Friday, October 30, 2015

Counting my blessings.

It’s cold and gray outside today—the kind of northwest chill that goes to your bones. Though I am wearing a long sleeved shirt (it’s Seahawk Friday, so it is a Hawk shirt!), I am still chilled and just cannot get warm. All I really want is to be home in my warm and cozy living room with an afghan, a cup of tea and good book. The home my husband and I have created is a refuge and the center of our family life, and I love being there.

So as I shiver once again and grab my cooling cup of coffee, I head out to the waiting room to refill it. There I find people chatting about their tattoos, reading books to their children and just enjoying being in a warm, safe place. The coffee flows, the cookies and bananas are eaten and needs are met. We are passing out coats, hats, gloves and blankets at a dizzying pace. This is Hope House on an ordinary Friday afternoon in fall—a community of people, both helpers and those being helped, all hanging out together for a couple of hours.

While this warms my heart, I am acutely aware of the fact that many of our clients have no warm beds, no warm home, and no way to stay dry tonight—for them, it will be a long weekend. Even those of our clients who are in housing of some kind, often have little money to keep the heat on very long at this time of year. Everyone who comes in is cold and asking for blankets.

So what do we need? We need anything, clothing or blankets, that will help our clients keep warm. We need more emergency housing for families who are homeless. We need to help each other in this life. We need to always remember to count our blessings!

My husband, my children, my grandchildren, my home, my church, my friends……..

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The gift of community

She had no English, we had no Spanish—we were all frustrated in this interaction. While most days we have at least one staff person who speaks Spanish on duty, today we did not. My Spanish is limited, no matter how hard I try to improve upon it. I actually provide comic relief to my Latino clients on a regular basis!

At any rate, back to the story….our client needed help with her electric bill—her power had been turned off and between us, her, the power company—the communication was garbled at best.  I resorted to looking for a client who could help with translation and found one right away. This client was a longtime client who had come in with a friend to help her sign up for assistance. She immediately responded to my request for help and sat down next to the client needing energy help, and started translating for us.

Thanks to this client, we were able to help get the lights back on for this family. But the story doesn’t stop there—our translator and her friend took this Latina client under their wing, offering her a ride to the Power Company and then home with the goods she received from Hope House that day. A friendship was born—a circle of sharing was formed.

This is the gift we did not anticipate when we started Hope House 15 years ago (15 years—can you believe it!?). The gift of community that is the Hope House experience has no measurable outcomes to show grantors and donors, but the gift is very real to those who feel left out of the world sometimes. This is a place of belonging and acceptance where those who are marginalized out there find peace.

I think this was the gift God meant for Hope House to be all along!

Friday, July 24, 2015

We are family...

As I sit here in my office on this busy Friday afternoon, I hear the sounds of children playing, parents chatting, and laughter and gentle teasing. It sounds like a living room full of family—which it is! Our clients feel like this is a safe and warm place to come, to chat, and to have a cup of coffee and share stories and resources. In the summer, it is extra noisy because the kids are all out of school, hanging with their moms, looking through books and coloring at our coloring table. We love it!

This has been a busy summer, and this month has been particularly busy. We have had trouble keeping hygiene and cleaning supplies in stock. Yesterday, our three favorite items, (toilet paper, laundry detergent and dish soap) were completely depleted when we opened. As I did intake, I cringed each time someone said they needed one of these items, knowing they would have to settle for something else. Then, part way through the morning, as I stopped back in the kitchen for a coffee refill, I realized there was an odd assortment of all of these items on the shelf. The staff member in the kitchen told me that people had been bringing them all morning, 2 and 3 at a time, and she hadn’t run out yet!

This may seem strange to some, but I just chuckled, because this was just the most important member of our Hope House family at work, taking care of us. I like to picture Him in his carpenter mode, carrying an armful of supplies to us, while His Mother and Mother Theresa look on approvingly! I have no doubt that our modest little ministry here in the far corner of the Northwest is very much on their radar, because we have had too many examples of direct divine intervention over the years—we call them “Godshots”. On our wall you will find this saying “I work on the assumption that if you are doing God’s work, it is God’s business to take care of you”.  At Hope House, He certainly does!

