Love & Service

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment
before starting to improve the world."
-Anne Frank

this is my blog about service

Through The Eyes of God

The best part of working at My Brother’s Keeper is that I get to be there every day. Throughout each week we see countless volunteers walk through our doors. Yet there are some Tuesday regulars who may never cross paths with our Wednesday regulars, and some morning volunteers who may never get to interact with our afternoon volunteers. I sometimes pick-up donated furniture on a Monday afternoon and deliver it that Wednesday morning with the help of completely different volunteers. The community of My Brother’s Keeper is so extensive that it would be impossible for everyone to share in the exact same experiences. This brings me to the best part of my job: I get to see it all!

Just the other day we did a furniture pick-up from a woman in Canton. Two volunteers and I filled the truck with enough pieces to furnish two apartments! The woman’s father had passed away recently and she was left with the stress of clearing out his home. I could tell that the process was very overwhelming and I did my best to reassure her that the furniture would certainly go to a good home. We loaded the last piece of furniture on our truck, a brand-new full mattress, thanked her for the generous donation and headed back to the warehouse. 

Knowing that we were making deliveries that afternoon, we left some of the furniture on the truck, including the full mattress. Once the afternoon volunteers arrived, four awesome seniors from Bishop Stang and Bishop Connolly High School, we headed into Fall River to meet Tracy. Tracy was eagerly awaiting our delivery with nothing but a stroller and her two children, both under the age of 4. The apartment she was moving into was completely empty. She and her children had been living in a family shelter for the last 8 months after fleeing from her home in the Congo. Without a single relative or friend in the United States, Tracy was attempting to create a new and safe home for her and her children.

As we brought in the beds for her son and daughter, I saw the excitement on their faces. But when we brought in the most comfortable full mattress for Tracy, I could not help but think of the pick-up from earlier that morning. When I told the woman in Canton that her father’s furniture would go to a good home, I had no idea I would be giving it to one of the most inspiring women I have ever met. Tracy’s smile as she sat on her new bed, with her two children climbing to sit on her lap, is one that I will never forget. If only I had a way of sharing that smile with all the volunteers and donors who made it possible. 

Power in Love

I have spent the better part of my day wondering how so many people can lack compassion. It seems to me that compassion should be one of the most basic human traits. Unfortunately, I am starting to realize that this is not the case. 

Today we made a return delivery to a woman named Sherry. On our delivery slip it said that she has three children, two boys and one girl. We made our first delivery about a month ago to help get her and her children off of the floor. Although we were short on couches and dressers, it was very important to us that we delivered those beds as soon as possible. Now that we finally had all the items Sherry requested, we loaded up the truck and drove into Fall River. 

Three volunteers and I entered her apartment and immediately introduced ourselves. I told her about the furniture we brought and began asking where she would like us to place the couch. She pointed to a wall next to the only counter in her very small kitchen. It was at this moment that I looked around and noticed that her two bedroom apartment was smaller than my one bedroom apartment. There was no living room so she had moved the fridge in order to fit a couch for her children. I then looked into the two bedrooms and noticed that one room had a twin and a full bed which took up 90% of the floor space. Sherry explained that one bedroom was for her 13 year-old daughter and that the other room was for her and the two boys. Although I was shocked at the amount of space she was sharing with her three children, Sherry’s smile and excitement about finally having furniture was enough to lighten any mood.

It was right around this time that I asked Sherry where she was coming from and how long she had been in this apartment. The story that followed upset me in ways I cannot even explain.

