Hello Again

It has been forever since I’ve been here. Life has taken all kinds of twists and turns and I forgot all about documenting them here. Folks have asked me recently to do some posting. I was going to just start a new blog cuz in some ways it feels like a new life… but the adventures in hospitality are new every day and it still is part of this crazy, fun, beautiful, painful, scary, joyful, magic dance so here I am again.

Gonna just start by pasting in some email updates from the warming center. See if posting those gets me back into the spirit…

December 6, 2018
I’ve been nervous-excited about the start of the warming center this year. I always am. Like a kid going back to school, excited to see old friends and meet new, nervous that things won’t go well. This year, however, held an extra set of issues to stress out about as my anxious brain considered facilitating the warming center and keeping things up at Peace House.  I’m still nervous – It’s day 3 and I’m already having a “wear your pajamas’s to work” day.  And those who know me know I’m always worried that I can’t do it right, that I can’t do it good enough, and that no matter what goes wrong it’s always my fault.
But.. day 3 I’m here in my pajamas and, ya know what, it’s okay. This morning we made waffles at the warming center, we squabbled in good fun over proper toppings (Is Jelly better? Syrup? Butter or margarine? ) and not a person said “I’m not gonna eat your waffles, you’re in pajamas .”
Phil and William did vats of dishes and when it was time for lunch and we didn’t have a volunteer signed up to bring it we set to work warming up tomato soup and making grilled cheese.  Using left over buns, Hawaiian rolls and some bread Ashlie walked over to Trader Joe’s and purchased on her bridge card.  Fruit and pretzels round out the meal and fresh from the oven cookies for dessert. As I type this from the makeshift “desk”  folks coming and going pause for hugs and to share how glad they are the warming center is here.
“Thank you for being here. Again.” “
Hey Sheri,  got bus tokens? We’d be lost without ya’ll.”
“Can I use your phone to call HAWC? “
“Do you need someone to organize the donations?”
“That tent you gave me last year got me all the way through ’til the rotating shelter started.”
“Can we decorate cookies again this year?”
“I didn’t need the camping gear, but what MISSION gave me was a sense of purpose.”
Monday  2 of out guests (one staying in the warming shelter, and the other marginally/precariously housed- neither has income) each handed me $5 toward food or bus tokens.  Another guy, spent $10 towards some staples and offered up a shopping trip of up to $20 on his bridge card later this week. Tuesday it was a guy handing me $5 from selling plasma to buy waffles, and Seth running over to Trader Joes to buy something for lunch for the guest who couldn’t eat the ham volunteers from the church had provided since he can’t eat pork. All of this and so much more.
And I realize, I am reminded once again – it’s not about me. It’s about us. Everyone has a piece. Everyone is needed to make this all work. No one “saves” anyone here. When we are at our best (and sometimes our best – at the moment – is showing up in PJs) we create the space and support each other to “save” ourselves.
“Sharing is Caring!” Mutual Aid at it’s finest!
As I listen to conversations around me, and connect with the guests as they come in I find myself thinking about past years, friendships that have grown over time and how those who have been around help the “new” folks learn the ropes. I think about how much I have gained and learned in this community. From this community. I think about how much I rely on so many folks to do this work and how many of those folks that I rely on and value so much are seen as “unreliable” and “unworthy” in our society.
I find myself thinking of open hours last night at peace house. I was worried because I’d cleaned out the fridge for the warming center and hadn’t had the time to go shopping. I left the warming center last night with a car overstuffed with folks heading to Peace House for an overnight and wondered how we’d be hospitable after a day of warming center busy and Peace House cupboards bare.  But somehow Milk appeared in the fridge and frozen pizza to cook for the gang. Seth had made homemade bread and as it baked Rose began decorating boxes to place around town to collect hats, mittens, socks, coats, hygiene items and such, and Ashlie, Louis, Cindy and Biankha shared stories and tips about navigating the red tape to access resources.
Happy sigh. We got this.
I always say “we are in this together”  and if this week has showed me something it is how much those words are true.  It’s exciting and humbling. It’s that realization that I am important, and also that I am not important. That both can be true at the very same time.
I’m so glad all of you are a part of this. Thank you. I hope you can stop by the warming center sometime and join in the fun.
With deep gratitude, fierce love and hard-nosed hope, Sheri
December 15, 2018
Another busy week at the warming center. We averaged about 45 guests this week! We had visits from PORT and from the medical outreach team. Yummy lunches and great snakes every day. The generosity of our host and others in the community always inspires me. Guests frequently hand over an unused bus token, add their own items to the donation table, or purchase food items to share on their bridge cards. Again this year, Journey of Fatih created a holiday “free store” where guests could get gifts for loved ones and get help wrapping them. Such an amazing thing for those who might not be able to afford to get the things they want for their loved ones this holiday season. Children’s books, toys, and stuffed animals were popular and some great gifts for adults as well.
Yesterday the warming center moved out of our First seasonal host, Journey of Faith. Monday we move to our new home for the next 2 weeks, Trinity Lutheran Church. Moving day is exhausting in so many ways. As I pack up “the warming center bag” with the contents of our make shift welcome desk (community contracts, sign in forms…) I always find myself smiling in amused wonder: “the first 2 years we did this everything we took from one host to the next fit in this big bag.” Moving day meant grabbing some left over food to bring along for the next day and stuffing everything else in the bag. Now my little Honda Civic makes multiple trips to carry bins of yoga mats and blankets for napping, toasters, food, items for donation, games, art supplies, first aid kit….

