This afternoon my friend and co-worker came into my office to brainstorm. As front-line points of contact to persons experiencing homelessness we can never guess what a day may look like. Some days are relatively easy. Some are taxing in every sense of the word.
This afternoon we set out to find a place for a young woman of 17 to sleep for the next two nights. She has spent the last several sleeping outside, in a doorway. She is nearly three months pregnant. Because she is not 18 she is ineligible for the local shelters. In fact, we cannot even put out the money for a hotel room for her because she is a minor.
Thankfully, we were able to brainstorm and use our contacts and found somewhere for her to stay. Creativity, social capital, and calling in favors is a large part of the work we do here. This is why we say that homelessness is not primarily a lack of housing but a lack of relationships.
It is also a lack of being able to relate in what is deemed a socially acceptable way. Those that we offer relationship to have often exhausted the patience and resources of family, friends, and agencies that would otherwise be there as a first defense to lend a helping hand. When I am asked why I would ever put my 5’2″ frame in the middle of two grown, angry men who are fighting in our chapel I have to answer, “No one else is willing to.”
Everyone needs somewhere to be. How can we expect for anyone to do differently than they are doing, should they so choose, if we do not provide a safe place for them to be, to form relationships, and to be treated as an individual worthy of respect and dignity?
We have such a place here. Sometimes in our chapel there are fights. Sometimes there are hard days, on our guests and on our staff. Each day we try to do better, together.
It is an arduous life – but it is a meaningful, intentional, and quite often a beautiful one.