Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Start of a New Emmaus Ministries Journey

I am embarking on a sabbatical experience at Emmaus Ministries. This is an ecumenical, urban ministry for homeless males who participate in prostitution. The ministry is located in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago.

Emmaus Ministries was started 20 years ago by Catholic Deacon John Green. What started as one man’s efforts to care for the lepers of today has developed into a ministry that is supported by seminaries, churches, and a network of Christian servants.

The ministry consists of multiple programs. There is an outreach program. Workers and volunteers spend the evening in areas of the city frequented by male prostitutes. This is a ministry of presence. We provide fellowship, occasionally food and transportation. It is also a way of intr4iducting the guys to the Ministry Center.

The Ministry Center is a home-like environment. The guys have sit down meals. They can use the showers, utilize the clothing bank. They can use the phone to talk to case managers, probation officers, doctors or family. It is a place where they can get their mail. It is also a place to work on goals, attend group and to worship. It is far closer to being with family than attending a social service agency.

There is also a prison ministry. Emmaus is dedicated to staying involved with the guys as long as the guys want us to. The prison ministry includes advocating for the men, praying for them, attending court and visiting the men in prison.

Emmaus Ministry is place of education. It works with interns from a variety of seminaries and colleges. It trains community members. There is an Immersion Night. This is when church groups are given lectures on the “Night Community”, the teachings of Emmaus and then are given a structured activity to do outside of Emmaus. It is not only they guys that are transformed. The interns, volunteers and church groups learn to identify what prevents them from seeing Jesus in the men of the night. They learn to be better servants.

Finally, there is the Kaio Community. The Kiao Community consists of interns who live together in an intentional faith community for one year. They live modestly and faith together. They are differing Christian traditions but are united in their love of God’s creatures. They participate in all of the ministries of Emmaus. In return they receive health insurance, room and board, transportation and $20.00 a week. I am living with the Kaio Community during my sabbatical.

Emmaus Ministries is centered in faith. The first Monday of each month the staff and volunteers join in a day of prayer. In preparing for a new generation of Kaio interns Emmaus Ministries had a two and one half day retreat at Lake Geneva Wisconsin. This was followed by additional training and orientation for the new interns. This was a week of orientation but also a week of team building.

In the coming weeks I will be blogging about my experiences at Emmaus. This will include training, community life, worship experiences. I will also talk about the cultural diversity of the city with a focus on both ecumenical and inter-faith worship.

Friday, August 20, 2010

My Homelessness Immersion Project: The Rest of the Week

After my initial discomfort and self-consciousness I found myself seeking out opportunities to interact with the guys. I was not the only one. One day as I stepped off the bus at the downtown terminal there were tables set up. A church group was handing out water and doughnuts to passengers. This was not just for the poor or homeless but a lot of folks I knew found their way to this site. It just turned into a causal gathering place where the church sponsors and the guests enjoyed each other's company.

I decided to walk through Headwaters Park. While there I noticed one of our guys with a female friend. The female was crying. I gave them their privacy. After walking through the park I went back to the bus terminal. The couple were there. She was still crying. She had injured her leg and was waiting for a ride to pick her up. While she was waiting members of the church group and some of our men gathered around her. They laid hands on her and prayed for her healing. She still needed the ride to the E.R. but she had stopped crying and was able to accept the reassurance they offered her. This was not the downtown I knew.

I continued to visit Ave Maria House.

Ave Maria House

I continued to eat at the shelter. Lunches consisted of hot dogs or sloppy Joe's. There was always vegetables and salads. Dinners consisted of chicken or beef, rice, vegetables and salad. People offered others the food they did not want to eat. I stopped noticing the noise and paid more attention to the conversations.

The dinning room always had families. There was a mother with her infant. There was another mother and father with their children. There were adults with their older parents.

I was developing a cadre of friends. An older guy walked with me through the trails. He walked through red lights and made the traffic stop. As I walked along side of him I hoped nobody in the cars recognized me!

