My perception of poverty and homelessness has been significantly altered during this year. I am not afraid – these are just real people that need support. When it comes to panhandlers now, I no longer believe that giving up a little bit of money to them will do any good. When people come up to me and ask for money, I start spouting off all the resources in the city that they could be using. Often times, they realize that I’m a social worker and just walk away. Those particular people are just looking for chump change for the day, not for long-term help. At The Gathering Place, however, they are there for a change and with each client it’s different. That change could come from finding a job or from simply finding a friend. That’s why we have such a wide range of resources.
Part of my job is talking with and listening to our clients. Sometimes, all I have to say is “Hello, how are you?” and a floodgate is opened up through which I sometimes feel drowned with information coming from the client. They are very willing to tell their life stories, and while it is sometimes too in depth, within the stories are humbling lessons. I am working one on one with clients, helping them to navigate through “the system.” Through their stories and struggles, I am a witness to how easy it is to get stuck in poverty.
I’ve heard it all at this point. In fact, I worry that I have become desensitized to human suffering because I hear and see it every work day for 8 hours. Sometimes, however, that factor helps when it comes to making decisions about who gets help and who doesn’t. Frankly, we can’t help everyone who comes to The Gathering Place with every resource every day. We see about 600 women every day. It can be tough to turn people away, so we have rules and guidelines. It may sound mean, for example, to limit a client to a food pickup from our food bank to once per month, but the women do appreciate the rules and boundaries; which, many times, we still bend.
While we have rules around our resources, we do not have any requirements of our clients besides being respectful, courteous, and to follow our rules. I’ve heard many outsiders judge our organization for not requiring our women to be productive. If a woman wants to just come and sit for the entire day that is absolutely fine. These judging outsiders wonder “how is it helping their life if they just sit around??” Well, our main purpose is to provide a safe place for homeless women to be during the day. Even if they just sit and chat with other women during the day that is still a significant and positive thing. Who are we to judge that this activity isn’t enough? Perhaps a safe community is all they need.