Sherry and her family were victims of a local slumlord named David Colville. I knew bits and pieces of stories regarding his atrocious apartments but I asked Sherry to explain her situation to the volunteers since this was the first they had heard about it. Back in June, Colville’s apartments were deemed unlivable and the Mayor of Fall River found it necessary to condemn them. Sherry and her children lived in one of these “affordable” apartments. The day that the condemnation and eviction occurred, Sherry’s children were in school and at daycare. The Mayor, along with the Fall River PD, raided the apartments and ordered all tenants to be out in two hours. By the time Sherry came home, she only had ten minutes to gather her family’s belongings. She said they gave her a duffle bag to fill and told her to get out immediately. Naturally, Sherry’s only concern was for her children. When she asked the authorities how she was going to get her children, they told her “We’ll bring them to you.” She had nothing but their word. The tenants of this County St. apartment were then shuttled to a shelter. Sherry and her children were forced to live in a single motel room for 5 months until they were finally set up with affordable housing. The tiny apartment in which we were standing.

I spent all day wondering how a single human being could allow for his tenants to live in such horrible conditions. Apartments infested with roaches and bed bugs. Buildings containing led when there were children crawling around on the floors. Broken fire alarms and frequent carbon monoxide leaks. I then began to wonder how a city official could, in good conscience, evict these families without batting an eyelash; requiring them to gather their most important belongings in an hour or less. Worst of all, none of these families were allowed to return to the apartments after the eviction. All their memories, furnishings, clothes…lost forever.

As I sit here now and write this, filled with passion and anger, I am also experiencing confusion. I am confused how in a single day I can hear a story of how a woman named Gail, who had been sleeping on the floor in an empty apartment, bought a struggling stranger groceries with her own food stamps. I am confused how Sherry, by no fault of her own, was forced into these circumstances and left to crawl out of them by herself, with three children in tow. A story of the purest generosity followed by a story of incredible injustice.

When the delivery was over, I thanked Sherry for sharing her story and said that her children were extremely lucky to have a mother so strong and so inspiring. I was startled when I noticed Sherry welling up at the thought of being a good mother. In my eyes, she had done nothing wrong, but in her eyes she had been failing her children.

I want to take this opportunity to say this: poverty is never the fault of a single person. 

In a world lacking compassion, it is natural for us to blame our failings and shortcomings on ourselves. There is this mentality that we could always have done something differently, but that is just not true. So many things are out of our control. In an instant, our own lives can change for the worse and there is nothing we can do about it. When that time comes, we can only hope that someone, somewhere along the line, will show us a little compassion. It should never be our place to judge the circumstances of those around us, instead it is our place to lend a helping hand and an encouraging word. I cannot spend the rest of my week being angry and pitting blame on a disgusting slumlord and a heartless Mayor. Instead, I need to focus on being more compassionate. I need to counter injustice, greed and hatred with love. 

An inspiring priest once shared that the greatest power we have in this life is by being vulnerable and that the ultimate vulnerability comes from loving others. So, go spread some love and help bring compassion back into the world!

Ministering Peace

Monday morning I began my day by speaking to a woman who would change the course of my week. It was our first time in the office since the Open House for the Dartmouth Facility of My Brother’s Keeper, and the phones had been ringing off the hook. A local paper had done a write-up on our ministry and everyone was calling to see if they could receive or donate furniture.

I answered the phone and was greeted by a woman named Virginia. Before I could say anything other than “Good morning!”, she began to explain her situation. She said that she is 88 years old and is in very poor health. I remained silent as she continued to tell me her reason for calling. She mentioned that she had just read the news paper article about our ministry and was so pleased to hear that an organization like ours exists. Before I could say anything else, she said that she had cut our article out of the paper and plans to give it to her nephew. She wanted me to know that when she dies, which she anticipates to be sooner rather than later, she would like for all of her furniture to be donated to our ministry. I was at a loss for words. I thanked her for her generosity and told her that she would be in our prayers.

After I hung up the phone, I comically told Josh the story and continued about the morning. Throughout the rest of the week, I could not seem to get Virginia out of my head. I told a few others about my phone conversation and received some laughs at the awkwardness of the situation, but I still could not settle my mind.

