Scene 3: Tessa’s Stories


Documenting and sharing the stories of guests of Service Dining Rooms (SDR) to deepen guests’ understanding of one another has been one of our main initiatives. One of our co-researchers, Tessa, has been leading interviews with Streetscapes participants and other guests of SDR throughout the project. On Thursday, November 12th, Tessa demonstrated her passion for collecting and sharing the stories of guests of SDR who live on out on the streets.

Cast of characters

WPI SDR Team is an IQP team consisting of four students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI): Aaron McGinnis, Briana Rodriguez, Drew DeRubeis, and Liz Desjardins.

Tessa is one of our co-researchers that has great knowledge of the street and receives considerable respect from the street community.

Streetscapes participants are guests of SDR that are part of a pilot program, known as Streetscapes.


At Service Dining Rooms, Thursday morning began as usual. The sound of dominos slapping filled the room as our team played with several Streetscapes participants. Meanwhile, Tessa sat on one of the benches in the back corner of the room wearing rolled-up jeans, a worn out messenger bag, and a smile on her face. On the table in front of her, a stack of papers sat on the table.


As Liz approached her, Tessa pushed the papers across the table towards her. The words, “The reason why I am on the streets” were written across the top of the page. Intrigued, Liz sat down and asked Tessa to explain. Tessa explained that many of her friends on the street, who often come to SDR for lunch, had come together and to write down their stories since they weren’t able to come to SDR for an interview during the morning.

As Liz read the stories, tears began to fill her eyes. The stories were real, vulnerable and heartbreaking, but at the same time they were hopeful. Tessa watched with understanding eyes and told Liz not to be sad. The stories discussed many people who had faced difficult and unfortunate situations, including rejection from home or choosing to leave because of difficult circumstances, and the many challenges of life on the street, such as with law enforcement. At this moment, Liz gave Tessa a hug, and Tessa pulled a few more papers out of her bag. The first was a sheet titled, “The Needs of the Street People As S.A. Citizens” listed six items:

1)      To been loved and respected

2)      Homes to call home sweet home when night falls

3)      To lift our voices as citizens for our rights

4)      Not to been treated like animals but as humans

5)      Not to been used to make money

6)      But help fulfill our dreams to come back into society

Under this list was a slogan:

“To been loved is to smile, to smile is to be happy, to be happy is to be grateful, to be grateful is be thankful by grace everyday.” (Tessa Remmitz)

Tessa is one of the four co-researchers working on the project and felt most passionate about documenting biographies of SDR guests.


Tessa’s passion for telling people’s stories had been evident since we first met her, but as she pulled a few more pieces of paper out, it became clear how much she was willing to work to make it happen. She had a sheet with 30 names and signatures of street people who were willing to participate. In addition, she had written a prayer and a short summary of what it was like to live on the streets. As Liz looked over these other documents, the dining room was starting to clear out, and the rest of the team came over and joined her. Tessa and Liz showed the rest of the team the papers. A silence fell over everyone as they read and took in what was in front of them. “Why is everyone so quiet,” Tessa joked. The team expressed the powerful effect the stories had on them to Tessa She then proposed the idea of adding one more document to the collection having one of us to write a short piece with the title: “Americans, what do you think of S.A. Street People?” Drew agreed to do this. Handing him a sheet Tessa said, “Tell the truth please; that’s all I ask.” Reading over what Drew had written caused Tessa to smile.

Tessa then handed Liz a sheet titled: “What Street People think of Americans.” Before Liz even started reading she was prepared to cry, but as she started reading it the truth and sincerity of it overwhelmed her even more than she anticipated. Tessa expressed how she was not optimistic about us coming, how she didn’t want to work with us, and how she thought we were stiff. However, having spent time with us she changed her mind and now felt positively towards us. She wrote, “I can’t wait for the weekends to go by so we can see each other again and laugh together.”


Our emotions reached perhaps the highest level since our project began. The stories revealed that with all of the hardships street people face, guests of SDR just want to be loved and respected. The power of sharing biographies and expressing feelings through writing was made clear by the emotions we felt.

Much of society looks down on street people without trying to understand their experiences. Although people who live on the streets may appear different on the outside and face difficult challenges, we all experience the same emotions. We all deserve respect.


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