David Kwon recently joined the Barrier Free Living Apartments team. Originally from Seoul, Korea, David shares with us what drew him to the agency, his goals as a social worker addressing homelessness, and his love for video games.
BFL: David thanks for taking the time to chat. Can you tell me a bit about your history, what led you to work in social services?
David: I was born in Seoul, Korea and since my dad was so busy being an assistant pastor to a large church, and my mom doing overnight shifts as a nurse in an urban hospital, it was my grandmother who primarily raised me as a kid. I was ten years old when my parents decided to come to the United States. I grew up with few close friends and came to love learning about American history and literature. As I grew up in the church, for a long time I thought my life’s calling was to be a missionary in a Latin American or an African country. In my teenage years, I became less and less religious and instead inspired by Jane Addams’ Hull House and Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, my life passion eventually evolved to engaging in work to eliminate and prevent homelessness.
I attended New York University and attained my Master’s Degree in Social Work for this purpose. For over nine years, as I lived in various boroughs in New York City, I’ve been primarily motivated by a desire to address homelessness in the city and in the country. My first internship was with a community organize who was dedicated to fighting for affordable housing. From there, I have come to meet and assist homeless people living with HIV at Housing Works. Working as a community technician at BRC Jack Ryan’s Residence – a 200-bed shelter for homeless men diagnosed with mental illness and chemical addictions – I learned about the many complex needs and issues that homeless people in the city face. I was able to bring some of that learning to policy practice when I was an intern to Lorraine Stephens, the First Deputy Commissioner of NYC Department of Homeless Services.
I am thus happy to begin my social work journey at Barrier Free Living Apartments, where I can be a part of a passionate interdisciplinary team of social workers, occupational therapy interns, residential aides, nurse, nurse practitioner of psychiatry, and childcare workers. It is my big hope that my continued presence at BFL Apartments provides transformative support to tenants who’ve come to live through the ordeals of homelessness, disability, and domestic violence.
BFL: What first drew you to Barrier Free Living? What about the agency’s mission was most appealing?
David: Well, I thought the name of the agency was quite interesting and when I first heard of it, I was left rather curious. In all seriousness though, what really drew me in was coming to work in a supportive housing program primarily staffed by Master’s-level social workers. Being part of a highly trained interdisciplinary team is a very exciting thing to me. Also, I am still awed by the concept of addressing homelessness and disability through provision of permanent housing and a flexible interdisciplinary approach that considers the individual needs of each individual.
BFL: What are the most rewarding, and most challenging things about the work you do?
David: For me, I find most rewarding the moments when a tenant comes into my office, shares his/her honest feelings and thoughts, and I’m able to remind them, “Hey, you’re no longer homeless.” I’m grateful to be part of a housing program that recognizes that the issues related to homelessness don’t just disappear after you hand someone a key to an apartment unit. I am daily inspired by my coworkers and their passion to do great work. Sometimes we have disagreements here and there, but I appreciate that they arise from our desire to best serve this community. Still, as this is a brand new program with a lot of room left for improvement, there definitely are challenging and stressful elements of the work, which for me mostly means finding enough time to do meet with all tenants on my caseload and do all necessary paperwork.
BFL: What do you think sets aside Barrier Free Living apartment as a type of housing for people with disabilities and survivors of domestic violence?
David: To my knowledge, it’s not typical of a housing program to be primarily staff by Master’s-level social workers who engage tenants in tandem with occupational therapist interns, nurse, childcare workers, and nurse practitioner of psychiatry. This is an agency that greatly respects the tenants’ right to self-determination, encouraging them to be proactive in their interdependence with the community resources around them. At the same time, the staff and resources are made available to tenants as much as possible. Barrier Free Living has long been pioneers in responding to the needs of homeless people with disabilities and domestic violence experience, and while there is still much room for growth in continuing this type of work, I’m often left proud of the progress made within these two apartment buildings and am excited for the immense potential we’ll ultimately realize.
BFL: What brought you to New York City?
David:I was born in Seoul Korea, but for the most part, grew up in this place called Bakersfield, California, which can get up to 115 degrees in the summer. It’s a type of place that gets so hot that it’s possible to cook eggs just by cracking it open on the streets. So obviously I’m very excited to be in New York City. Honestly, though, it was my desire to do social work that brought me to the city, as I wanted to obtain my social work degree from New York University. My parents currently live in Iowa and they’re saying they want me to come and live there one day. Maybe it’ll happen one day but for right now, I’m still definitely very excited to be living in New York City.
BFL: What do you like to do in your time off?
David: I’m still kind of a kid at heart. I like to play video games and hang out with a few close friends. Sometimes, I spend some time writing poetry and fiction. I also like to spend quality time with my girlfriend and cook for her.