Putting a New Face on a Difficult Topic

This column in Attraction, by Amelia Blades Steward, visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore or are one of the organizations giving back in unique ways to better our world. She has been a freelance writer in our community for over 20 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.

Sabrina Barger-Turner of Federalsburg has not always been homeless. On March 1, 2020, she and her two school-aged children were unhoused when her landlord opted to not renew her month-to-month lease. With chronically sick children, the outrageous cost of medical expenses had put her finances in shambles. She and her two children found themselves homeless with no resources to fall back on, a failing credit score, and the pandemic raging two weeks later.

On this more-than-three-year journey, Sabrina found the courage and determination to found a nonprofit, Homeless & Human, alongside a growing team of Board Members and volunteers, and work to help others and dispel the assumptions many people make about those who are homeless in our community.

“I was working in a more-than-full-time job as a bookkeeper in Bel Air when past due medical bills started to negatively impact my credit. Naively, I thought that if I worked hard enough, homelessness could not happen to us. I was wrong,” she recalls.

She shared that when she searched for resources for help with housing, she learned that the need far outweighed the available resources and there are years-long waitlists for affordable housing. Because she had to qualify with the necessary income and credit score, there was no way she could find housing she qualified for. She stayed with relatives at first and then in her car and in hotels, which was not ideal for raising her two boys. During this time, she was also homeschooling her children because of the pandemic. Most recently, she has relocated from Harford County to Caroline County to stay with family.

“Without any knowledge of what to expect when becoming unhoused, while in the chaotic throws of financial struggle as a single mom, I was ashamed to need help and was trying to do it all on my own. I highly advocate against this now. You know, there’s no shame in needing help. We are all human,” Sabrina shares.

“I am lucky that I don’t have any criminal history and have never tried drugs, but these barriers are difficult to overcome, and the people experiencing them are just as human as you and me and need housing, too.”

Carmen Franciotti, Homeless & Human volunteer, is adding homeless-minded items, such as ponchos and travel-size toiletries, to a Blessing Box in Federalsburg, proving that small actions have big impacts.

In the time since losing her home, Sabrina learned of and lived firsthand the struggles of the homeless, the overwhelming needs of being homeless, the lack of available help/resources, harmful and often false stigmas and judgments about the many barriers to housing, and rehousing, the lack of protections for renters, the lack of available housing, the long wait lists for affordable/subsidized housing, and the false promises and false hope people receive.

To address some of these issues, she started a community project, Homeless in Harford, while still in Harford County, to uplift as many people as she could and share the story of the lack of affordable housing and other barriers as much as she could. Last fall, she filed to officially gain nonprofit status for her organization, now called Homeless & Human, to expand civic engagement and further her reach – humans helping humans understand the problem and the power of numbers reaching people locally and nationally, working together to create much-needed change.

“Our focus is on advocacy, service delivery, and education to help people who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness. Among our various efforts, we are currently petitioning the President and the Governor of Maryland to create days of awareness recognizing the homelessness crisis. While there is a World Homeless Day that is celebrated on October 10 each year, there is no day of recognition in the United States or the State of Maryland,” Sabrina adds.

“Many of the people I have met on my journey don’t do drugs, are not harmful, are far from crazy, and are some of the most incredible people I’ve ever known. Everyone’s story is unique, but the common thread is simple: systemic change is necessary to end homelessness. It is imperative that people understand that homelessness doesn’t look like the stigmas claim, and one of the most significant ways to help is to stop thinking of the homeless as this is their fault,” she states.

“There is a tendency to look the other way when a problem does not directly affect you. But we are urging people to understand that uplifting any of us uplifts all of us,” Sabrina notes.

