How AmeriCorps Made Me Homeless
I joined AmeriCorps out of desperation when I graduated during the 2008 recession. I hope Gen Z doesn’t make the same mistake I did during the COVID pandemic’s dismal job market.
It’s AmeriCorps Week! Every year in March, a cheerful email celebrating AmeriCorps Week drops into my inbox, and I am reminded of how I became homeless 6 months into my term of service. Earning about $3 per hour from my AmeriCorps living stipend, I think about the hypocrisy of a government-funded program paying people less than minimum wage as the debate rages on over raising the federal minimum wage, student loan forgiveness, and the legality and ethics of unpaid internships. I remember AmeriCorps Orientation Day, when everyone seated in the North Seattle hotel conference room gasped as we were taught how to apply for food stamps. Most of the people in that room had never been on food stamps before. That was when I should have realized that AmeriCorps is just a gilded ticket to a poverty tourism cruise.
Many AmeriCorps members who had wealthy parents or boyfriends to live with and supplement their $3 per hour taxed AmeriCorps stipend have criticized me over the years for being naive when I tell my story. And yes, I absolutely agree. I was very naive to think that a government-funded organization, designed to support nonprofit programs where graduates help disadvantaged populations, would care if the structure of AmeriCorps makes members homeless if they lack familial safety nets. I also didn’t know that AmeriCorps makes you sign a contract, promising not to work any other jobs for supplemental income. I was very naive to think that my AmeriCorps leaders would care that I had been sexually assaulted by my housemate’s cousin and couldn’t find any other affordable housing in the expensive city I had been assigned to.
I was not the only homeless AmeriCorps member. Three people in my cohort became homeless. We were assigned to positions across Washington State to help disadvantaged students and refugees access education. It was the 2008 recession, and I had applied to hundreds of jobs with my newly minted diploma. Even Starbucks barista positions with health insurance benefits were hard to come by, so out of desperation I accepted…