of.”
During her internship with CAAH, Lowe also had the chance to lead a group therapy session at a transitional shelter for previously homeless individuals who struggled with either drug or alcohol abuse problems.
“It was the first time for them to share how they ended up there and what path their lives were on before something happened to change them,” she said. “It was really inspiring, because they have all made a commitment to change and to get their lives back on the right track.”
Lowe’s Honors Thesis Project is a collection of five short stories, each written from the point of view of a different homeless person. One of the short stories from Lowe’s thesis was recently named a finalist in Country Roads magazine's annual Short Story Contest — a testament to the strength of her prose. She said her research and her internship experiences have allowed her to better understand and write about the perspectives of homeless individuals.
“I felt like [doing research] was the only way I could be true to the subject I was writing about — if I didn't go out and talk to people who were homeless … I wouldn't be able to accurately depict their struggles without sounding presumptuous and judgmental,” she said.
Inspired by short stories by Andre Dubus and by the movie “Love Actually,” the protagonists of Lowe’s stories are all connected to one another — each narrator ends up taking shelter in the same abandoned building.
“I think that’s so representative of life in general — we are all connected even if we don’t know it,” she said. “I wanted to use that idea in my stories to show how one person’s actions can affect others.”
Lowe wrote her thesis under the direction of Professor Bill Damastes and Neil Walsh, a former English instructor at LSU who is currently a professor at the University of New Orleans.
With her thesis, Lowe hopes to help readers from a middle class background gain a different perspective about those who either live in poverty or are homeless.
“We’re taught that in America you can get whatever you want as long as you’re willing to work for it,” she said. “But what I learned in LASAL is that when you’re raised in poverty, your perspective on things is completely different. Education isn’t a priority. You never really have this idea that the future is a blank page for you to write whatever you want on it.”
Story by Elizabeth Clausen, LSU Honors College
For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-8831.