HRC’s Kristen Paquette caught up with Rose Clervil of the National Center on Family Homelessness.
KP: How you would describe your work?
RC: I have worked for many years in women’s shelters, trying to help women and families get back on their feet. These women have experienced domestic violence, sexual abuse, mental illness, trauma, and substance abuse. I try to support women to become successful parents, to educate them and help them overcome barriers.
I feel that this is my purpose in life, it’s my passion. I just hope to make even a small difference. I work now as a Project Coordinator at the National Center on Family Homelessness, and still work part-time at a local shelter.
KP: And you’re a mom yourself. How has your work affected your son?
RC: Well, my son Moira is 16 years old now. When he was younger, sometimes he would get upset if I was on call and had to leave him at night to deal with a problem at the shelter. But he knew that I could always come home if he really needed me.
KP: That sounds tough. How would you explain your job to him?
RC: I would try to tell him that this is my purpose in life, to help these women. I would also tell him that he was very fortunate to have a place to sleep at night, and that there were lots of kids who had to sleep at shelters. I would ask him to think about how he would feel if he were in their shoes.
KP: How did you explain homelessness to him?
RC: I brought him with me to the shelter when he was about six years old, so he was exposed to the realities of homelessness at an early age. It was important for him to understand that these kids are not any different than he is. He made some friends at the shelter when he was very young, and he still keeps in contact with them today.
Moira would always ask why some kids didn’t get to have homes. I explained to him that it was not because of anything bad that they or their parents had done. I would talk with him about how when people live in poverty, there are so many factors that can lead them to becoming homeless. I wanted him to know the truth when he heard others talking about people experiencing homelessness in stereotypical ways.
KP: How do you think this kind of exposure affected him growing up?
RC: In a positive way. When he tells kids at school what I do for work, some of them will share that they have spent time in a homeless shelter. That’s a hard thing for a kid to talk about. He knows that it’s important to help others. He volunteers through our church at elderly homes and soup kitchens.
KP: What do you recommend to other homeless service providers who are parents?
RC: I encourage people to teach their kids about the realities of homelessness and poverty. Kids may see the world as unfair, but if they understand what’s going on, they might be inspired to do something about it.