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.

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