I find myself realizing it is not just the physical act of moving all this stuff that is exhausting but the emotional labor of being present to many for whom moving is such a trigger. Folks tend to be on edge moving day. Lack of any sense of permanence and the security that comes with that is so prevalent for those experiencing homelessness and so often such a reminder of the ways in which we “have failed” to achieve what society seems to believe we should.  This comes out in increased tension, arguments over seemingly small things like who gets the favorite chair in the corner or crankiness over collecting nap blankets early so we can wash them. But here is the thing I realize even in the midst of moving madness….
I wouldn’t want to give up this rotation, this moving in a million years. As we pack up one of the Journey of Faith volunteers comes over to say good-bye. “Why do we only get you for 2 weeks?” she asks, and when I reminder we’ll be back for 2 weeks in March her response is “Yes, but we want you here always.” Another tells me “It is going to be too quiet when you are gone.”  Dropping off a load of stuff at Trinity I’m greeted by Pastor Sara and the staff there who seem genuinely happy that we are coming.  It is so rare in our society that folks experiencing homelessness, those precariously housed and those securely “homeful” get to sit together and be in genuine community. Talking to the folks who use the warming center on a regular basis I am reminded how much we need that. Maybe even long for it without realizing it. No matter why we use the warming center, for a warm, dry, safe place to be or for connection to community or for a way to live out our faith we get that connection. And our moving our rotating, gives more folks that opportunity. That gift.
In this season when so many celebrate with gifts that seems an appropriate reflection. Sharing. Mutual Aid. Solidarity. Moving from Charity to Justice. Whatever words we use, these are gifts. And, to me, it is about community. The gifts of community. The words of Dorothy Day come to mind; “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”
Thanks for being a part of our community!
With fierce love and hard-nosed hope, Sheri
December 20, 2018
It is  an early AM at the warming center and my phone is blowing up with calls and text messages. “Mama, I’m gonna be late today, ”  “Just wanted to let you know I have court today so I won’t be there.” “Hey I’m sorry I can’t make it this AM, but I’ll be in this afternoon.” These messages come in from guests, and the thought again crosses my mind; “Friends become family, strangers – simply friends not yet met, and a community is formed”.  There is no external reason for these check ins with me — while I am glad guests take my “we are all volunteers” mantra to heart, no one has to clock in here. No external reason, and yet an internal reason even more compelling – -that simple human need for someone to care where we are, for it to matter “if we make it home tonight.”
I was talking with Pastor Lori the other day, from our current host Trinity Lutheran Church, discussing that there is a significant minority of guests who are housed. Formerly homeless they continue to come needing a meal, something to do, donations from the table, but mostly -I believe -needing community. Needing someone to care when they don’t show up. I have no facts to back this up – just my gut and the experience of burying too many friends, but I think sometimes when folks are housed they can become so isolated. Without the wrap around services (that agencies like Avalon do so well) people can feel “warehoused” instead of “housed”. Pulled out of the community they have built while homeless they isolate with their addictions, trauma and mental health struggles.
I love that the warming center can help mitigate this. It’s beautiful to see these formerly homeless folks show up with stories to share with the newbies. “Oh, you think you have it bad. I remember when there was no day shelter. ”  (Cue up dad walking to and from school in 10 feet of show; uphill both ways ) while they check on the person who hasn’t shown up for a day or 2, ask about the guy camped where they used to and help folks navigate the buses, the red tape of agencies or simply offer to accompany them back to the shelter or show them where the breakfast church is.
And, of course,  for those who are experiencing homelessness we continue to see the need for the warming center not only for that sense of community and being cared for, but for the very basic needs of shelter and safety. Our numbers remain up from this time last year, averaging about 53 guests a day this week. We’ve had delicious lunches every day, the start of our puzzle crew and folks from the wider community sharing their time and talents. Sarah, the music director at Trinity Lutheran facilitated a drum circle for us this week, Joe (from Fantastic Sam’s in Ypsi) gave haircuts, and Alex (the herbalist) , the PORT/PATH crew and medical outreach team continued their regular visits.
The holidays can be such a hard time for so many in this community; so many “shoulds” all seeming to highlight the ways in which we have “failed” by society’s standards.  No money for gifts, broken relationships with children and parents and siblings. But these gifts of folks from the wider community sharing themselves with us make a difference. If you are getting this email from me you are someone who has, this year or in years past, given that gift of yourself. Thank you.
And maybe, just maybe, as we build our communities and choose families the warming center is – at it’s heart – about knowing someone will notice (and care!) if I don’t make it home. (Even if that home is the basement of a church on weekdays between 9-4.)
With fierce love and hard-nosed hope,
PS – Some of you have asked. So, with no pressure intended here is a current wish list:
(For the donation table)
* Socks
* New underwear and long johns/thermals
* hand warmers and toe warmers
* warm sweatshirts
* belts
* backpacks, messenger bags, duffles and wheeled carts
(For the kitchen / community )
* sugar
* creamer
* packets of instant oatmeal
* frozen waffles
* syrup
* juice
* bagels
* cream cheese
* individual packs of nuts, crackers etc
* bus tokens
* $5-10 gift cards from local coffee shops
And, of course, the most important thing — the gift of your time and sharing of your talents

