“Hope has two beautiful daughters- their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are and Courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” –St. Augustine
A couple years ago, I was working at St. Joseph’s Homeless Service Center in Venice, CA. What started as a semester-long “Community-Based Learning” course that Loyola Marymount University required I take turned into something that would forever change the way I look at poverty and homelessness.
On my very first day, I ended up getting thrown right into case management. St. Joseph’s describes case management as a service for “Homeless individuals who are ready to make long-term change.” Plans were developed jointly by the individual and the case manager to assess each person's strengths and needs. We laid out plans for long-term stability and increased the clients’ self-sufficiency by working to get them permanent housing, job training, employment and ongoing treatment.
Imagine my astonishment that they were throwing a junior in college into the position! I had no experience in case management. I didn’t know the various services available to the clients. But by the end of my first day at St. Jo’s, I had helped a young mother and her children find a safe place to sleep, got them set up with appointments at a Free Health Clinic nearby and ensured that the children were enrolled in school. It was a pretty amazing yet heartbreaking to my beginning at Homeless Services Center.
I didn’t have a clue as to the logistics of case management: what forms our clients needed to fill out or how to get them bus tokens to get to the Cold Weather Shelter in Culver City. What I could do was sit down and give them my undivided attention. From listening to stories of a young couple living out of their car with their newborn baby daughter, to the “Will work for Marijuana” flag-waving man trying to visit his son in Florida, I met some pretty amazing people. People I believed had the desire to get out of the situations they were in and rehabilitate themselves.
Fast-forward a few years. To this day, I still recognize faces when I walk along the Venice Beach strand… and that makes me really mad. I know it’s not due to a failure of programming at St. Joseph’s —their programs are amazing and when taken seriously, the clients can make a serious difference in their lives. It meant the people I spent hours with each week guiding and counseling on how to turn their lives around and get them off the streets didn’t hear a word I said.
For a while, I began to see little hope in homelessness. I genuinely saw more hope in the genocides of Africa than I did in LA’s homeless situation. Simply put, I was jaded. I had worked tirelessly for months on end to eradicate poverty on LA’s Westside … and I wasn’t seeing much progress. I began to roll my eyes as I walked past the homeless, knowing full-well what options and services were open to them, free of cost. They weren’t taking these amazing opportunities! And I was angry with them.
Just recently, something clicked in my mind. Maybe it’s not about curing “the problem.” St. Joseph’s might not be an organization dedicating to ending the plague of poverty. Maybe it’s more about restoring human dignity. Hm.
After all, the biggest draw to St. Joseph’s was the jointly-run Bread and Roses Café, where clients could make reservations to have a delicious (and free!) meal cooked by a professional chef, and be waited on like anyone else would be in a nice restaurant. Maybe our clients came in for opportunities to launder their clothes, to make phone calls and use the Internet, or to just converse normally with someone who wasn’t afraid of them.
So, dear friends, I’m left with this thought from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."
I hope today that we see the importance of treating each other with “a spirit of brotherhood” and attempt to “fix” not necessarily poverty at large, but the lack of human dignity given to our brothers.
Click here to find out more about St. Joseph’s Homeless Services Center.