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Monday, May 23, 2011

Homeless advocate Eric Sheptock speaks with Oyster-Adams, boosts their service-learning project

This spring as part of their service-learning project, the DC SCORES team at Oyster-Adams has spent their semester learning about homelessness.

Last week, they got a surprise visit from Eric Sheptock, who is both homeless and an advocate for the homeless. Sheptock spoke with the students about his experience growing up, his life on the streets, and life now as an empowered advocate educating the public on the issues of homelessness.

Sheptock told the students of his unconventional upbringing in a large foster family and how he first fell into homelessness after losing his job and dealing with mental health issues. In 2005, he came to Washington, DC to protest the Iraq war and ended up becoming immersed in local politics and advocacy efforts involving the homeless in DC.

Featured on the front page of The Washington Post this past winter, Sheptock has become a social media guru, writing for multiple blogs, actively using Twitter, and accumulating a Facebook following of more than 10,000 fans.

Through laughs and smiles, Sheptock discussed his role as an advocate and how being a homeless, homeless advocate sometimes throws people off. He also stressed to the students the seriousness of the issues facing the homeless in DC, as the city continues to make cuts to shelters and human services programs.

Articulate and engaging, Sheptock did not fit the mold of what the students thought of as a typical homeless person, and at one point he asked the students, “Well, what are some stereotypes of the homeless? C’mon, you won’t hurt my feelings.”

Clean-cut and casually dressed in pants and a shirt, wearing his signature backward baseball cap, he then asked students, “Would you think I was homeless standing in front of you right now?” and the students responded with a resounding “no.”

As he gave advice on how to help the homeless, Sheptock urged the students to ask the homeless themselves for their input on what they want, as too often items or services are provided for the homeless that they may not really need.

The students are making care packages for the homeless at Christ House, and they took the opportunity to ask Sheptock what he would find useful in a care package: “Definitely socks, because we are always on our feet and do a lot of walking,” he said.

The students heeded Sheptock’s advice as they prepared care packages that they’re presenting to patients at Christ House this week.

Thanks to the engaging Sheptock, the Oyster-Adams students got a different impression of the District’s homeless population and became even more motivated to serve them through DC SCORES.

You can check out Eric Sheptock on Facebook and Twitter, as well as his blog.

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