Download this update letter! Update 1-6, 2-16-2012
February 17, 2012
I haven’t sent an update in over two whole months! Countless times you went to your mailbox (or inbox) only to be stymied yet again, wondering when, oh when, would the update for December and January come! But fear not for here we converse yet again, though I suppose I’ll have to do most of the talking. As always I love hearing your responses and thoughts on the various topics in the letters. You range from Camden friends and coworkers, Williamsburg friends, past retreat groups, to fellow Tech alum that now live in the wider world somewhere. Wherever you are I thank thee for your continued interest in reading about Camden and caring about what I (and all of us) do here.
I prefer to say, Those without a home
I’m not sure what it is that magically draws people to certain professions and interests instead of others. I’ve never had the desire to be a supreme court judge or a cruise ship captain or the guy that makes cotton candy at the state fair. But I like laws, and probably cruises, and bright colored sugar rushes so I’m glad someone has those positions covered. Instead my interests have always been building things, woodworking, service to the poor, and the life circumstance that is homelessness.
I frequently feel the need to experience things if I’m to understand them. I won’t know how cool Mt Kilimanjaro is by reading a National Geographic- I want to climb it someday. Hearing a marathoner’s story is nice, but I’d rather train for four agonizing months and slug through 26.2 miles just to see if it’s in my realm of physical possibility. Such was the case with my interest in homelessness, since high school/ college I really wanted to be purposely homeless for a few days or a week to experience it. To know what others go through. I’m sure I just made my Mom who’s also reading this shake her head and laugh in nervousness. I still wish I had the guts to make it happen because I think it would enable me to know the needs of our guests at the shelter more. But that feeling is slipping away as I learn, from this side of things, just how terrible being homeless can be.
There seems to be a small window of opportunity right after homelessness occurs when you’re most likely to get out of it. It’s the time when your connections with people are still recent; you might still have clean clothes, and might still be clean yourself. It can be, however, a black hole of existence that is very hard to escape once you’re in it. That title, Homeless, invokes such actions as judgment, criticism, and being ignored. Homelessness often strikes the weak and vulnerable, yet its not for the faint of heart. You have to be tough to survive out there. The streets is a lifestyle of survival which takes getting used to. We’ve had several people at the shelter who’d never been homeless before. It’s interesting to see their transition from their first night on the streets to a more physically hardened and emotionally protective version of their selves. It’s scary when you get to the point of losing hope you’ll ever get out of homelessness. That’s when the emotional battle of changing your circumstances really gets scary. It’s hard to picture such despair when our lives involve going to work daily and being in contact with others who are in good financial standings. But when you’re on the street and surrounded by such need and have few contacts left, it gets lonely and desperate. Which is why it’s always inspiring to see the truly great faith of some of the people at the shelter.
I’ve never been more appreciative of having a home until recently. Not only the emotional support of growing up in a home (thanks Mom and Dad!), but the physical structure itself and how lacking this asset of livelihood changes all other aspects of livelihood. Just think of how you always have somewhere to go or be at every point of the day. From home you get in your car to go to work. Then its work to car to errands to home. Being homeless also means not having a place to be.
Working at the shelter- Joseph’s House
I spent Christmas with our shelter guests this year, but first I was able to have a short pre-Christmas at my parent’s house with the fam. After a jubilant Christmas dinner the family activity was stuffing 50 stockings complete with toothbrush/paste, socks, cookies, candy canes, etc. When I returned to Camden Christmas Eve, I was rested and ready. Donned in my red and white Santa suit, complete with beard and enormous pillow belly, I passed out all 50 stockings to eager and surprised recipients. Lots of our regulars weren’t there that night because they stayed with family, but for the ones who had no where else to be on Christmas, I believe it was made a little brighter. So SUPER THANKS to all who made that possible— Father Joe, Kathleen Duffy, Lisa Mitchell for all the supplies, and my pretty awesome family for putting it all together!
In more depressing and aggravating news, the City of Camden in its infinite wisdom has decided it no longer desires our shelter to exist in the city. We opened up a second shelter site on the edge of town in January, but we closed after just 3 weeks. It was located in a church in a largely residential neighborhood, the same the mayor lives in. The neighbors had issues with the shelter being close by and rather than continuing to fight we closed. Now the city is fighting to close the shelter site I work at, as well as the day homeless shelter that is in the same building. The reasons are vague but certainly political, the possibilities ranging from Cooper Hospital not wanting homeless near its new medical school to the mayor wanting to reduce the social services in the city so surrounding counties won’t dump their undesirables on Camden. There have been many articles about it in the local paper, and you can find them all on the blog (https://camdenchronicles.wordpress.com/). Just know that the majority of the details in the articles are pretty much wrong, despite our director’s attempts at correcting the article authors.
I’m sure you saw on the news back in December about an unfortunate shooting on Virginia Tech’s campus. Despite media portrayal, I assure you Blacksburg is not a magical epicenter of terrible crimes and unfortunate misdeeds. It’s true on April 16, 2007 many people lost their lives on that day, and we were sad. We were not the same after. We are instead better. Having seen the media frenzy in person in 2007, it’s pretty easy to be cynical (though I argue accurate) about mainstream media and its practices. They can spin anything in any which way they please for the sake of a good headline. It is a business, after all. As my poli-sci classes in school taught, the media doesn’t tell you what to think as much as it tells you what to think about. The shooting of a Virginia Tech Police officer in December had nothing to do with April 16 however. And most importantly, the focus should be on the victims first, not whatever controversy arises from the situation.
Desales Service Works: Sign up for service retreats, come volunteer in Camden
for the summer or full year!
CamdenChronicles: My Camden Service Blog: Camden news, DSW Happenings,
Survival Guide to Homelessness: A blog on Homelessness (definitely worth a
Good.is: Lots of GOOD Things! Website/ or daily email on various topics and
All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.