Homeless & Human’s current efforts include:

  • Partnerships with schools to provide advocacy, awareness, education, and service directly to students
  • A Homelessness Awareness Contest open to all students
  • “Orange you glad you have a home?” slogan/sticker campaign
  • The second annual Winter Help Kit drive for people who are street-homeless
  • Petitions to urge the establishment of a Maryland Day of Awareness of the Homelessness Crisis, as well as a National Day
  • Community Resource Boxes/Blessing boxes with a homeless focus on hygienic items, food that does not need to be cooked, and other resources
  • Education programs to inform people of all ages about ways they can help themselves avoid homelessness, ways people can help the crisis or people experiencing homelessness, and more

Sabrina has developed a list of things people can do to support the mission of Homeless & Human that don’t cost anything:

  • Rethink what you know to be true. Holding on to negative opinions of the homeless, including placing unfair blame or judgment, is detrimental to our cause. Every one of us is human. (FREE)
  • Volunteer your time! As much or as little as you have. Virtual and in-person opportunities are available. (FREE)
  • Spread the word on social media @HomelessnHUMAN – follow, comment, like, share, repost, retweet, or otherwise interact with us! We are on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, and coming soon to Reddit, TikTok, and YouTube. (FREE)
  • Patreon allows believers in this cause to follow updates. There is also a subscribe to support (donate-what-you-wish amount) at www.Patreon.com/homelessnhuman.
  • Be a judge for a contest! Help recruit schools to participate. Market and share the contest. (FREE)
  • Help fundraise. (FREE) Help collect resources. (FREE)
  • Donate space for a Community Resource Box (FREE) or Donation Collection Box for resources for either School Partnerships or Winter Help Kit drive (FREE)
  • Share petitions. (FREE)
  • Sign up for the newsletter. (FREE)
  • Recruit sponsors. (FREE)
  • Write letters to generate support for this mission. (FREE)
  • Help plan events. Both virtual and in-person volunteers are needed. (FREE)

Another way people can help is by donating any of the following items to be distributed to the homeless through Homeless Help Kits, including hand warmers, feet warmers, gloves, scarves, winter hats, warm socks, regular socks, warm blankets, gift cards for food/groceries/clothes/shoes, travel packs of hand sanitizer wipes, travel-size hand sanitizer, antibacterial ointment, travel-size band-aid pack, travel-size first aid kit, travel-size tissues, travel-size wet wipes, lip balm, cards of encouraging thoughts, and drawstring bags (either new or gently used). Donations are accepted at various drop-off points, including DoCo Axe Co. in Cambridge, and Homeless & Human, 105 South Main Street, Federalsburg, Maryland 21632.

Sabrina explains, “When donating items, remember that the homeless often have little-to-no storage space. The homeless have no kitchen. Food items that are ingredients or that require preparing and/or cooking are not helpful donations. Only donate items in good condition that you or your loved ones might use/enjoy. Toiletries and feminine products are in high demand,” she adds. “Also, it is highly encouraged to ask before buying prepared food for someone on the street. Accepting food from strangers is not always safe, so a safe alternative is giving a gift card to a nearby restaurant.”

Homeless & Human has partnered with the Girl Scouts in collecting donations and putting homeless help kits together. The Girl Scouts earned a Homelessness Awareness badge for their hard work.

Girl Scouts from Girl Scout Troop #1904 earn a Homelessness Awareness badge as they work together to assemble Homeless Help Kits that were distributed to vulnerable people in Maryland and Delaware. Photographs courtesy of Sabrina Barger-Turner.

“We were able to help over 150 people last winter and we had just started,” Sabrina says. “You can’t begin to understand the trauma of being unhoused or living on the street and what someone has gone through. So, simply asking permission to help a person who is homeless is important.”

“I wanted to create a program that people from kids to adults can learn from – about the resiliency, trauma, and emotions around homelessness, and about the lack of resources and ways people can help. We’re sharing people’s stories and providing free resources to help one person at a time,” Sabrina states. “Together, we will continue to create change and help the most vulnerable among us,” she concludes.

Homeless & Human is selling “ORANGE YOU GLAD YOU’VE GOT A HOME?” stickers to help remove negative, incorrect stigmas of the homeless, provide awareness of the plight of the homeless crisis, and create opportunities for conversations around homelessness. The three-inch sticker costs $6 or two for $10 (includes shipping).

For further information, to purchase stickers, or to donate, visit www.homelessnhuman.org or email Sabrina Barger-Turner at homelessnhuman@gmail.com.

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