Sherlina Chauhan is a Supportive Housing Pipeline Coordinator at CSH, a role provided through the AmeriCorps VISTA national service program. AmeriCorps VISTA is a federal program that provides opportunities for Americans 18 years or older from a diverse range of backgrounds to dedicate a year of full-time service with an organization ("sponsor"). Roles are designed to create or expand programs that empower individuals and communities in overcoming poverty.
Growing up in Niles, Illinois, Sherlina would often visit Chicago. Even during harsh winters, she would spot individuals on the street who could not access shelters and struggled to find safety and relief. When she was five, she remembers asking her father, "Why can't everyone have a home?"
After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, she is still exploring the question through working for organizations that champion housing as a human right.
We are incredibly excited that Sherlina chose CSH through AmeriCorps and as she wraps up the first term of the program this month, we spoke to her about her experience at CSH and what she learned about supportive housing.
Q. What's your favorite part about AmeriCorps?
AmeriCorps is pretty cool because they have professional development courses, which were extremely useful for a graduate like me. I also have a leader that I report to if I am facing any issues. But my favorite thing about AmeriCorps is that they're very intentional about getting you connected to different people. They have many presenters from various fields, and we do a lot of training and workshops. Through those meetings, I have learned a lot about what different types of services look like and ways one can champion social justice.
Q. How important is it for you to give back and serve your community?
Very early on, I had decided to either pursue AmeriCorps or Peace Corps. But, even in college, I was thinking about going for Teach for America. I believe serving your community is a must whether you achieve it through your job, volunteering, organizing or charity. So, I was a student activist in college, hoping that would translate into whatever career I would choose after graduating.
Q. What sparked your interest in supportive housing?
I studied Cultural Anthropology and got interested in researching systems of oppression and injustice within urban cities in America. Two significant issues that I care about are housing insecurity and chronic homelessness. I wanted to also delve deeper into how those issues intersect with racial disparity.
Q. Tell us why you chose to work at CSH?
I found several jobs I was interested in through AmeriCorps. They all addressed different inequalities and injustices. While all those issues seemed important, I wanted to work at an organization dealing with change on a structural and systemic level. I was fortunate that CSH had partnered with AmeriCorps, and I found what I was looking for! I applied and started work in August 2020.
Q. Can you speak to how anthropology changed your perspective on public health?
I cared a little more about the social and political factors of people's health. I read a lot of studies about health disparities and anthropology fit into how I viewed the world; I understood that there was so much more to someone's health, like their environment and their identity. There are different ways to look at people's health problems whether [it is] heart disease or shortened life spans. For example, nutrition and poverty can directly affect people's health, so the political and social factors, for instance, the neighborhood you live in, can have a long-lasting effect on your body.
Q. Let's change gears to talk more about your experience at CSH! How has that experience been like for you, especially in a remote environment?
First of all, my experience has been remarkable. I work with such kind and patient and helpful, and supportive people. Since the day I got here, I was encouraged to hop on calls and meet with everyone.
I think it's really cool that I jumped into the world of supportive housing head-on. Before working at CSH, I had heard about supportive housing because of my interest in housing insecurity and homelessness, but through this experience, I learned so much about the field.
Q. What projects are you currently working on?
At CSH, I work as the Supportive Housing Pipeline Coordinator. I spend most of my time working on the Homeless Housing Expansion Initiative, which evaluates proposed projects seeking capital, operating funds, and services for supportive housing to indicate to funders how the project aligns with system goals. It's a subgroup of the Continuum of Care pipeline workgroup.
I've had a lot of opportunities to work on different projects. Other than my usual tasks, I'll occasionally get pulled into different groups and presentations. It's been eye-opening and fulfilling. I was especially talking to friends who are also my age, you know, as recent graduates. I feel like it is rare to be in such a good place.
Q. Lastly, why is it vital for you to serve in organizations making a difference in communities across America?
When I was a kid, I remember thinking I want to make enough money, so every time I see someone on the street asking for money, I could be of help. However, as I grew older, I realized that the issue was never that people didn't have money to support their neighbors.
Instead, there are more prominent structural reasons why people live in such intense poverty, and it's not their fault. It's on the government; it is on all these systems that have failed them. And exploring those themes made me passionate about wanting to be a part of changing government policies that perpetuate inequality and have existed for centuries.
That is one of the reasons why I got into anthropology and didn't continue pursuing medicine after my pre-med studies.
Thank you, Sherlina! We know everyone at CSH appreciates your hard work and passion, and we wish you all the best in your future endeavours!