Homeless in Harpur: Stephanie Karluk lifts the Binghamton community

Stephanie Karluk ’22 majored in psychology because she was fascinated by the human psyche, particularly how it can be transformed by trauma and recover afterwards.

Karluk understands the transformation firsthand, having gone from living on the streets of Binghamton 10 years ago to saving enough to buy a house in Johnson City. She has worked for years in homeless outreach and, with her degree from Harpur College of Arts and Sciences, wants to make a bigger impact in her community.

She is a housing specialist for the Southern Tier Independence Center (STIC), a Binghamton-based non-profit organization that helps people living in nursing homes leave those facilities and find affordable housing.

“This area has very little affordable housing for low-income people,” says Karluk. “I have a passion for this work having gone through [homelessness] myself. STIC is a great place to work because it stands up for people in need. It’s a place where I really enjoy working and I feel like I’m making a difference.

Karluk spent much of his youth in a cycle of moving in and out of foster homes. Although she was later adopted, she describes this family situation as “not the best”. After earning an associate degree at SUNY Broome Community College, she found herself homeless. She couchsurfed before getting an apartment and a full-time job at the Children’s Home of Wyoming Conference, then at the Binghamton YMCA. Wanting to give himself a better future, Karluk enrolled at Harpur College in Binghamton.

Her formal education and what she has learned through experience, she believes, will bring her closer to people struggling with housing insecurity. Customers will be helped by someone who truly understands them. But there’s a downside to having that first-hand experience.

“It’s easier to engage with people and you have more empathy,” says Karluk. “But it has an emotional impact because you’ve been through [homelessness]. It can bring you back to that moment yourself. A lot of personal care is needed. I sometimes take the person’s pain and feelings as my own, and I have to work every day to let that go.

Karluk’s heart for the community goes beyond his profession. As a volunteer, she assembles care kits for homeless people in the Binghamton area, organizes street cleaning projects in areas where homeless people take refuge, and organizes cold weather clothing drives. She created a community outreach group on Facebook to engage people who wanted to join her in volunteer service.

Psychology professor Deanne Westerman enrolled Karluk in her human memory class in the fall of 2020. Westerman serves on the Stanley Moldovan ’59 Memorial Scholarship committee and got to know Karluk better after applying for the award. Karluk is the second recipient of this scholarship, which is for a “smart and crazy psychology student” who has both excelled academically and found a creative solution to a difficult life problem.

The committee was drawn to Karluk’s patience and determination, the obstacles she overcame, and her dedication to helping community members experiencing homelessness.

“His passion for this issue was sparked by his own early struggles, particularly the challenges of securing a stable housing situation. Stephanie is deeply empathetic, but also a practical problem solver,” says Westerman. “She found her way through a difficult time in her life and is determined to help others who have found themselves in similar situations.”

Sometimes Karluk pauses and reflects on the turns his life has taken over the past decade.

“It was hard to look up and see how I was going to pull through,” she recalls that dark time. “I look at where I am now and the radical difference and I feel hope for the future. I really hope I can be an inspiration to other people.

About Bradley J. Bridges

Check Also

Manatee County Hosts Community Conversation with Town of Myakka Residents Regarding Storm Recovery

MYAKKA CITY, Fla. (WWSB) – More than two dozen county and FEMA officials were in …