As the days went by and I went into the homes of many new donors to My Brother’s Keeper, I noticed a theme. Most everyone we encountered had a story to tell and it was rarely uplifting. I accepted donations from two daughters who were cleaning out their father’s apartment, just weeks after he passed away. I met a woman who was moving out of her house of 25 years and thus saying goodbye to the last tangible memories of her recently deceased husband. I spoke with a man who wanted to donate the furniture of the grandchildren he had raised after his own children continued to struggle with addiction. I soon found that the Furniture Pick-Ups were becoming more emotional than the Furniture Deliveries.

I struggled to comprehend why this aspect of my job was beginning to seem so difficult and I hoped a solution would arise quickly. It was not until Friday morning that I realized what I had been missing. As I expressed my frustration with the often depressing donation stories, Erich had a simple, yet perfect response:

"This is the reason we consider ourselves a ministry and not a furniture moving company. We are constantly being blessed with opportunities to minister.”

All of these pick-ups had a theme that also rang true for my conversation with Virginia. Although still very difficult, it was easier for these men and women to let go of their memories knowing that their father/husband/grandchildren’s furniture would live on to serve others who really need it. Virginia felt peace in knowing that even after her passing, her life would still serve a purpose; even if just through her furniture. 

My Brother’s Keeper is more than just a furniture moving company. It changes lives every day and allows so many people to finally feel peace in their hearts. It ministers to everyone it touches: the staff, the volunteers, the donors and the recipients. It brings love and hope into all of our lives.

You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.

Miriam Adeney

To Care is To Love

Today marks the one month anniversary of when I left André House.

I spent the day helping my sister settle into her new apartment, driving my stick-shift through Boston traffic, and going to a Red Sox game with my brother and his wife. Life as I know is back to…well, life as I knew it. It is amazing to me how easily I fit right back into the life I left behind for a year. I know that this past year changed me but sometimes I have to stop and think about how it changed me.

As I was leaving Boston I walked past a homeless man and his dog. I did not have any money and I was not carrying any food. I walked past him at a normal pace and made sure to look at him as I went by. He did not acknowledge my passing, but if he had I was fully prepared to tell him how I did not have anything to give him but that I wished him a safe rest of the day. I was even prepared to end it with a “God bless”. It was in this moment that I was able to realize a part of my own growth. Before André House, my thoughts would not have been, “what can I say to this man to make his day a little brighter?”. Instead, my mind would have been consumed with thoughts like, “how can I avoid eye-contact without making it seem intentional?!”.

I no longer walk past people on the streets and think about how they may have ruined their lives with drugs or alcohol. I walk past people and wonder, if they were at André House instead of in Boston, would they be a guest as sweet as Bama or as hilarious as Eian? Would they have sat and talked with me for hours on end, while I was sweating in the hot sun on my Porter shift? Would they be a regular in the Pascente office or a guest that eats at our Soupline and nothing more? I now wonder about their stories and their families rather than spending my time pitying their situation. I continue to worry about their well-being but I accept the fact that sometimes the only thing I can do to help them is to pray. And I never miss an opportunity to tell them that I care enough to actually do so.

André House is something from which I will never be able to recover. It has deeply affected me and I know that it always will. Every day I wonder about the guests. I have accepted the fact that I may never know if and when they pass from this world but the thought never ceases to terrify me. Men and women who have deeply touched my life may never think of me again, but I can only hope they know that there is someone thinking about them. In my year at André House I learned much about myself and about the lives of others. Most importantly, I learned that the best thing you can do for others is to just let them know that you care. Look them in the eyes and tell them.  

The Love of a Mother

I do not know when I became qualified to counsel a woman through dealing with her daughter’s drug addiction, but I just made my first attempt.

When sitting at the Men’s Transitional house, it is our job, as the staff member on duty, to answer the phone and direct the person calling towards the available resources. We receive calls from people inquiring about our transitional house, from volunteers who are having difficulty finding our building, and from guests wondering about the various services that we offer. Every now and then we receive calls from people at the end of their rope. It is not a rare occasion that I am telling someone on the other end of the phone to “keep your head up” or “stay positive and you will make it through this”. Today, I received a phone call that caused me to rethink my personal philosophy that homelessness is the lack of healthy relationships.