I spent time with two guys who always looked for things to do. That was easy. The Wells Street Corridor had a celebration going on. The library had rock bands from 6 to 10 PM and the Landing had a band. However, since I did not have any photo identification with me I was not allowed inside the ropes to participate in the party at the Landing. It gave me a sense of how difficult simple things become for some of these men.

One day at the library they announced a free movie in the auditorium It was a documentary about Buck Lake Camp. I had never heard of this place before, despite its many significant contributions to country music. Half of the folks in the auditorium were folks who expressed interest in the topic. The other half were people I now knew.

As I was leaving the auditorium I bumped into Father John. I was dirty, my clothes were wrinkled and I was sweaty. Father John greeted me and seemed to not notice my outward appearance. Either he did not notice which was a gift or he did notice and did not convey that which was also a gift. Either way it was refreshing not to feel judged.

I went to street fairs with the guys. I walked down trails that were littered with garbage. I learned which churches and agencies seemed to care about them. I was happy to hear that while must of the folks I talked to were not Catholic they were grateful for all of the work the Catholic Church did in Fort Wayne to help them. This came spontaneously from them without any solicitation from me!

I also noticed how different everyone looked. Some had artistic tattoos, others just routine ink, others appeared to have prison tats. Some dressed with whatever was given to them; others had a clear and unique style of dress.

At the end of the week I called up the agencies I stayed at and set up appointment with them. Dottie Carpenter proudly showed off Ave Maria House and gave me a grand tour. She is clearly committed to her clients.

Ave Maria House Director Dottie Carpenter

I also meet with the CEO of the Rescue Mission as well as the Director of the Residential Program and the Director of Volunteers. We spent an hour processing my experience.

It was a powerful experience and I hope that it serves me well as I begin my sabbatical interning at Emmaus Ministries. Of course, I do not need to rely on hope. Before our meeting at the Rescue Mission ended Rev. Donovan Coley lead us in prayer and prayed that my experiences here in Fort Wayne would help the people I come in contact with. I love to be around folks who are ministering to others and who view and define themselves as servants.

My Homelessness Immersion Project: Day Two

I take the bus downtown. I am dressed in the clothes I wore yesterday. When I get off the bus I am no longer surprised at the looks people give me. I begin to walk over to the Ave Maria House. As I pass the St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen across the street I am aware of how busy it is. There is a constant stream of people going to the door and walking away with what appears to be soup and bread. As I approach Ave Maria House I notice that the front porch is full of people sitting and talking. Outside on the sidewalk are tables with “free stuff.” People come up to the tables and take what they need. It is a busy place.

As I walk up the stairs there are already people who recognize me from yesterday. I am given a new name, I am refereed to as “Bro” or “my brother.” I like it, it is so much better than being invisible. When I enter the house I notice people sitting in the living room watch Tombstone on the television. Some are eating doughnuts, others drinking coffee. In the dinning room folks are signing up to do their laundry or to take a shower.

The place reminds me of Emmaus Ministries. It is warm and friendly and useful. People can get their mail here. They can call their doctors or use the internet to do a job search. Upstairs are rooms for resting. The basement is stocked with food, clothing and essentials for living on the street.

I stay here a number of hours. I am treated with respect. Mainly I am quiet and watchful. I notice that many of the clients are respectful and deferential to older clients. I like this place, it feels like a home.

I then walk over to the library. Again I notice my “colleagues” waling down the street. They are quiet and avoid the sun. Most pedestrians look down or away when my colleagues walk past them.

Allen County Main Library,

At the library I recognize my new friends. They all seem to be doing something. They are on the internet, reading newspapers or working on some written project. I also discover the silent reading rooms. I use the library often but never used these rooms. I enter and sit in the big stuffed chair and read. I recognize others in this room. It is clear you are allowed to remain in this room as long as your stay awake. After a while I get up and begin my walk to the Rescue Mission.

Again the outside is buys and loud. The vast majority of folks who arrive are there for the meals. Again there is a lot of loudness, cursing, posturing but for some reason I do not mind. I find friends and we sit and talk.

The line for dinner is interesting. Two men are talking about their days as solider in Viet Nam, another about Desert Storm. A few are talking about their jobs and two about spending time in prison. One guy arrives from his job. Hew is filthy, from work. He is respected and everyone asks about his job and inquires about how he is doing. There are no small victories here. The meal is again chicken but I am hungry and it is warm and filling.