We know how to take care of each other

I haven’t written anything here in so long. I was working a ton of hours (still am I guess). And then there was the election.

A friend who frequently stays with us and identifies as a member of one of the groups Trump has targeted woke up the morning after the election and said with simply honesty, “I’m afraid to leave the house.” The stories came rolling in; a woman walking down the street threatened with being burned if she didn’t remove her hijab, racist graffiti spray painted on the walls of the university… on and on. And my own personal experience just a night after the election:

Driving home From work I stopped to get gas. There was a man, i’m guessing early 60’s pumping gas. He appeared to be Arab / Arab-American. I pulled in just as two young (early to mid 20’s) white man approached him. They begin to verbally assault him — yelling that he was not welcome here, and that Trump will send him back to where he came from. They mumbled something incomprehensible that I believe included the word terrorism. I pulled up close, got out of my car and went and stood beside him. At first I said nothing. I just stood next to him facing the 2 young men. My presence seemed to confuse them and as they hesitated I asked (hopefully not unkindly and hopefully without Snark) ” why are you doing this ? ” One looked down and they both started to walk away. As they did one turned and spat at the man standing beside me. I stepped I front of him getting spat on instead. As I was not the intended target the spitter looked uncomfortable for a moment. Then the 2 young men left. I spoke just briefly with the man who was targeted with such hatred. He is from Jordan and has lived in Ypsilanti 8 years. His children were born here. He was so grateful. I had done so little yet for him I guess it meant a lot.

I came home and cried, took a hot bath and shared the story on facebook. I shared as a venting tool and to say “we have work to do.” The story was shared and shared and shared.