Not even 15 minutes ago, I answered the phone and found myself listening to a heart-wrenching story of a mother, I will call her “Sandy”, hoping to secretly help her estranged daughter, “Taylor”. She was calling because she thought we were a halfway house that could help her daughter kick her addiction to drugs. Before I could even tell her that we were not a halfway house, Sandy began explaining her situation.

Within the last year, Sandy made the very difficult decision to cut off ties with her daughter, knowing that Taylor’s addiction to drugs was beginning to have negative effects on Sandy and the rest of her family. Sandy and her husband sold their house, changed their phone number and moved back to CA to help take care of Sandy’s own mother. The only family member in contact with Taylor is Sandy’s mother. As it turns out, Taylor was recently arrested after crashing the car that Sandy bought her. Just before that, Taylor lost custody of her three-year-old daughter. And days before that, Taylor lost the apartment for which Sandy had been paying.

Through broken sobs, Sandy explained her story and began to beg me for help. She said she could not contact her daughter because she did not trust Taylor any more and because she had promised the rest of the family that she would stay away. She knew that even hearing Taylor’s voice would cause her to break down in sobs and thus give in to all her daughter’s requests. Instead, Sandy wanted to pay for the fee of any halfway house but was hoping she could do so without having to hand the money to her daughter. At that, I explained to Sandy that we were not a halfway house and could not help Taylor with her drug addiction. I gave her as many numbers as I could find for various halfway houses and encouraged her to tell them the story she told me, hoping they could point her in a better direction. I could tell that Sandy, unbeknownst to Taylor, was willing to spend countless hours trying to solve her daughter’s problem.

As we were speaking, I was amazed that I somehow found the right words to help lift the spirits of this heartbroken woman. I did my best to assure her that although tough-love can be difficult, especially for a mother, it is the only way Taylor will be able to find the strength within herself to recover. I offered any advice that came to my mind but I mostly just listened to Sandy’s story while reassuring her that she was doing the right thing. By the end of the conversation she was thanking me profusely and telling me that I helped her in more ways than I could know.

When I hung up the phone, my heart instantly sank into my stomach. How many times have I been telling others and myself that homelessness is the direct result of a person lacking healthy relationships? Here is a mother who cannot even recognize her own daughter anymore, yet she is willing to secretly go to the ends of the earth to ensure her daughter’s safety. For years Sandy provided Taylor with all her needs, offering her money, love and support, yet Taylor continued to use drugs. Even after every other family member disowned Taylor, Sandy remained in her life, offering Taylor unconditional love. Sandy kept wondering and hoping that this was finally Taylor’s “rock-bottom”; she feared the next low would lead to her daughter’s death

Taylor has before her an opportunity for recovery, yet she it seems like she is choosing to push those opportunities and relationships out the window. I still believe that homelessness is a direct result of a person lacking healthy relationships. What I now know is that sometimes these relationships are lacking because of a choice rather than a circumstance. Addiction is such a difficult thing to discuss since there are so many sides to the disease and no two situations are the same. My heart broke for this mother but it also broke for Taylor. How can something like an addiction to a drug cloud a person’s mind so much that she cannot even recognize the worth and love in her own life? I can only hope that I do my best every day to recognize and appreciate the healthy and supportive relationships in my own life. Never hesitate to tell someone, “I love you”. 

Small Things with Great Love

Whenever I prepare my volunteers for serving on the soupline I always end by saying, “And remember to smile. Yours may be the only smile our guests see all day.”

These past couple of weeks I have been reminded of life’s fleeting nature. Far too often we go about our days assuming there will always be tomorrow. We carry on bad moods and take out our frustrations on other people because in the back of our mind we believe that we will have a do-over soon enough. Even if we do not realize it, we are always living for tomorrow and that can be a horrible trap.