After dinner I wait for my intake. The place is very busy and this takes a while. Finally I am taken to an office and I answer questions about who I am, what I am doing here, what I am seeking. They inquire about my potential dangerousness and ask about my drug/alcohol use. I am told the rules and told I am now admitted into the emergency shelter. I can keep the bed for 30 days. After that I can enter the next program for six months and the final program for a year. The latter to programs provides education, support and spiritual guidance.

Next I wait in the lobby again until I am administered a breathalyzer, I passed. Then I am given a bunk bed and a locker. I spend abut 40 minutes laying on the bunk. Finally it is time for chapel.

Chapel is lead by a guest speaker, a Gideon. He is a man filed with the Spirit. He is full of love but appears empty of judgmental ness. There are 32 of us in chapel. We sing, we pray, soe asks questions. It is clear some are there because it is required. It is equally clear that others savor these services.

After the service we have free time. I go to the pay phone and make a call. Afterwards I go to the front desk and tell them I found a place to stay. They treat me with respect and let me know that I can come back if it does not work out. These are nice folks.

I then walk home. It is hot and humid but I am happy. I am seeing folks differently, I am learning, it has been a good day.

My Homelessness Immersion Project: Day One

As soon as I stepped off the bus my life was different. I carried a bag over my shoulder. I was dressed plain and casually. As I walked down the street folks began to stare at me disdainfully or avoid eye contact with me. As time went by I sat and observed how pedestrians responded to the homeless, I wanted to make sure I was not simply projecting.

I had time, lots of time. So I walked over to Matthew 25. This is an important agency in our city. It is the free dental and medical clinic for the poor. However, you sign up early in the morning. Sitting and waiting is the occupation of the poor. Having grown up on welfare this was all too familiar.

I walked over to Ave Maria House to get their hours. This is the local drop in center. The front porch was full of people hanging around talking. It simply looked like family spending time together.

I was aware that I was in the hub of Catholicism downtown. Ave Maria House and Matthew 25 are separated by St. Mary’s Parish Church. This church started both agencies. Two blocks away is the cathedral and the cathedral square. The cathedral square includes the chapel, rectory, diocesan offices and cathedral center. Two blocks north of that is the Bishop Noll Center which houses the museum, book store, and various offices of the diocese. The commitment to the poor by our local diocese was evident.

I walked downtown. The heat was horrible. Most people avoided me. When I looked directly at them they acted as if they did not see me. I was becoming invisible.

I walked to the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission. I did not know how to go about getting a bed, there were no directions posted. I asked a man waiting outside and he told me to come back at 3 PM for an intake. He was a resident and he was wrong but I did not know that.

I then spent time at the main library. They is one of the centers for the poor and homeless in the downtown area. I would learn, rather quickly, that most of these folks do not stay at the shelter. Still, I suspect many patrons of the library blame the Rescue Mission for this gathering of the poor.

The library is air conditioned. It was an outside pavilion in the shade. Inside are computer banks and internet access, an art gallery, a coffee shop, an auditorium, lectures, movies and of course books, newspapers and reading rooms. It is a great place to go to get out of the heat, the rain or the cold and it is free.

At 3 I return to the shelter. Intakes are after dinner. So I sit. By 4 PM the outside waiting area is becoming crowded. The community comes here to eat. Men and women of all ages begin to arrive. I quickly become aware of a prejudice I have that I have never identified. I cannot stand the folks who are loud and vulgar. This included a woman yelling at the top of her lungs at a man a block away. She tells him what she will do to him if she catches him. That does not seem like an authentic threat, she is shorter than me.

Finally it is time for dinner. It is so crowded we wait in line and have to wait until seats are available. There are parents with their children here, infants here. This place serves a very important function.

The loud and vulgar become quiet as soon as they cross the threshold. I am left with the impression that their loudness is posturing but once they are inside they are in a safe place and t hat posturing is no longer required.

