Jessica Ann Horsham is a currently studying international relations at Florida International University, and is in her senior year as an FIU Honors student. She is heavily interested in pursuing a career in law, with current aims to focus on human rights and injustices within the justice system, she has recently been accepted into law school and will begin in the Fall of 2020. Though her career will eventually divulge her in tons of paperwork, Jessica loves to explore the outdoors, exercise, and be near the beach; traveling is one of her favorite things to do as she loves to emerge herself in different cultures and truly learn about what makes each place special. Her current endeavor, the Miami in Miami class taught by John W. Bailly, will take her on this journey of emerging her in her very hometown to discover all of its unknown and secret places.
The Lotus House is an extremely unique women’s homelessness shelter in an area of Miami that suffers from extreme poverty, Overtown. Lotus House not only aims to serve women but also serves as a sanctuary for many women with children; they serve families of all shapes, sizes, and with a variety of different needs. Since expanding to the Lotus Village, they have increased the number of rooms available— a much-needed increase as most of these rooms are always being occupied, according to Ms. Kathy Roth, the daily Operations Director—and have also increased their services for the women and children. They provide clothing, education, assistance with benefits among a multitude of things; another unique fact about the Village is that they do not have a time limit for those staying in their care, they are allowed to stay for as long as they need. The Village includes a health clinic, a day care, and wellness center, and provides therapy, food and dining services, and job training to those staying in its care and those in the community. While the House and its boarding services are facilitated with the county, many of its other facilities, such as the dining services, remains free or low cost and open to all those in the community as well. The Lotus Village goes beyond just its residents to truly have an impactful presence in a community that needs it the most.
While I had not been able to previously volunteer individually, my professor, John Bailly, decided to dedicate one of our class sessions to meeting and working at the Lotus House. Our class highlights the history of Miami thoroughly, from its injustices, prejudices, and developmental issues, in addition to its culture and art, and what better way to give back to a piece of our community that volunteer at an organization that is at its core. Florida is ranked number 3 in the entire nation for having a large homelessness population—this is a massive issue that occurs right in our backyards and is something we can all contribute to tackling. Of all of our class meetings, this experience may have been my favorite. While my family life has not always been perfect, I have been blessed to always have a roof over my head and food to eat, this is a privilege that many are not afforded. The Lotus House affords these privileges and much more to people who have not had access or support in these areas, the doors to the Village opens to much more than just a place to sleep.
This amazing opportunity came from my professor, John Bailly. His heart and dedication to service and help in Miami is heavily engrained into each of his classes and without his help, we would not have been able to tackle such huge tasks. I have always had a passion for helping people, it is one of the reasons why I have chosen to become a lawyer, and I am no stranger to completing hard or dirty tasks. A lot of the work we completed were tasks that required lots of cleaning to not only benefit the physical health of its workers or inhabitants but also to simply make the Village feel like home to the people in its care. As we were working, there were many children around and it felt good to know that their areas to relax after a long day at school were thoroughly cleaned and comfortable for them to focus. Seeing the smiles on the women’s faces or hearing their praises of thanks as we left gave me a sense of gratitude for the blessings that I have and knowing that our work made a difference in someone’s day.
WHERE & WHAT?
On March 11th, 2020 at 10 AM, our group arrived, and we split into two groups. My group began clearing out the docking area of the Lotus House, by dumping broken or unusable items and loading them into the truck or separating and organizing what was going to be kept. Our goal was to completely empty the area so that they would be able to store all of the new supplies coming in to help protect residents from COVID-19. From this area, we began to splinter off, and I was whisked away to help sort through expired drugstore products, a sort of CVS or Walgreens located on one of the housing floors. We learned that one each floor, there is a member of the Lotus House in charge and in their office, they have basic supplies, bandages, hand sanitizer, ibuprofen, sanitizing wipes, amongst a bunch of other materials where the residents can use and borrow at any time. After this, we delivered several new mattresses to a few rooms and were able to look inside the spaces. Each room had its own bathroom, an area for groceries or storage, and several beds, we were informed that the rooms we were looking at were the family rooms and each individual had their own bed; these rooms were not the largest but definitely spacious and very clean. We then rejoined the group at the loading dock and began to sanitize, bleach, and soap up the floors, cabinets, windows, and just about everything in that area. After this we sat for lunch and had one of the staff, a former FIU student, discuss her job on the outreach team. She talked to us about advocating for the house to local government and about some of the Village’s rules, such as curfews and that all women must be free of any drugs or alcohol. It was interesting to hear her perspective of working here and how different it was from her previous jobs. Once we finished, it was back to work. Our group took on the task of sanitizing all of the furniture and recreational and playrooms on the 2nd-5th residential floors. This meant that every chair, table, couch, computer, door, and even bookcase was going to be sanitized and wiped clean on every floor.
What worked the best this day was our teamwork and dedication. We were there for over 5 hours and did not waste a minute. Despite being separated from one another, every single one of us knew that the work we were doing was beyond us, it was not for us but for other people, the residents; I believe that this ultimate understanding helped us all complete our tasks to the best of our abilities. Knowing that our work were things that needed to be done to benefit the women and children living here who are fighting for a better life day in and day out truly motivated our entire class to give it our all and really work every minute of our day. Splitting up into smaller groups to tackles the various tasks helped to ensure that we were maximizing the amount of work to be completed and to really do it thoroughly. All in all, we all knew that we were there to help the fighters continue. Each individual in the Village is there fighting for a better chance at the life that they were handed. They are actively making the choices necessary to become better individuals and to get back on their feet and truly become independent. Despite all that they may have experienced, despite whatever led them to seek sanctuary at the Lotus Village, these women are still standing and fighting each day. Its commendable that they are still standing today and that may have not happened with the Lotus House. The Lotus House is not just a homeless shelter, it is engrained in the community and serves as a beacon of hope where it is needed