We’re collecting school supplies…….hhmmmmm………Jesus?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Don't make me stop this car!

This is a blog I wrote in 2012 and seeing the client I wrote about recently reminded me of this piece--I think it bears a repeat performance! 
Sometimes God just reaches down and slaps me upside the head. Now, if this statement makes you wince, stick with me and trust that I know what I’m talking about! He’s not making me wait until I see Him in the afterlife to keep me in line, He just keeps teaching me here on earth as I go along my very imperfect, human way.
So what prompted this slap, you may ask? Well, here, to my shame, is my story. Keep in mind that the first thing we do at Hope House before we open every day is pray for kindness, patience and compassion to shine from each of us (this is where I got in trouble).
So the story starts earlier last week, when “Tommy” came in to Hope House looking for help paying his rent to some friends who were letting him crash at their house. Tommy is a regular client, is usually homeless and often slightly inebriated when he visits us. Let’s just say he is one of our more challenging clients. When we explained we don’t help pay rent, he became very upset and yelled about how no one cares about him, etc., etc…….then he left after getting a bag of food.
The very next day, Tommy stopped in to let loose with a loud verbal outburst about how it is our fault he is homeless, and he hates the Catholic Church and us especially. After yelling this at me, he left the room and then came back in to ask for some clothing, which we of course gave him.
Flash forward to a busy Friday afternoon—lots of people at Hope House for assistance, so many that they were spilled out onto the lawn waiting their turns. We were doing double intake duties to keep up, so when I came out and saw Tommy’s name was next, I just sighed. It had been a long week with Tommy, and I was not in the mood for him at all. I called his name, looked around—no Tommy. Someone said he might be outside, so I went out and called again—no Tommy. I came back inside, smiling in relief that I didn’t have to deal with him again. Just then, someone said “there’s Tommy out there with his bike”. So I again went outside, hoping he was heading out and didn’t want to come in again. When I called out to him, I asked him if he still needed to check in. he immediately said yes and almost ran into the building, with me and my poor attitude following. Upon getting into the privacy of the intake room, Tommy told me he didn’t need anything, he just came by to tell me he was sorry for his behavior all week.
SLAP!! That sound you hear is God asking me if I really mean what I say when I pray each day, or am I just being a Pharisee. You see, it didn’t matter if I let Tommy or anyone else know how much I did not want to help him—what mattered was my inner impatience and lack of compassion for this fellow human being. What mattered was my commitment to Christ to treat each and every one of the parts of His body as I would treat Him.  This is the whole focus of Hope House, and it is what makes us special.
SLAP! That’s God saying “don’t make me stop this car!”

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Of lamps and crayons....

I LOVE my job! I know I say this a lot, but it always bears repeating and the main reason I love this job is that God is my partner here every single day. Today a man living in his RV at a local RV park came in needing only two main things: a lamp to read by at night and a small radio to block out other campers noise while he tried to sleep. As I flinched, thinking that we seldom have these items and not for very long if we do get them, I hoped we could find something else he might need to make up for it. So imagine my surprise when I took him back to the household area and we discovered a gooseneck lamp and a small radio on the shelf! That’s a God Shot if I ever saw one, and I see them quite frequently here at Hope House. That man left feeling very satisfied with his day!

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am a caregiver type person. In my previous life (before Hope House) I was a nurse, because I love to take care of people. My job here provides numerous opportunities to reach out with more than just tangible items; often the chance to chat, brainstorm or just listen to my clients is so fulfilling. It helps to have racks full of resource material, colleagues in various agencies around town and our very own Theresa Meurs (Hope House volunteer, and now a housing specialist for the Opportunity Council) on call. One of our clients who is a very special concern to me and now to Theresa as well, is a homeless 55 year old with mental health issues who seems fragile and lost. We are working quite diligently to get him in housing, hopefully supportive. I spent 20 minutes today listening to him talk about his younger life and his dreams and ambitions to be an architect.

It was a day for talking—everyone had a need to share or have someone hear their story. One of the early clients was a homeless man whose identification had been stolen (a common disaster!), who wasn’t sure how to go about getting a new one. Assumption Financial Assistance was able to help him with that. Another woman needed to vent about her problems with the government of Canada and her veteran’s status and the help the VA was getting for her.

