Friday, August 20, 2010

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.

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