The other day one of my housemates, Shaun, and I went on a walk after dinner. When we go for walks we usually like to go someplace far away from André House. I like to go to the wealthier neighborhoods just north of the Zone and pretend that poverty does not exist—for one hour I can imagine a world without suffering. Just as we were admiring the beautiful houses, Shaun and I noticed a man who seemed to be a bit out of place. He was in a wheelchair, asleep, and planted right on the sidewalk in front of one of the many luxurious homes. We both noticed him immediately, even though we had been walking on the street. After walking about 10 feet beyond him, I stopped walking and turned towards this man who was clearly homeless. The second I stopped, Shaun followed with a simple, “Hello, how are you doing tonight, sir?”. We decided to approach the man and get his story to see if there was anything we could do to help. As we were talking to him, a couple walked towards us and whispered, “We’ve already called the cops.” They had looks of unease on their face and clearly did not want to have anything to do with the man sitting in front of their home. 

Once the man heard the word, “cops”, he immediately began to wheel himself away while swearing at us. He lost his shoe in the process so I approached him and offered to put it back on his foot. I could tell he was not very eager to speak with me since, in his eyes, we had betrayed him by involving the police. I explained to him that I worked for André House and before I could ask another question Shaun said, “We can push you to the overflow shelter!” It took quite a bit of convincing but finally the man agreed and told us his name was Jose. The couple was startled by Shaun’s proposal and concerned about what they were going to tell the police later. We said to tell them that the situation was handled.

As we began our 2.5 mile walk with Jose, we tried to ask him simple questions: where he was from, how did he come to be here, etc. By the end of the walk we learned that he was paralyzed on his entire right side. He had been hit by a car over 15 years ago and has been homeless ever since. He told us stories about his past relationships, his family and his struggle with alcoholism. The transformation of Jose’s attitude over the course of an hour was tremendous to see. He was laughing and smiling, and cracking jokes even though he had a difficult time speaking. For one full hour he felt appreciated and loved, and that was clear to both Shaun and myself.

We could have kept walking that night; after all, Jose was asleep. We could have let the police “handle” the situation but that would have brought Jose a tremendous amount of unnecessary stress. Instead, without a second thought, Shaun jumped at the opportunity to bring another person a small amount of joy and I willingly followed his lead.

Too often we pass up opportunities to bring joy to other people. Every day we are faced with decisions to act or to not act. We can say “yes” (within reason) when a person asks us for a favor or we can choose to not even entertain their request. We are blessed with many breaks during day when we can call our loved ones just to say “hello”, yet we rarely do so. There are always going to be excuses defending our lack of time or our bad moods, and sometimes these excuses may be legitimate. It should not matter to us if we have a good excuse, what should matter is if we truly took advantage of those golden opportunities to make someone else’s day.  As cliché as this may sound, life is fleeting and there is no better time than today to tell others that you love or appreciate them. Tell them that their presence in your life, their smile or laugh, makes today worth living. And always remember to smile since it may be just what another person needs to make it through that day. 

♥ Sox ♥

For the last 48 hours I have been trying to figure out a way to verbalize my state of unease. I watched as the city I love, 2600 miles away, faced devastation that would strike far too close to home. If it had been ten minutes earlier my own sister could have suffered the loss of a limb or something much worse. The thought that I would have been in Phoenix if anything had happened to her angered me and almost made me resent living so far away for this year.

I tried desperately to distract myself with my work but as the day progressed I only became more irritated. I watched as grown men beat each other up on our street corner; I assisted a woman fleeing from her abuser and grew frustrated as the cops did nothing; I witnessed multiple drug deals and other illegal activity; I was sworn at and I probably could have been harmed on more than one occasion. All around me, for the last 48 hours, it seemed as though there was only evil in this world.

Then I stopped. I stopped looking for the bad and focused on the good.

