“Housing will never solve homelessness, but community will.” -Alan Graham This reflection was part of the Lenten series on the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers Alumni blog, but is a reflection worth reading again and again.
When does your heart swell with love? Lately, my heart has been leading to the Community First! Village here in Austin, Texas again and again. Most recently the coordinator for the Genesis Garden shared with us how this vision unfolded over the last 20 years. She described how Alan Graham and his crew delivered meals with Mobile Loaves and Fishes on the streets of our city. These simple interactions created opportunities for making connections human to human and evolved into friendships. There was still something more to this mission – a desire to get the chronically homeless off the streets. The purpose become more profound as he received guidance from his friends that were formerly homeless. There was one key piece to this vision. Community. C-O-M-M-U-N-I-T-Y. Community. Graham explains it this way, “The single greatest cause of homelessness is a profound, catastrophic loss of family, whether by forces like death or divorce, or institutional failures in the criminal justice and foster care systems. When the family unit is dissolved, the remaining members can become adrift and vulnerable, with no one there to pick them back up if and when they fall down.”
From the outside, onlookers might think the physical design is beyond measure. While it is beautiful, there is more to this setup that makes it sacred. You see, residents actually get together frequently to share a meal. They have no indoor plumbing in their tiny homes so they must take turns in the community bathrooms/showers and they even share an outdoor kitchen. Missionals also live on the grounds with the intention of checking on their neighbors and building relationships. I think this is the part that keeps bringing me back. The fact that brothers and sisters are spending their energy building relationships. This reminds me of the quote, “When all basic human needs have been met. What humans long for the most… is to be witnessed, to be loved, and to be heard.”
Part of the mission reads “We provide food and clothing, cultivate community and promote dignity to our homeless brothers and sisters in need.” You can see the endless effort being put into cultivating community with the way the village is taken care of by volunteers and residents. “Promote dignity” reminds me of one of our activities with Mary Frances where we had written what we thought were our 7 core values. Slowly she had presented circumstances that caused us to lose one core value at a time. When it came down to the end, I distinctly remember being left with only my dignity. In that activity I remember thinking how awful it would feel to be treated as invisible. I could see myself shouting at passersby, “I’m still here! I used to be you. I’m still here!”
So what does this mean for us in our daily lives? Where can we have compassion outside of our circles in order to build community? Are we really in tune with the needs of our community members? My friend shared with me that our society has this habit of asking, “How are you?” Most of time we get responses like, “I’m fine,” or “Good.” We all know that there has to be more to those automatic responses. She said that in other cultures it would translate to, “How’s your heart?” Our society likes to be busy and that has pushed us into being disconnected. Imagine how relationships would change. And when you really don’t have time to listen, simply acknowledge the person and say, “It’s good to see you.” While we are at it, how about we learn people’s names and use it when we see them at the grocery store, on the bus, at our workplace from our boss to the custodian, and even our neighbors. After all, we are ALL significant because we are One Body.
Here is another informative video… “Alan Graham: The Man behind Mobile Loaves and Fishes”