Saying Goodbye to the Burgh

By Kaitlyn Keffler
Change A Heart

Kaitlyn @ OSN wClient.jpg

As my year comes to a close and I prepare to start medical school in the fall, I have been reflecting on and processing my experiences. This processing has been interesting because this year was so different from any other one in my life. I would like to highlight a few of the lessons I have learned.

1. Homeless people are really just people.

It shouldn’t be ground-breaking news but I think this lesson is the most important one I have learned this year. I am making this statement not to minimize the experience of persons on the street or lessen the number of obstacles that they face. Rather, I state it in an attempt to lessen the stigma surrounding persons experiencing homelessness and help others find common ground with them.

I have learned that it is critical to see past the label ‘homeless’ and work to truly understand the whole person, if that is something this person desires. Neglecting to see past this label would have prevented me from meeting some of the most interesting people I have come to know. Listening to their stories with judgment would have stopped me from hearing hilarious jokes, heartbreaking stories, and sharing genuine moments with people. Being too aware of the often-gritty settings of these meetings — under bridges, bus stops, shelters — would have caused me to overlook the grit and resilience of this population. If I believed that knowing a person was homeless meant that I knew him or her, I would have not had my heart changed by so many colorful, special, wonderful people.

2. Personal growth can be really painful.

For the past four years, my main focus had been academic growth while friends, extracurricular activities, jobs, and other areas allowed for smaller portions of varying types of growth. This year, I have taken a step back from formal academics and been immersed in experiencing people. These people include the aforementioned clients, coworkers, community members, new and old friends, and family members. Because people are messy and relationships can be difficult, I spent a large portion of my time questioning what is important to me. I have explored my strengths and weaknesses, learned to understand another person’s perspective while still standing my ground, and accepted that some situations simply cannot be fixed.  This ‘growth’ has honestly felt more like ‘stretching’ or ‘breaking’ several times throughout this year and I am still striving to understand some of it. I am thankful for my family and friends who have helped me navigate these challenges.

3. This year has changed my life.

I don’t think it would be too dramatic to say that my life has been changed and will continue to be impacted by this year.  I have found that I have a special place in my heart for persons experiencing homelessness and plan to continue interacting with vulnerable populations in my career in medicine. Living in community has taught me different communication styles and greater respect for people who make the active choice to live in community long-term. I also have a reinforced understanding of how blessed I am to have a strong support network and a natural tendency to be honest, often used to advocate for others and myself.  

Thanks for reading these blogs; I hope these reflections have been helpful in explaining experiences and thoughts this year.