I thought of a guest, Kenton, who thanked me on Monday evening for giving another guest a new pair of socks. The man needed a pair of socks since his old ones were horribly smelly. He was leaving in the morning for a job in Colorado and he was too ashamed to ask for this simple favor. When Kenton heard of this man’s situation he decided to see if I would be able to help. The man left with four clean pairs of socks (the others were given to him by generous guests who happened to have an extra pair). Kenton’s parting words were, “This is an example of good things happening to good people.” Personally, I saw it as an example of how the guests have more to offer me than I could ever give to them.

Just last night I had another life-changing conversation with a guest at our transitional house. He was telling me about his dilemma of not being able to afford a bus pass and how he would have to pawn his laptop—for a third time! This simple topic turned into a discussion on the value of an object. The conclusion, from the point of view of two very respectable men experiencing homelessness, was that objects are meant to serve a purpose and should not be things to which we assign certain amounts of emotional value. Ultimately, the things of value in our lives should never be things we own.

Today, as I continue to read various articles about the tragedy back home I am going to take a moment to see the good. I will view Boston as a city stronger than any other city at this current hour. I will see people doing all that they can to remain positive and not let this atrocity break their spirit. I will remain utterly thankful for the well-being of my sister and close friends—the thing I value most in this world. I will be proud at the thought of countless Bostonians willing to risk their own lives to save those injured in the explosion. I will also be mindful of the loss of so many and I will recognize their need to mourn. I will not, however, be angry for them. I will channel that potential anger into a positive energy that will hopefully affect the moods of those I continue to serve while at André House. There is already enough bad in the world and it is our job to counter it with good. In order to do that we must be able to see the good so we know how to mimic it. Our good deeds do not have to be groundbreaking. In fact, they can be as simple as a pair of socks.

The Love and Hope of Jesus

I try not to be too religious in my blog posts but this one has to be said. I understand that not everyone reading these posts is Christian, or religious in any sense, and if that is the case as you read this then I ask you to do me a favor: think of Jesus as a great human being who desperately tried to teach others what it means to love. Think of Jesus as someone who literally died fighting for what he believed in. He wanted to show the world what it meant to love so deeply that he was willing to die for that love! Lastly, think of Jesus as a man, no greater or worse than any man, who did his best to have his voice heard and never lost hope. Regardless of a person’s religious background, the stories and parables associated with Jesus’ life and death are ones to which we can all relate at some level. Just try to look at the following post in that way…

The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the ultimate story of hope. Jesus came to show us how to live simply and simply love. Yes, he taught us how to love. Even when he was no longer allowed to preach, he continued to be the very best example of what it means to love everyone without condition. As he was being tortured, he begged that his persecutors be forgiven. After his closest friend on Earth denied ever knowing him, Jesus still made Peter the foundation for his church. Nearly everyone Jesus loved and respected during his time on Earth abandoned him in his hour of need, yet he did not despair. He remained hopeful for he knew what exciting things were to come. This hope is what gave him the strength to die.

For the first time in my life, Easter has taken on a very real meaning to me. As things do not always go my way it is easy to lose hope and remain pessimistic. If I do not get my hopes up then there will be less pain when it all comes crashing down. I think this is the mentality most of those experiencing homelessness tend to acquire. Whether it is because of their many failed attempts at quitting their addictions or simply because no one will hire them, hope is not a word in their vocabulary. Our guests face rejection every single day of their lives. Just today I had a woman thank me for letting her use our bathroom since she is so used to people telling her “no”. If we are constantly preparing ourselves for rejection then we may not be as disappointed but we will certainly not be living much of a life. We need to live a life filled with the hope of something better or else the life we are living will never improve. If we truly believe that the best is yet to come and we work towards attaining this better future—without anticipating what it may be—we will not be disappointed.

