Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa
Serving it up at Manenberg Primary!

Thursday, July 28, 2016



We're off!

Here we go! FYI - the length of this post will be decided by how long the wait is to board the plane. I'm currently in the Rochester airport waiting at my gate ... slowly watching the take-off time be pushed further and further away.

This is the day before I left for Italy - don't worry, Italy's TSA didn't confiscate my shoes! Everything I'm bringing is on my back, so my "house" is downsizing for the next year. Here are a few more candids from my pre-departure:

(I've heard that dogs and owners tend to look like one another - which is a pretty big compliment for me! My dog, Henri, is pretty dashing.)

(At the airport with my parents. Can you tell who has not taken a selfie before? ;)

Speaking of "houses," I have been thinking about the concept of "home" throughout the summer. There are the obvious questions that pertain to my travels; such as, "Will I have a home while abroad?" or "Can traveling and doing research alone create a home, or will my relationships govern when I feel at home or not?" I don't have the answers to these questions yet, but will keep you updated as I discover along the way.

But more importantly, my summer internship has introduced a question to my mind that I hadn't thought a lot about before: Does everyone have the right to a home?

My summer at Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services

I served as an intern at Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS), a legal aid organization that provides legal aid to low-income individuals in southern MN. I worked in the office in Rochester, my home town, which "specializes" in housing legal matters; the attorneys and paralegal all chiefly work on housing cases.

Coming from Nashville, TN - a city that is struggling to create affordable housing for its residents - I assumed that Rochester would not have this same problem. I mean, it is my hometown that I have grown up in my whole life - and my family had no issues with finding housing ... so ...

I was incredibly wrong. Rochester, MN is in the middle of a housing crisis. 

Painting a picture: Rochester, MN

Currently, Rochester's housing vacancy rate is 0.1 percent. This percentage includes affordable housing, mansions, and everything in between. Regarding affordable housing, the wait list for Section 8 and public housing has hundreds of names - it will take years for a family or individual to get off of the wait list.


Furthermore, Rochester's "future" does not necessarily look good for increasing the amount of affordable housing. The city has incorporated a twenty-year plan titled, "Destination Medical Center," in which Rochester is getting a face-lift to become a sparkling, beautiful mecca for healthcare (or, perhaps a better term would be "Luxury healthcare"). With a plan like DMC, there is always pressure to push out the affordable housing for better-looking condos, or newer businesses, etc.

SMRLS housing attorneys represent clients who may be losing their Section 8 vouchers, may be adversely affected by unlawful actions from a landlord, or for myriad other reasons. While all of SMRLS's cases have unique clients, attributes, and outcomes, there is a single question that undergirds every case: Does a person - including myself - have the right to a home?

(As you walk into the SMRLS Rochester office, this painting greets you. At first, it kinda creeped me out .. but that's because I imagined a world where spiders did unite and ... *shudders*)

This is a brief aside -  but this question also relates to my Keegan fellowship, too - does a child have a right to a healthy meal?

What I have learned from working at SMRLS is that the answer to the question is a resounding YES! I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to have a home if he or she desires one. Without opening too many cans of worms (not enough space to talk about this complex topic) ... there are a variety of historical and contemporary factors that allow some individuals more opportunity than others. These factors - citizenship status, historical and contemporary discrimination, ability, etc. - cannot quantify the incredibly beautiful essence of a person. Nor can these factors be ignored, because we live in a world where our "factors" significantly impact our lives. That's what I have seen in working at SMRLS, and in certain neighborhoods in Nashville - that someone's opportunity to have a "home" is unjustly rejected due to a factor. But I believe that simply because you, I, and our peers exist ... we should all have a place where we can rest and have security. 

(The staff at Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services. These individuals do incredible work, and also have a ton of fun doing it! Their mentorship has been priceless.)

Shoot! The airline is beginning to board. Drat, this is a rotten time to stop writing! But, if I miss my flight, there won't be anything to write about! Anyways, I will see you all again in Italy! Please feel free to subscribe to my blog to receive an email when I post on my blog.