By Brenda Torres, MSW ’20
Medellin is a beautiful city in Colombia famously known as the land of eternal spring and known for beautiful landscapes, amazing coffee, and the kind and proud paisas that live there. I had the pleasure of calling this city home for two months this summer as I interned at the non- profit Fundaccion Visibles, which aims to help the homeless population of Medellin, as well as at-risk children, through social inclusion and advocacy. As an MSW student, I completed my first-year internship at homeless service agency, where I was part of a multidisciplinary street outreach team consisting of social workers, medical professionals, and substance use counselors. Having an understanding of mental health and homeless service delivery proved useful and Fundaccion Visibles hopes to expand the services they currently offer, such as meditation, yoga, and art courses, to include services that include employment and housing.
I enjoyed working with the team at Fundaccion Visibles, which is largely run by the young adults and university students of Medellin. The volunteers that I had the honor to meet this summer were fueled by a desire to help their community and to help the habitantes de calle, or those at risk of homelessness, because of no other reason than it simply being the right thing to do for humanity. All neighborhoods in Medellin are socio-economically stratified and classified with a number from 1-6, with 1 being the poorest and 6 being the most affluent. Habitantes de calle, lacking an official residence, are most often not included at all which is reflected in the way they are marginalized and treated. However, without fail, each Thursday night, a growing number of volunteers show up to spend time with the habitantes de calle by joining them in various bonding activities, passing out hot chocolate and bread, and sharing companionship with individuals that spend their day largely being ignored by the rest of society. Those that have been volunteering for years have grown deep bonds with many of the regular habitantes de calle and are always pleased to see them, offer them embraces, and catch up like the old friends that they are. It was a beautiful thing to witness and take part in.
While the team at Fundaccion Visibles thanked my classmates and I for sharing our experiences working with the homeless in Los Angeles and teaching them about the wide range of services available that they hope to someday replicate, I am walking away thanking them for reminding me that humanity should be at the core of all the work I do in the future. As they continue to grow as an agency and hopefully gain more government funding, I hope that they do not lose sight of their passion for humanity that drives them to do the work they do—but I sincerely doubt that they will. Although Los Angeles has invested millions of dollars into solving its homeless crisis by providing a myriad of resources to homeless individuals, the homeless situation is still a prominent one and homeless individuals are still largely marginalized within the communities they reside in. I think it is important to begin having conversations around what can be done to integrate them into our society rather than merely hiding them away where they cannot be seen. I know that there’s larger conversations to be had about mental health and substance use, but I hope to someday see relationships that mirror those I witnessed in Medellin within my own community in Los Angeles.