Jesus’ death on the cross was certainly a beautiful example of love but the true reason for Easter is not to celebrate his death. The purpose of Easter is to celebrate the Resurrection—the ultimate story of Hope. The mission of My Brother’s Keeper is “To bring the Love and Hope of Jesus Christ to those we serve.” It is one thing to bring love to another human being; something we should all be doing every day. It is a completely different thing to be able to bring hope into someone else’s life. Hope is a word we often overlook or associate too closely with naïveté. On the contrary, as Jesus proved to us through his Passion and death on the cross: with a little bit of hope we can conquer anything. Living on the streets or in extreme poverty is something many of us will never experience. From my time here at André House, I can honestly say that the first thing a person loses in these terrible circumstances is his or her ability to remain hopeful. I also know that once that hopefulness is lost then the next thing to go is a person’s motivation. We need to catch people before they reach this point of brokenness and despair. We need to be ready to bring Love and Hope to everyone we meet, every single day. If you are not sure how to do that then just read the Gospels…Jesus really knew what he was talking about.

Shock Value

In January of last year I had the great pleasure of doing a “service immersion” week with My Brother’s Keeper called the Urban Plunge. It was a week full of direct service and life-changing reflections. At one point in that week they brought in a guest speaker, Sr. Bridget, who spoke about her mission trip to Africa where she witnessed the deaths of countless children. When speaking about Africa she explained her struggle to continue being “shocked” by the injustice she witnessed on a daily basis. I remember this hitting me very hard and I even spoke to her afterwards to express my own fear that I would eventually stop being shocked by injustice. She encouraged me to continue doing this work regardless.

Sunday afternoon I was rudely awakened to the fact that my worst fear from one year ago had become a reality. The only difference is, I do not feel the guilt that I assumed I would feel when this time came.

A woman came into the Pascente Office pushing a walker full of what had to be all of her belongings. She sat down in the chair across from my desk and began telling me her story. Words and phrases like “fire”, “house burned down”, and “melted blankets” all came out of her mouth but for some reason I could not put the pieces together well enough for me to conjure up an appropriate reaction. At the end of her story I realized that my facial expression must have been a bit too plain when she said, “you probably aren’t shocked by anything anymore.” Although I should have taken that statement as a hint, my response was, “aside from homeless children, you’re right.” The woman herself was not fazed by her own situation and she even described her “house” as one with four plywood walls. Honestly, I think she only mentioned my lack of shock to let me know that she was not intentionally trying to give me a “sob story” like others often do. Regardless, if this had been six months earlier, I would have had a much more visible and emotionally paralyzing reaction. In the end I did all that I could to help the woman with her immediate needs and we parted on good terms.

After this incident, I began replaying various scenes from my day, scenes that would devastate someone who has never been around “the zone” in Phoenix. In the last week I have seen things and heard stories that could break hearts yet I am still able to sleep at night. I denied a woman housing simply because I knew she would not be able to get a job if we accepted her into our program. I held the hand of a tiny baby and did not spend countless hours worrying about the fact that this baby may or may not have a home. I consoled a devastated man who had just been evicted from his home. I denied a man a ticket because he was too intoxicated and I stood there as he called me every name in the book. I did all of these things without any hesitation or feelings of guilt. I went from one heartbreaking or difficult situation to the next yet I felt stronger than ever.

Today I accepted a small donation from a woman during my Porter shift and when I went back outside to give her a tax receipt she asked, “how do you do this every day?” My response was basically as follows:

When you see these things day after day, it becomes less shocking but that is not a bad thing. This lack of shock allows us to remain strong and reliable. When these men and women approach us to talk about their hardships, the last thing they want is someone to cry for them. Instead, they need a shoulder to cry on. They need someone firm yet compassionate. Even if they may sometimes want it, they do not need our sympathy. What they need is someone who can offer them encouragement, emotional fortitude and hope, things that life on the street often lacks. It is tough love but it is for a good reason.

Annie and I often joke that this job makes us “cold-hearted”. I will argue that it is not the temperature of our hearts that is changing but the size. The larger the heart the easier it becomes to give more of the tough love that those closest to us need most.