In amongst all of this were the children, everything from a newborn to a 6 year old coloring one of our coloring pages. We handed out fruit snacks, crayons and hugs with abandon! Precious little faces and grins…..

I’ll say it again—I have the best job in the world.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

911 and more.....

Sometimes we have to call the police or an ambulance at Hope House, and it occurs to me that those who work at the church or school (or those who attend daily Mass or school), may wonder what is going on, and why do we need the police here? I can tell you that I can probably count on my two hands the number of times we have had to call, so it is not that frequent an occurrence.

One of our first calls was for an ambulance—we had a gentleman with a seizure disorder who seized, then fell and hit his head on the desk on the way down. By the time the ambulance arrived, he was awake and talking, but they took him to the hospital for observation anyway.

“Maria” was very pregnant and had not eaten yet that day—she was short on food. She fainted while getting the hygiene items and food she so desperately needed. When the ambulance arrived, they found her awake and eating crackers and drinking juice provided by our staff.

“Tammy” was hit by a falling bookshelf that someone had leaned on. That bookshelf is now screwed into the wall! She had a bump on her head, but refused to go to the emergency room and continued shopping!

We have had several instances of clients accusing other clients of stealing from them, some true, some not. One of our elderly clients was robbed of her rent money when it fell out of her pocket—this was witnessed by several clients, and the thief was reported immediately. The police were able to locate the thief and get the money back. In another instance, a mentally ill homeless man was sure that someone was attempting to steal his phone and we called the police to help. They were able to clear it all up for him.

By far the most upsetting calls for me personally are those times when we have someone who is being loud
and verbally abusive. I always plead with them to calm down, stop yelling, and “don’t make me call the police”! This is a level of stress they don’t need in their lives. However, the safety of our staff and clients, the comfort and safety of the school and church inhabitants always comes first, so we have had to call the police perhaps 3-4 times for this reason.

Please understand that these few calls took place over 15 years! 99.9% of the time, Hope House is a very calm and happy place, full of children, laughter and joy. Sitting in my office writing this blog, I hear two women talking about the name brand clothing they had found on the racks, two children playing cars on the floor, and a couple of homeless men planning a trip to Maple Alley Inn together.

This is Hope House—a safe place, a community within a community and a wonderful and shining example of our faith.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sharing the Grace

In our Lenten small faith sharing group last night we discussed the concept of “vertical Eucharist” and “horizontal Eucharist”, vertical being between us and God, horizontal between us and others here on earth. We thought the vertical took place each Mass during the transubstantiation, when God comes to us in physical form as the Body of Christ; and horizontal as the call for us to take that grace received out to our fellow man and share the Word. Working at Hope House feels like doing exactly that!

Until I have a day like today. My morning started before we opened with having to call the police about two men who have been causing repeated trouble here on the church property. Hearing one of them call me a “cold hearted b****” and having the police trespass them from the property for life did not feel like sharing the grace, needless to say. If this had not been the 3rd call to the police about these two, I would never have made the decision to be so stern. I was literally begging the Holy Spirit to help.

Follow that up with a visit from a registered sex offender showing up and having to tell him that he could not be on the property of our church due to the school full of children. Even when I told him to send someone in for what he needed, it felt like I was hoarding the grace and mercy of Christ!

Then came “Kirk”, a longtime client who is very fragile mentally, emotionally and physically. Over the years, we have helped him with many things, boosted his spirits and even talked him through a possible suicidal episode.  Today he came in with plans to move to Texas where he has family, and a card of thanks  to Hope House for years of assistance and support. We wish him well in his new life with his loved ones.

On Monday, TJ, another client we have been working with, came up to me to let me know he has 35 days clean and sober. When I gave him a hug, he said “thanks to Hope House for being here for me”. He is a delightful young man when his demons are not driving him.

“Mary” and her two little boys are weeding, edging and planting our front flower beds for us, because, as she says “Hope House has helped us so much, we want to give back”.

So there is an upside to horizontal sharing of the Body of Christ with the Body of Christ!