The Meta Peace Team, that I am so deeply involved in,  and just myself personally started getting calls,emails, texts and facebook messages requesting bystander intervention training. Faith communities, community groups, neighborhood groups, girl scouts, home school networks. It has been amazing! And with every training I learn something.

Meanwhile, the day time warming center has started for season. A democratically self governed space where those experiencing homelessness can be warm, get a bite to eat and enjoy community. And where those newly and precariously housed can stay connected to the community and stay involved.  Hosted by faith communities we rotate to a new spot ever 2 weeks to one month. Anything we have is donated; food, games, hats and mittens. The lines between “guests” and “volunteers” is always blurred and at best erased as we remember the  truth that “we are all in this together.”

Each year that I have had the privilege to coordinate this I am moved by the generosity shown, and the connections made, and relationships formed. A person who always brings juice because she knows from the relationships formed how much this is loved. The individual who hands me her bridge card (food stamp card) and says “I get $40 a month, use $20 to buy groceries for the warming center.” The guy who takes off his gloves and hands them to another because his hands are so cold, chapped and red.

I find myself thinking of another election. When Obama was elected President the first time I was in line to vote. I was living in Ypsilanti and those in my precinct were predominately African American and almost exclusively poor. The line was long. Really long. Hours of waiting long. The atmosphere was positive and people made small talk as they passed the time.  A woman toward the end of the line worried out loud that she was going to get in trouble at work, as voting was obviously going to take longer than her lunch hour allowed. And then something wonderful happened — folks in line let her “cut” in front of them.

Then something even more wonderful happened. Almost spontaneously people in line begin to organize themselves in sections of about 20 people each. “Who needs to get back to work?” , “Who has kids who they have to pick up or get off the bus?” We all, without any formal leaders or plans, organized ourselves to ensure those with time constraints or needs to finish quickly were shuffled ahead in the line so that those needs were met. Those who needed to sit were offered seats, snacks begin to be shared.  The atmosphere went from positive to festive as people chatted, laughed and shared stories.

I said something about it to the woman in line in front of me, contrasting it to my experiences at my former precinct in Ann Arbor, where people had always been very nice, but so much more reserved, and where I couldn’t imagine the spontaneous show of community that allowed some people to skip ahead in line.  She responded in an southern accent so thick it made me wonder if I’d been somehow magically transported south “honey, we poor people  — we know how to take care of each other!”

Returning to this election I think of her words as another friend asks me “What are we going to do?” and I answer “challenge injustice when we see it and build alternatives, the same thing we’ve been doing,  take care of one another.”.  I think of her words as I hear my friend say “I’m afraid to leave the house.”

“We are poor people. We know how to take care of each other.”

I hope she is right. I believe she is.








Because you asked…

(1) The conference was amazing! Thanks to every one of you who helped me get there! I probably shouldn’t have spent the cell phone payment to go, and still need to finish paying for it all, but it was soooo worth it. I learned so much!  Met amazing people. Heard such heartbreaking stories. I will write more soon, at least a full post. For now here is my summary:

I guess even with all the facts, figures and data thrown at me, as a survivor of sexual violence myself, my “bottom line” remains the same: sex offender registries and the laws that surround them are problematic because they likely lower rates of reporting of sexual assault, cause those who have offended to be more reluctant to take guilty pleas because the stakes are so high, waste resources since they don’t work, mislead the public about where the real danger lies, and divert resources from victim services.

Further as a feminist and human rights activist I have no desire to punish people for punishments sake. What we need is for amends to be made whenever possible and for behavior to change. Punishment is not justice. We need transformative and restorative justice that lead us away from retribution and throwing people away.

(2) The support group for people working the sex work industry is going really well.  This too I will write more about later. My goal (“putting myself out of a job”) so that those involved take over the facilitation, seed other groups etc. is going well and our next meeting will be my last with the group. I’m really inspired by this group of people. I’ve been blessed to learn from them, share my knowledge and skills with them, and grow together. What a gift to become part of one another’s stories. A big thanks to those of you sent in donations to make this happen. Thanks to you I was able to pay about 50% of what it cost me to make this happen. This made it doable. I am most grateful.

