Helping the homeless

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Dr. Navina Paul and Dr. Stefan Hutson in front of the well-known ‘green car’

Potluck, an organisation on a mission
By Lisa Hamilton
HOMELESSNESS is a problem that tends not to get as much attention as the other societal issues would. Yet, it can happen to anyone, anywhere and through multiple, unexpected changes in persons’ lives.
This concept is something that co-founders of Potluck, Dr. Stefan Hutson and Dr. Navina Paul, understand.
Potluck is a non-profit organisation that seeks to address the problem of homelessness in Guyana through varying means.

A Potluck volunteer delivers soup to the homeless

The word ‘Potluck’ suggests a gathering whereby each person contributes a dish which sees them participating in a grand meal through which no one goes unfed.
Stefan is 26 years old and currently lectures on Physiology at the University of Guyana’s School of Medicine.
Navina is a recent graduate of the School of Medicine and has been a part of a number of volunteer organisations in the past such as the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD).

FAMILY VALUES
Potluck has its roots in Hutson’s single-parent family. Every Sunday, Stefan, his mother and two brothers would pack bags of whatever food they could gather at the time and deliver it by foot to the homeless on the streets of Georgetown.
The family could only afford this on a small scale, at times only being able to provide burgers, sandwiches or coffee.
“We knew what it was like to be without so we wanted to give back…and help those people who really needed something,” Hutson explained.
Although he was too humble to say, Navina revealed that Stefan was raised in a charitable home, one which even served as a shelter for the homeless in the past.

When the two grew closer during Navina’s final year at UG, being philanthropists, they both wanted to expand the work of Hutson’s family. So, earlier this year, they founded Potluck.
Initially, Stefan and Navina were able to round up supporters but faced issues of not having enough to give to the long lines which would form.
“It feels really bad to tell people you don’t have food and to turn them away…that’s how Potluck started. We started by giving away food, trying to get volunteers to come to donate and help, but then, we wanted to do more than that,” Navina said.

TAKING CARE OF THE HOMELESS
Navina describes Potluck, today, as an umbrella, seeking to cover a broad range of strategies targeted at attempting to solve the great problem of homelessness.
Just last month, Potluck treated over 90 persons through blood pressure and sugar testing, eye screening and dental tests, and donated needed medication and clothing to the Night Shelter in East La Penitence.
Apart from the feeding, the group takes part in male and female empowerment, has plans for monthly outreaches and is in the process of acquiring funds to apply for Friendly Society Status.

“It’s not just feeding, it’s helping. You can’t just sit down and criticise and say, ‘That is an issue’ but then you don’t do anything about it. Everybody has something that they can bring to the table to help fix a problem,” Navina said.
She also comes from a single parent home and told the Pepperpot Magazine of the driving force behind her passion.

“Obviously, people from single-parent homes, they know the struggle,” she said, referring to another volunteer in the room, Navina continued, “We’ve all starved. I could have been homeless as well.”

THE CONDITION OF HOMELESSNESS

Stefan Hutson and a volunteer during last Sunday’s soup sharing

She recounted one of her experiences in 2015 which led her to assert that the views which many have of the homeless can be flawed at times.
“Not everybody who is homeless is living on the streets as a junkie on drugs. These guys [some persons she met] had bad hands dealt to them and they were still trying because they were out there working, for below minimum wage- for nothing substantial, but they were still trying,” Navina added, “They were not on drugs, they were not addicted to anything, they were just dealt bad hands, so I want to help people like this.”
Surprisingly, the group’s acts of kindness are not always met by appreciation. Stefan told of some of the negative remarks the team would receive from onlookers.

“Sometimes [persons are] like, ‘They giving out this food to these people and just enabling them, they gon’ wan stay there all the time and just collect food, ” Stefan said. “That is so not true. If you’ve really been hungry before and you’ve been dealt a bad hand, where you were nearly homeless for some reason, then you’d realise they’re not there because they want to be. Nobody wants to be homeless.”

RESEARCH
This is the reason Potluck has begun to invest in a research on the matter. The organisation hopes to study the prevalence and issues affecting the homeless population in Guyana, and investigating the private sectors to further assess the barriers to employment.
“There are different things that we want to do and as much as it looks like we’re just feeding people now, there’s a lot that we’re trying to do. Hopefully we can get more donors in the future so that we can keep going and helping people,” Navina said.

When the Pepperpot Magazine tagged along with Potluck last Sunday on a soup feeding venture, it was amazing to see just how well the destitute at different locations in Georgetown, recognised the ‘green car’ which would religiously bring them food.
Stefan disclosed the story of how the commitment to delivering food each Sunday became cemented in their practice, following the death of a crippled man.

“Every week we would go there, feed him and then move on to go around by Muneshwers. So about three or four months into Potluck starting up and feeding every Sunday, one day I was passing through running an errand and I heard, ‘Hey! Hey! Hey! Stop green car!’”
When Stefan stopped to find out what was wrong, the men who came up to him told him that the crippled man had passed away a few days ago. It so happened that on the previous Sunday, Potluck was unable to conduct its regular feeding.

The homeless near Bounty Supermarket

“They were saying that he talks about, ‘Every Sunday these people come in the green car and save him because he can’t get food and he does be very hungry’ and that Sunday we didn’t do feeding. That was the same week that he passed away,” Stefan then solemnly added, “So since then, we go out every Sunday. We rarely miss a Sunday.”
The organisation presently has about 25 volunteers who rotate their services weekly. It receives support and donations from the Save Abee Foundation, Evolve You Fitness, Arielle Ming, Dr. Roberta Martin and a few others.
“You’d be really surprised at how far a small amount of stuff can go. Things that you would take for granted other persons would really, really love to have,” Stefan said, “Just helping one or two persons is more than enough. If everybody would try to do that it would be a much less hungry country.”

Meanwhile, Navina summed it all up by saying, “We all have it better than a lot of people who didn’t get to go to school, they didn’t get the things we got, we fought for it and we have it and now it’s our duty to try to help other people,” she continued, “It’s easy to criticise; it’s harder to go out there and do the work, but if everybody tried, we could do so much.”
The next big plan for Potluck is its Christmas Care Packages distribution which will see persons at the East La Penitence Night Shelter receiving basic hygiene items.
The organisation welcomes support from the government and the public for this and future ventures, and mulls plans for branches in other parts of the country in the future.
Anyone who wishes to support Potluck can do so by contacting them through their email address: potluckguyana@gmail.com