Armed with her recording device, a notebook, care packages and a determination to give a voice to the voiceless, Lauren Purnell sets off on the city streets of Philadelphia to shatter the stigma of homelessness and share the stories of an often ignored community.
The 21-year-old Rowan University journalism student uses her blog, toting over 1,000 followers, as a way to effectively communicate the stories of the homeless people she interviews. Though Purnell began her blog “Naming the Homeless” as a way to hone her skills while writing about a topic she was passionate about, she soon realized that she had learned so much more than the skills needed for her major.
“I learned about people, ethics, how the world works, those types of things you can’t just learn in this [college] type of environment,” Purnell said. “I never would have gained that knowledge without doing this.”
Despite being nervous when she first started and still having times where she often circles for a while before approaching someone, Purnell, alongside her mother Karen Parise, find continual motivation to push forward despite difficulties due to the people they meet. Purnell continues on to explain that some of the homeless people she’s talked to have been some of the kindest people she’s ever met.
“I get happy when I talk to them, no other way to describe it,” Purnell said. “When somebody is comfortable enough around you to open up and tell you their life story, there’s something very special about that.”
Purnell and Parise became a collaborative team on these trips to the city. Parise immediately agreed when Purnell pitched the idea to her via text. Purnell explaining that she wouldn’t be able to do it alone. Throughout her life she really benefited from being around her mom and seeing the kindness she holds for others, inspiring her to do the same.
“I feel like that’s where a lot of my compassion comes from,” Purnell said. “Watching my mom treat other people with kindness and it doesn’t matter where we are, she loves talking to people.”
Purnell feels that these types of things are what her and her mom were meant to do. Parise who is fully involved in the process while out on these trips, feels incredibly proud at witnessing what her daughter has accomplished through “Naming the Homeless.” She too feels that this is an important cause worth pursuing.
“It is a way to give these individuals a platform, to give them a voice, to try and breakdown the stereotype that first comes to mind when you see these individuals on the street,” Parise said.
She explains a lot of people that lose hope do not have a support network by their side, making it harder to pull themselves out and get back to where they once were.
Purnell’s goal in the future is to eventually turn “Naming the Homeless” into a book and possibly expand the amount of collaborators to allow for new journalists to get out there and expand the coverage. For now, however, Purnell simply wishes for her blog to change people’s mindset when they hear the term “homeless” and to show people it is okay to talk to them and extend kindness towards this community.
“It’s just the little things that could really change somebody’s life around and maybe even give them the motivation they need to step up and try to better their situation,” Purnell said.
Purnell stressed that becoming homeless could happen to anyone, and a lot of times it is out of the persons control. This is evidently clear when Purnell goes on to recount one recent post she wrote about a woman named Tamika, a 43-year-old Rowan University graduate with a bachelor degree’s in business. Tamika had led a successful career life, one that allowed her to travel the world. Tamika became used to the lifestyle and eventually started living beyond her means. When her boyfriend died, Tamika was unable to stay afloat with the bills.
“We aren’t in a position to judge anyone,” Purnell said. “Just because you’re going to college and you’re going to have a career doesn’t mean this can’t happen to you. You’re not invincible, all it takes is one variable and it comes out of nowhere.”
Purnell holds hope for the future of the people out on the streets she has interviewed, knowing that this is not the last chapter in their story.
“Even though sometimes it feels like you’re at your lowest point in life, that doesn’t mean that it’s over, that just means you can only go up from there,” Purnell said.
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