(3) Yes, I will be facilitating the day time warming center again this year! It’s a work in progress and we are looking for a March host. I’m not sure if I will be there part time or full time,but I will be there. And more importantly, it will be happening. I’ll also post more about that as the time approaches (December through March) and those of you who partnered with us in the past should watch your inboxes for more info.

(4) Needs.. thank you all who have asked how you can help!!  Beyond any monetary donations directed for specific work (support groups, conference, purchasing sleeping bags….)

We always need: 

  1. Dawn dish soap (I’m not usually a brand name person, but I really find this is brand I like )
  2. Toilet Paper (we go through a ton here, plus it is something I am often asked for by homeless and marginally housed people alike )
  3. Canned cat food (Clyde, the “I think i’m a dog” cat, provides pet therapy to us and our guests. For medical reasons he can’t have dry food and he eats a lot.
  4. Dishwasher soap
  5. Unscented Laundry Soap
  6. Hand Sanitizer
  7. Natural cleaning products (citrasolve, sal suds, and eco breeze fabric refresher are a few of our favorites )
  8. trash bags
  9. Bus tokens (our house is close to DHHS, Packard Health Clinic, and the Engagment Center, not far from the Salvation Army. Folks regularly stop by having gotten to their appointments but having no bus fare home. )
  10. Gas cards (same reason as bus tokens, plus we drive lots of folks to court,hospitals/doc appointments, food pantries, and other places our limited public transportation doesn’t go)
  11. Grocery gift cards (both to feed people here and to stock a food pantry for people to take with them
  12. Coffee (“no coffee, no peace” )
  13. socks for donation
  14. prayer support
  15. humor and humility

We often Need:

  1. Tents and Tarps
  2. Sleeping bags and blankets
  3. Milk
  4. Back packs and other sturdy bags
  5. Eggs
  6. White Vinegar (for cleaning and cooking!)
  7. Clothing for donation shelf (specifically larger size sweatshirts and hoodies, pants that are “common sizes”or “one size fits most” , t-shirts in decent shape )
  8. toiletries
  9. first aid items
  10. Juice, “kool-aid” type drinks, sports drinks, soda and similar in single serve containers
  11. $5-$10 Coffee shop / restaurant gift cards (especially once the warming center starts!) useful for conflict resolution (“I’m not kicking you out, it just seems like you need some space, here have a cup of coffee on us and we’ll see you later.)  They are a nice thank you to those who volunteer above and beyond and with all of us working outside the home we are here less and the purchase of a drink at a coffee shop or restaurant gives guests and inside place to be when they can’t be here.
  12. Cat liter

Random things we currently (but don’t usually ) need :

  1. A good broom (somehow we’ve broken 3 dollar stores brooms – maybe it’s time for a sturdier one)
  2. Mop (to go with the broom of course)
  3. Someone(s) to eat tomatoes, peppers, rhubarb, and basil (our garden went nuts)
  4. A more artistic “Black Lives Matter” banner.  – In a moment of frustrated anger I scrawled “Black Lives Matter” with black spray paint on a white piece of fabric. No planning, no spacing, barely legible….I just needed to yell it. We hung it on the porch. Neighbors who waved without making eye contact started to stop by,someone took a photo to share with friends telling me “they need to know someone in Ypsi cares”.  The banner will stay. But it’s getting tattered and it was never very well done.  I want something more noticeable. Something that will last.
  5. Someone to harvest some of our cat nip (even Clyde, stoner cat that he is, can’t keep up.If your kitty wants some let me know!)

Of course any items we get will be shared with Mercy House and Hill House based on needs and availability! 

To make a contribution to Ibdaa House, if you want to support the ongoing work shared in this blog, to pay me for my writing or the unpaid life coaching, consulting, training, taxi service and other work with those marginally or precariously housed and those experiencing homelessness you can do so here: paypal.me/playfullspirit or send a check to Sheri Wander, 782 Mildred Ypsilanti, MI 48198.  (You can designate it for a support group or to purchase items noted above or whatever YOU want with a note in the memo line, or a short email. )  As always,  every dime is appreciated,  but never expected. No obligation dear readers, just an invitation. And, of course, prayer support, positive energy, love, light and general good mojo and good woo is alway gratefully accepted!  Contact me if you want to donate in-kind items such as those above and we’ll work out a drop off or pick up! playfullspirit@gmail.com


An Equinox Musing


“Write something soon”, “You haven’t posted in a while”,  “Tell us more about ____” — I hear these comments and I’m amazed… someone is actually reading. I’m honored and humbled and grateful…someone actually wants to hear more. How is this possible?

