Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Autumn Stories

By Colleen Sinsky

One of the most meaningful aspects of job at JOIN is getting to listen to so many stories. I’m often blown away by the tragedy and desperation that exists alongside us in Portland. This world is new to me, and I’m still struggling daily to figure out how I can turn my frustration into productive changes. Last week some of our folks lost everything when their camp was raided and every single one of their belongings taken. Without a way to get more blankets they had to keep walking continuously through the night and then ride the MAX as soon as it began running to stay warm. They came to JOIN the next morning for help and we were able to get them some basic supplies. Their experience impacted me the rest of the day and I found myself wiping away tears while moving furniture that afternoon. For all of the talk about social justice, we still live in a place where our brothers and sisters can be living at the bottom of the barrel and still be robbed of their last meager possessions for the sake of urban aesthetics. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a 1967 speech against the Vietnam War. “On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flipping a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

But not all stories are sad, and I am so thankful to get to be part of the opportunities for happy endings that JOIN produces. One of which is Christy and her fiancĂ© Phil who were homeless, and moving from couch to couch of friends and relatives with their five beautiful children. JOIN was able to get the family into a great apartment and help move all of their possessions out of the storage unit that they’d had to hastily rent when they were evicted this summer. Last weekend, Christy was kind enough to volunteer her time to be a guest speaker at a Nordstrom’s United Way Rally. Nordstroms employees have been generous donors to JOIN and other organizations funded by United Way, and Christy and her daughter Veronica were the stars of the event, telling their story to dozens of tearful Nordstroms employees. “I don’t know where we’d be without JOIN. I can’t believe my daughters actually have their own room now. And we have our own front door, and a kitchen table with matching chairs and everything.” Afterwards, over a breakfast of omelets and pancakes, Christy and Veronica couldn’t believe that the audience was actually passing around a box of Kleenex. “It doesn’t seem sad to me, haha. It’s just our family” Veronica said. Veronica just started 8th grade and is a very gifted student who wants to be a pediatric nurse or work with people with disabilities when she grows up. Lio and I were so proud of these two presenting their story, and we’re both so happy to be part of this great family getting into housing. I visited their new place yesterday and took these pictures of Angelina and Dominic, Christy’s little ones, to share with you all. They’re settling in great and even added a dog to their family :)

Thanks for reading! Stay warm and enjoy those autumn colors!

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Rookie

by Colleen Sinsky

Today is the end of my third week at JOIN doing Outreach Support. I’m one of three Jesuit Volunteers who gets to work here full-time for the next year, and so far it’s been a wonderful whirlwind of getting to know Portland, meeting some incredible folks, and getting over my fear of driving JOIN’s big box truck.

My daily job is unpredictable and involves everything from compliance paperwork, building relationships with folks, outreach on the streets, and a good deal of moving furniture as we get people into housing. I feel so lucky that JOIN was able to create this new position and can’t wait to see what the rest of the year will bring!

Yesterday, I got to move Keith, who has been homeless for the past ten years, into an apartment. Keith has helped me move furniture for other families before and I was thrilled that we were able to get him into his own place. The day before he moved in we talked about how excited he was for the privacy and safety that owning a locked door would afford. Keith enjoys cooking and was looking forward to having his own kitchen, so the morning of the move I stopped and bought him a rib eye steak for his first dinner “inside.” “I’m going to be living like a king! Just watch” he said. Keith is trying to find a job and is planning on attending the weekly employment workshops that Melissa will be running at JOIN.

There’s a lot going on in the JOIN office, and construction noise from the remodel next door and structural work on the building is constant background noise. Upstairs, the House is always full of folks stopping by to take a shower, have a cup of coffee or just hang out. Lindsay, Keith, and Daniel, as well as a dedicated group of volunteers and interns keep the place running and a safe space for folks living on the street to relax during the day. We’re lucky to have donations of home-baked goods from volunteers like Paulette & Judy. Last week the House had dozens of made from scratch biscuits and homemade jam. Yet another example of kindness where all I can think is “only at JOIN…”