Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Leaving Bread & Roses

When I worked as a professional E.M.T., I attended a number of trainings on how to deal with something called a "mass casualty incident". A mass casualty incident is an incident which, by its definition, overwhelms the resources at hand.

If there is one thing I have learned in my time at Bread & Roses, it is that poverty is a daily mass casualty incident.

Meta and I are leaving Bread & Roses after serving for four years as full-time, live-in volunteers. Selena leaves with us after offering six years of service. We will be moved out by May 31st. Four years (or six!) is a long time to be a full time volunteer, and it is time for us to move on.

Meta will be focusing on her campaign for Mayor. I'm working on a book. We both will be looking for part-time jobs in social services to support ourselves. Selena moves on to do some very exciting work with Partners in Prevention. The three of us will be renting a pretty little house together on the south end of Olympia, and will be taking the next year to rest, recuperate, and reflect. And then we're going to try something new and exciting! (You're just gonna have to wait until then to find out the details, though... it'll be like a good birthday surprise:) We will continue to be active in the community as volunteers and activists.

As I leave Bread & Roses, there is one last thing I would like to say on behalf of the B&R community: Get involved. Get active. Volunteer. We all have the ability to make a difference in our community, and if we have the ability it is incumbent on us to use it. The homeless need you.

Additional comment:

Since most of you no doubt read the Olympian, I would like to offer some corrections to their horrendously innaccurate and destructive article published on the front page this morning.

First, we at Bread & Roses do not "live for free" AND make a "$600 stipend". We receive free room and board and a $200 stipend. After adding up our living expenses we figured our TOTAL income per person (including room and board) to be about the equivalent of $600 per month. So I promise you, no one is getting rich at Bread & Roses (though I'll tell you that if we did actually get a $600 stipend I would have gladly taken it and bought health insurance).

Secondly, no-one at the Guesthouse is "losing" their "housing". The Bread & Roses Women's Guesthouse is a transitional shelter with up to four women to a room. The average stay at the Guesthouse is about 3 months. We are doubling our efforts to help the women find housing, and we will see to it that they each have their own home within one month. Moving from a shelter bed in a shared room to having an actual home of one's own could hardly be called "losing housing".

The Olympian should be more careful with their words.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

In Gethsemane

His face, swollen and bruised, contorted as his cries echoed down the street.

“Will SOMEONE help me? What do I have to do to get someone to help me?! Do I have to beat my head against a wall to get someone to help me?”

WHAM! He slammed his face against the wall another time. Everyone jumped a little.

He had been homeless for twenty years, struggling the entire time with under-treated schizophrenia. He used to break windows when he got upset, but as he has grown older he has become more compassionate, more reluctant to harm others. Now he only hurts himself.

Everyone seems to earnestly want to help this young man; everyone wrings their hands when confronted with his struggle.

Yet his cries have a familiar ring… “Will you not watch with me this one hour?

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus went to a garden to pray. He begged his friends - Peter, James, and John - to come with him, to stay close by as he agonized over his fate. His anxiety was so intense that it was said he “sweated blood”. Christ’s companions were earnest in their love for him. Yet they fell asleep as he contemplated his doom. For, as the scriptures say, “their eyes were heavy.”

Even among all the disciples, Peter was the most sincere. “Though all become deserters, I will never desert you.” Indeed, he had given up his whole life, his career as a fisherman and his family, to follow Christ. Yet he also slept, because he did not fully comprehend the weight of the moment.

Neither do we. Today the homeless sit outside like Lazarus at the gate, waiting to be invited in. As they wait, they are afflicted with illnesses ranging from pneumonia to staff infections. They are called names and are spat upon by passing pedestrians. They are exposed to the weather, and as they attempt to shield themselves from the elements they are persecuted for illegal camping. They are turned away from overburdened services, and are told that they alone are responsible for their plight.

The government will not provide a solution. I heard as much at a recent Human Services Review Council meeting, which is made up of representatives of local governments. Fuel prices are going up, making it difficult for officials to maintain even the most basic infrastructure. And if local governments balk, the federal government does so even more. The Housing Authority recently received notice of deep budget cuts, and has had to significantly scale back its housing voucher program. The wait list for a voucher stretched out six years even before the cuts were announced.

Yet even if the government can do so little, hope is not lost for the homeless. There is another answer.

Are we not asked to “share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house”? (Isaiah 58:7) For every person experiencing homelessness in our community, there are two hundred unoccupied living room couches. If we want for shelter and housing we have our very own homes to offer. If we are frightened of being overwhelmed and want for support, we have seminaries and universities packed full of idealistic men and women who want nothing more than to make a difference.

Yet we sleep. And as we, the slumbering masses, wait for the government to act, Christ cries in Gethsemane.

Many of us want the Church to do more. Yet we forget what the Church is. We think of the church building, the clergy and staff, and we see ourselves as mere volunteers in the church programs. But we are the Church - the hands and feet, eyes, ears, and mouth of the universal living Church. And if we are the Church, then our homes are where the Church truly resides. Our only obstacle to serving Christ is the weight of our own eyes.

I went to the hospital last night with a young, pregnant homeless woman. She told me she had lived in scores of foster homes – starting at the age of five – prior to becoming homeless. When her baby is born, it will be one more among the six hundred fifty four children experiencing homelessness in our community. A few of these children live in shelters, many sleep in cars, many more live in the Capitol Forest. They are unseen; the details of their difficult lives are largely unknown to the rest of us. They are waiting for us to wake up.

Please listen now. Listen close. Lend your ear to that little voice welling up from inside you. It may be faint, but if you listen carefully you will hear it. It is saying, “Wake up, Peter. Wake up, because I am with you. Wake up, because I have chosen you. Wake up, because I will make you the rock upon which I will build a new world… a world founded on Love. Wake up.”

Wake up, because Christ is among us. He is waiting for you.

Currently Reading:

  • Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America - Todd Depastino

Recently Finished Reading:

  • Blink - Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell
  • Utopia of Usurers - GK Chesterton
  • Orthodoxy - GK Chesterton