I want to write more. I need to write. These is so much.  And, then there is the rest of life keeping me away from that hot date with my lap top that I crave.

I started a new job about 2 weeks ago. I am the women’s locker room attendant and cleaning person for a local fitness club. Put simply it is kicking my ass. It is not just the work, which is physical and can be exhausting. (And comes with an allergic reaction to the scented laundry soap that has triggered an asthma flare up sending me to the ER and prompting nightly breathing treatments).

It is also the sense of injustice that comes with low wage work in a large corporate environment. Stupid little things; being scheduled for 7- 71/2 hour shifts so that they don’t have to pay us to take a lunch break. Needing to purchase shoes and pay for a CPR/1st aid  training that I won’t get reimbursed for. I want to scream… I get paid $9.00/ hour, that is almost 30 hours of work I have to put in just to work here. At part time that is a week of my work. A week of free work.  But I don’t scream it, or even say it (except here or privately to friends) because I need the job. I need the job if I want to keep Ibdaa house, and the things that go along with it. So, as I’ve been told “Suck it up buttercup, that is called being an adult.”

More than any thing, however, it is the attitude. We are invisible… unless we screw up. As long as we do our job well, we don’t count.

Such a place of privilege I come from that these things are rarity to me. It is a learning and good for me. I know it is the world most of our guests live in. And it’s important, for me,I believe to feel that and not just know it on an intellectual level. We do this work as a way to build the world we want. We act “as if”  that other world were here already and in doing so we give birth to it. But sometimes, when “building the new in the shell of the old”, something reminds us we still live in ” the old”.  This job, for me, is that.  That reminder. And I need that reminder to not be too distant from the guests who come, and the neighbors who visit and whose lives become interwoven with ours.

The challenge for me is how to balance that without being too exhausted (physically, emotionally, mentally) to do hospitality.  How can I be present, fully present, facilitating a support group for sex workers while exhausted. How can I feel welcoming to the friend who showed up hoping for a ride (and a few groceries ) when she missed the bus, when walking back to the car is physically painful.  I realize it’s been a while since I’ve cooked a meal for the guests and friends who call Ibdaa home. Even longer since I delivered sandwiches and toiletries to those living outside.


Appropriate I should find myself reflecting on balance on the days around The Equinox. That  moment when dark and light are in balance, day and night are equal. A time that reminds us that nature works on balance. We need both day and night, sunlight and dark, for life to thrive. It’s not not either/ or, but both/and.

Balance. Breath it in.

Blessed be.

(PS — more on the support group for sex workers, and on the conference and general Ibdaa news soon )


UPDATED – A Little Help From My Friends

About a week ago I posted a blog “A little help from my friends” asking for support to get to a conference. Friends have so far donated about $40 so I’m well on my way! Any of you all who know me personally know I believe in acting out of faith so I went ahead a registered, got a plane ticket, and a hotel room complete with 2 room mates. So excited that this is happening!

And, here is more exciting news! Several of you have emailed me to express concerns and ask questions… so we get to talk about this important issue!

And more …I brought news of the conference to the nonprofit MISSION and 3 more people want to go! Three more people who will learn, and get inspired.  Welcome aboard Joel, Shaquanna, and Melva!  With a group from MISSION wanting to go MISSION has agreed to allow us to raise money through the nonprofit. So, if you want to help you can now make a tax deductible contribution.

Here’s the details:

To make a tax deductible contribution that will be divided among those of us from MISSION who go simply go to http://www.missiona2.org/about-us–vision–mission.html or write a check to MISSION and write “RSOL Scholarship” in the memo line

Not worried about it being tax deductible?  You can still donate directly to any of the 4 of us (and this is the fastest, easiest, most helpful way if it works for you!)  paypal.me/playfullspirit or send a check to Sheri Wander, 782 Mildred Ypsilanti, MI 48198.

