Three Questions

By Joanie Sanders, OTN Spring Intern 2019

I began my internship at Open Table Nashville in January. Since then, I’ve been learning the ins and outs of outreach, homelessness, navigating the city (or, getting lost more often than not), and realizing every day that I still have so much more to learn.

I get to tag along with different staff members as they do outreach and get to know their friends along the way. I’ve had the privilege to listen to people, laugh with them, cry with them, and complain with them. Whatever they are feeling that day; I get to sit in it with them.

I have been asked these three questions a lot recently and wanted to share a few thoughts:

What do you do?
I never really know how to answer this question because I don’t have a set job description. The only thing consistent is the Open Table Nashville mantra, “Blessed are the flexible for they cannot be bent out of shape.” Every day we are on the streets doing what needs to be done. If someone needs socks or propane to keep them warm and dry do our best to get it. If someone needs a social security card or ID to get them ready for housing we can give them a ride and tag along as they get their documents. Things come up, emergencies happen, people are in serious need, so almost every day there is something I did not imagine doing that I end up doing. It may look like sitting in the ER with a friend or doing camp checks to make sure that everyone is okay. However it looks it never looks the same, and there is never enough done compared to the incredible need.

What is your favorite part?
My favorite part of working with Open Table Nashville is getting to be around people all the time. The conversations and human interactions I have with our friends on the streets every day is what I enjoy the most about being an intern. Whether it’s someone practicing their standup in the back seat of my car or someone telling me about their children as we wait at the social security office—I enjoy every moment of it and it fuels me to continue to do this work.

Why did they close Ellington? And where did everyone go?
This is a question I have gotten a ton recently and all I can say is that people do not want to see the camp. People do not want to acknowledge that we are failing people in our community by not having enough affordable housing. (This blog post goes a little more in-depth on the issue.) As for where people went, we know a lot of people moved to other parts of the city and continue to camp illegally because where else are they supposed to go? They had to take only what they could carry on their person that day and start all over again and find a new spot to feel safe and somehow find the supplies to do that. Just imagine being uprooted from your home right now and you can only take what you can carry—that is exactly how our friends felt.

This is some of the hardest and most rewarding work I have ever done. We’re just people helping people doing the best we can for all our friends. Throughout my internship I have been accepted and loved by all my new friends in ways I never thought possible. So, I encourage you to embrace our friends on the street because they will embrace you right back.