During the month of February, three Houghton alumnae, Hi Uan Kang Haaga ’06, Jaime Colman ’13, and Heather Hill ’08, have been working together to write and post the stories of 29 individuals experiencing homelessness in Washington, D.C. The project, entitled “29 Stories of February,” can be found online here.
As the daughter of missionaries, Kang Haaga often witnessed her parents’ work with immigrants, addicts, and Roma people in Lisbon, Portugal. Her family frequently prepared food for those experiencing homelessness, and she remembers her father giving away the clothing he was wearing to others who needed it more.
For the month of February, Kang Haaga wanted to pursue a project similar to one she had done this past December, which featured one story along with several photographed portraits for each day of the month.
She said, “Walking around in D.C., I was always meeting people experiencing homelessness, but I had never talked to them for more than a few minutes. I knew it would be an amazing experience to meet and talk to the individuals and help share their stories.”
Kang Haaga and Hill attended Houghton College at the same time and worked together in the Intercultural Students Association. When she [Hill] heard about the February project, she introduced Kang Haaga to Colman, another Houghton College graduate who works with the National Alliance to End Homelessness in D.C. Also helping with the project is Charmaine Runes, a research assistant at the Urban Institute’s Center on Labor, Human Services and Population, and Reverend James Ellis III, senior pastor of Peach Fellowship Church, a nondenominational church in Washington, D.C.
“My collaborators and I interview the individuals, and we write the stories,” said Kang Haaga. “We struggled a lot with the idea of writing someone else’s story. We wanted to show the utmost respect to the individuals and share their stories truthfully. Every post is different, but we always try to be true to the story that was shared with us.”
“The project has been largely exciting and a little bit daunting,” said Hill. “I have been looking to find a way to address some of the issues around homelessness since May last year. I love how this project allows people experiencing homelessness to simply be seen, even if for a brief moment, and how it already has affected my own seeing.”
Not only does this project include the stories of individuals experiencing homelessness, but the collaborators also interview people actively working for individuals experiencing homelessness.
“We hope that our readers can see the beauty of these individual stories and find ways to get involved in their own cities and communities,” said Kang Haaga.
Kang Haaga graduated from Houghton College with a B.A. in Art and English Literature and obtained her master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis. She has since become a writer, printmaker, and fiber artist. In future projects, she hopes to continue to “pursue and facilitate storytelling.”
Coleman graduated with honors in Intercultural Studies. “One of my great joys in this project has been collaborating with other Houghton alumni outside of the Houghton context,” said Coleman. “I’ve also enjoyed the excuse to spend more time with neighbors experiencing homelessness.”
While at Houghton, Hill pursued degrees in intercultural studies, communications, and history. She currently serves as the assistant manager of donor acquisition and digital fundraising at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the human rights co-chair of the United Nations Association of the National Capitol Area.