LSJ Student Dedicated to Challenging Homelessness Stereotypes

Submitted by Lindsay Cael on

by Hunter Kulik

Samantha Fredman is a Law, Societies & Justice and Pre-Health major in University of Washington’s interdisciplinary honors program. She has devoted her undergraduate experience to supporting unsheltered young adults and challenging stereotypes around homelessness.

As a freshman, Samantha took a class through the honors program, Human Rights From the Ground Up, which prompted her fascination with human rights work. The course challenged Samantha to select a specific area of human rights, and she chose the right to shelter.

From here, Samantha continued to pursue human rights coursework through LSJ and began volunteering at the ROOTS young adult homeless shelter. She soon found that working at ROOTS was a great fit. “The community of volunteers and staff have a set of shared values that I connected really well with from the beginning,” Samantha says. She has worked with ROOTS since her freshman year, starting as a volunteer supervisor and then transitioning into a program manager. “I have absolutely cherished the guests,” Samantha says. “They are super resilient, funny, and caring. I think for me even then, starting to work at ROOTS confronted a lot of ideas I had about unsheltered individuals and I am still continuing to heighten my understanding.”

As program manager, Samantha oversees nightly shelter operations and serves on the team to decide consequences for behavior violations. Additionally, Samantha develops curriculum to train volunteers, which is focused on anti-oppression, conflict response, and engagement with the nature of systemic oppression to understand disproportionality within homelessness.

As a result of her experience with ROOTS, Samantha has gained an understanding of the nuances of care within homelessness services. She discusses the challenge of finding balance between working in homelessness services, studying systems surrounding homelessness, and trying to build authentic relationships while maintaining professional boundaries. “It has been difficult to learn how to be the most caring and invested while also providing the most effective and least harmful forms of care.”

Currently, Samantha is crafting her LSJ honors thesis about trauma-informed care within homelessness services. “We know that many people enter homelessness with complex histories of trauma, so I have been discussing with different providers about the barriers of providing care to those that have been highly traumatized.” Much of her experience at ROOTS is informing her thesis work.

Beyond working for ROOTS, Samantha has been actively working to challenge misperceptions surrounding homelessness. This past Winter Quarter, she peer-educated an honors course with geography professor, Dr. Victoria Lawson, called Citizenship Acts to Challenge Poverty. Together, Samantha and her peers resurfaced and revitalized a previous Real Change News project titled Portraits for Change. The project, originated from Real Change News, Seattle’s street newspaper which promotes opportunities for low-income or unsheltered individuals to sell newspapers. Real Change News facilitates visual political projects as a form of activism for unsheltered people. Portraits for Change consists of a collection of portraits of vendors of Real Change News accompanied by biographies of these vendors. The portraits were created by Seattle artists and the biographies are intended to provide a look into the individual journeys of the vendors. “In their biographies, a lot of individuals talk about what Real Change means to them and how it allows them to feel dignified and empowered to make connections with housed people.”

Originally exhibited in the Seattle area, Dr. Lawson and Dr. Sarah Elwood, co-directors of the Relational Poverty Network, asked Real Change News if the collection of portraits could be brought to the University of Washington, a place of learning that normally experiences a lot of foot traffic. The students in the honors class were then responsible for launching the Portraits for Change exhibit. The students advertised the exhibit and displayed the collection in University of Washington’s Allen Library for the public to view.

Samantha suggests that inviting people to engage with visual politics like Portraits For Change is a valuable way to challenge people’s perspectives. “There are a lot of stereotypes about unsheltered people. The hope is that when you look at someone’s portrait and you read their biography, you are learning more about what they are like as a person not just as a homeless person,” she shares. Portraits for Change challenges people to see past previously held assumptions about homelessness that connect homelessness to criminality, laziness, drug addiction, and mental illness. “I think that the portrait exhibit is particularly powerful because it lets you connect with people and really humanizes people on a level that isn’t typically possible with the relationships we are making from just walking on the street in Seattle,” Samantha says.

Samantha argues for the importance of finding a cause you feel connected to and mobilizing behind it. “I think people sometimes feel helpless or overwhelmed by the size of an issue, but really you can affect change from anywhere you are. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming and it doesn’t have to be the biggest change ever to make a meaningful impact.”

Following her graduation in June 2020, Samantha intends to continue her involvement with social services. She plans to continue working for ROOTS and hopes to propose and implement a trauma-informed care program. Samantha also has aspirations to explore other areas of social services such as psychiatric disability and eventually go to medical school.

Learn more about Roots Young Adult Shelter here and Real Change here.