It has been a hot and humid day. The man sitting across from me complains because I smell; now that was humbling. We are served chicken, corn, salad and water. Some people leave with loaves of bread. It was not a grand meal but I am full.

Because the shelter is at capacity I decide not to stay. I walk home. It has been a long day and just the beginning of this journey. I arrive home with wrinkled cloths, perspiration stains, I am pouring sweat and I smell. Still, I have a shower, I have family and I have a bed. I am tired and I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Record summer numbers in rescue mission

My Homelessness Immersion Project: Preparation

Preparing for the Homelessness Immersion Project was not casual. I had to decide what to take. I brought one bag. In it was one change of clothes for the week. I also had a note pad and pen. I brought a bottle of generic peanut butter. I had a water bottle. I also had a bible to read.

I removed my necklaces. I replaced them with a hanging pouch that included my library card and my insurance card. I did not bring any photo identification. I also had $3.78 on me.

I wore black shorts and a gray old t-shirt. I wore crocs that I wore all term so that I would create a hole in the sole. This I covered up with cardboard and tape. I could not find my old glasses so Cathi wrapped a little tape around the arm of the glasses. I had not shaved in a week, I did not use deodorant. I was ready.

Actually I was only physically ready. I was very nervous. I had planned on walking out the door and not returning until the week was over. However, when I finally got to the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission I found out they were very full. They could have found a place for me but it would not have been easy for anyone. The heat wave and the recession had made the Mission a very busy place. I decided the only responsible thing to do was to sleep at home at night.

Cathi was happy to hear that. My sabbatical is just around the corner and there is a lot to get done. I felt disappointed and guilty about not staying at the shelter. However, Cathi reminded me that I had stayed at more shelters than anyone she knew. She was right of course. I work disaster mental health and have stayed at shelters with chronically mentally ill who did not have their medications. I have stayed with folks with significant prison histories and I have stayed with grieving folks who had just lost family members. It was not critical to my learning experience that I stay at the shelter, especially when the shelter was over-taxed.

I prepared for the experience by learning about the homeless community in Fort Wayne. I walked the parks, especially Headwaters Park, I walked under the bridges downtown and I walked behind buildings. These are all places associated with sites where homeless stay at night if they choose not to use the shelter.

Ave Maria House

I contacted the shelter and let them know what I would be doing. I became familiar with Ave Maria House, a Catholic drop-n center sponsored by St. Mary’s Church. I also became familiar with St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen and Matthew 25 the free dental and medical clinic. Finally I became familiar with the Main Library of the Allen County Public Library, with Archangel Institute’s plaza and other ‘hang out spots”.

St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen

I took the bus downtown and as soon as I stepped off the bus my experience began. I was anxious, self-conscious, but also prepared. I was also keenly aware of the fact that unlike the folks I would be associating with, I could always simply walk away from this life to one that included family, a home, food and comfort. It was time to immerse myself into the life of the homeless.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Homelessness Immersion Project

Introducing My Homelessness Immersion Project

Sometime next week I will begin to blog again on a regular basis. For a long time now my thoughts have been with the homeless in America. On any given night anywhere from 700,000 to 2 million Americans are homeless. The lucky ones find a shelter to stay at. Others sleep in cars, gangways, under bridges. They are a diverse bunch, just like the rest of America. They are young and old, individuals and entire families. Some are vets, some had careers, some are experiencing the symptoms of serious mental illness. Some are addicted to drugs and some have long criminal histories.

During the last two years the Great Recession has increased the number of hungry in America and the number of homeless. This comes at a time then there are less monies for social services and fewer Americans have money to give.

For the past week I have been on a Homeless Immersion Project. That required me to eat at shelters, go to drop-in centers, socialize at sites frequented by the homeless. I had an intake at a shelter, I passed a brethalizer test. I was followed by a police car for three blocks while walking downtown. I had a minimum of clothes and money with me. I had no photo identification and that did have implications. I worshiped at a shelter chapel and I walked the streets and trails with the homeless.

My initial re-entry into blogging next week will be a processing and reflection of that experience.

The Face of Stress
At this point I still have a fairly clean shirt on. My appearance proved to be unsettling to some.