Today, ACC welcomed Timothy Scalona, a rising junior at University of Massachusetts Amherst. He may look like your average college student but he had a heartbreaking, uncensored - not to mention, also very personal - and raw story to share. For a third of his life, his homeless family of nine have moved back and forth between eastern and western Massachusetts. Tim spent six years of his life in hotels, friends’ houses, motels, and state-funded homeless shelters.
After going around the circle and doing introductions along with a mini icebreaker activity (answering “Why do you think people become housing insecure?”), Tim shared his story of “Growing Up & Being Homeless.” He started by introducing the concept of ‘loss,’ offering a new perspective that while most people usually think of the physical destruction, people who have experienced homelessness think of the invisible destruction. Tim remarks, “The loss is inflicted in silence. Victims who are marginalized by the larger society cannot share their stories for fear of losing… everything.”
As Tim talked through a timeline of events in his life, narrating every obstacle he and his family faced, he also often mentioned the support systems, and the lack thereof, that they desperately needed and unfortunately was inadequate. He expressed frustration in state services for not making it easy for people to get out of the homelessness; it, in Tim’s words, is a “perpetual cycle of [homelessness] exacerbated” that people of authority and privilege keep the homeless trapped in such cycle as it is profitable for them.
The hope, motivation, and strength in midst of his struggle came from his academic endeavors and education. As a high schooler, going to school was the single thing that gave him stability. As an undergraduate student, higher education at UMass became his sanctuary from other things (although later realizing, this too came with many new problems). Tim explains that for his peers, education was a priority but was not an emergency need; however, for Tim, education was the key to moving forward.
ACC created a safe space where the big elephant in the room - homelessness - was addressed. Throughout the conversation, there were countless moments of affirmation of the struggles that Tim and others have battled and still continue to fight against to this very day. There was not a dry eye in the house. Everyone walked away with a greater understanding of the experience of being homeless and the bigger institutional and societal problems we, as community members of Amherst, still face today.
I speak for ACC and all others in attendance when I thank Tim for putting his trust in us, being vulnerable in front of us, and having the courage to share his story. Tim makes the point that it’s tough enough being homeless and poor while constantly battling the uncertain, but the stigma associated with it is brutally traumatizing.
Power, classism, and institutional oppression are just a handful of problems that our society faces today. All three are also inclusive in the infinite list of causes of homelessness. Homelessness is a problem that will not go away soon and yet is horribly stigmatized; to break such stigma, Hwei-Ling reminded us that it is more respectful to say, "people who experience homelessness" rather than the "homeless people.” Tim adds that it’s the “inability for the larger society to accept vulnerability, ignoring the fact that it could be anyone at any time.” Just some food for thought.
ACC hosts free incubator workshop on Wednesdays from 10 am to 11:30 am. Free lunch for all. Come check us out for Relaxing and Rejuvenating with Yoga, Wed. June 20 at ACC office. Please come and bring a friend!
By: Clara Seo