 ( As always,  every dime is appreciated,  but never expected. No obligation dear readers, just an invitation. And, of course, prayer support, positive energy, love, light and general good mojo and good woo is always gratefully accepted! ) 

If you are interested in setting up a time for me to talk with your group, organization, or you personally about this issue feel free to email me directly at playfullspirit@gmail.com 



(Note:  For those that don’t know me personally or who haven’t been reading long, here is a giant oversimplification of some background.  Ibdaa house grew out of Mercy house, a catholic worker style community I co-founded in Ann Arbor.  Mercy House grew, in part out of Camp Take Notice and the Nonprofit MISSION that Mercy House co-founder Peggy was deeply involved in and introduced me to, as well as my work with the Meta Peace Team. ) 

crossroads crew 2016

The MISSION Gang at Crossroads

Over Labor Day weekend the Ibdaa house family joined with  our Mercy House family and other volunteers from MISSION to serve the Sunday meal at Crossroads soup kitchen in Detroit.  (Those not familiar with Crossroads should check it out, they are wonderful people doing amazing work! http://crossroadsofmichigan.org/soup01.html )

MISSION, Michigan Itinerant Shelter System, Interdependent Out of Necessity, is a nonprofit where homeless and homeful people work in partnership on issues that impact those experiencing homelessness. We work in community to provide humanitarian aid to( those living outside, as well as education and advocacy. (You can learn more about it here: http://www.missiona2.org/watch-documentary.html )

One of MISSION’s core values is to give back to the larger community and group service projects are a staple of the organization. We’ve adopted highways, helped individuals active in homeless ministry make repairs on their own homes to prevent possible eviction, gardened for local faith communities, served at local food banks, shoveled snow for those in our neighborhood who are physically unable to, traveled to New Jersey to do Hurricane Relief work after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and each year bring a group of folks to serve a meal at Crossroads.

crossroads orientation 2016

MISSION volunteers listen as Sister Elizabeth Walters gives the a short orientation

There is something really beautiful about a group of folks, most of whom are currently experiencing homelessness, or who are marginally and precariously housed with a recent experience of homelessness coming together to serve others who are in a similar situation. So often we divide people into the “helpers” and the “helped” , the “needy” and the “givers”.  I believe those of who are often on the “giving end” can do well to remember that it is a important to our humanity and to others to learn to receive gracefully, and those of us who are often on the “receiving end”  can help our own sense of dignity and autonomy when we find and create ways to give. We all have gifts to share, we all need to feel useful and needed. Because we all ARE useful and needed.

Volunteers doing food prep and set up…. cleaning tables,  dishing up to go containers of potato salad, wrapping up slices of cheese, packaging up utensils and condiments,  setting up the serving line… and talking, sharing, making friends and connecting.

Cooking and serving: hamburgers, baked beans, potato salad, dessert and coffee, lemonade and water

In spite of an oven that stopped working as we cooked the hamburgers MISSION cooks along with the incredible Crossroads volunteer managers and Sister Elizabeth served up 639 meals!

And then there was clean up.

Of course, the best part of the day was making new friends and reconnecting with old ones!

This is what community looks like. This is what solidarity looks like. 


in answer to your question(s)

Since posting the last blog about the conference I’ve had several friends (and a few strangers ) message me privately with questions and concerns. Some were just nasty, but many were legit misunderstandings, concerns, and questions.  Thank you! This makes me super happy! I love the chance to engage in honest dialogue with folks about issues that are important to me. I get to learn something, I get to share something. I’m pushed to clarify what I mean and what I believe. Yay!

I’ve been trying to get back in touch with folks but I’m not keeping up. I’ll keep trying, but in the mean time, I’ll start with a few answers here.

Let me start with this acknowledgement, it’s funny… this is a topic/issue I NEVER (ever, ever, EVER) thought i’d be engaged with let alone so passionate about. As a feminist, as a survivor of sexualized violence, as a woman living in a misogynistic and rape culture… never.

Yet I have always had a sense of unease about registry laws. I think in part just because I have such unease about our whole system. I don’t believe in punishment for the sake of punishment. For me it has to be about changing the behavior, making amends… restorative and transformative justice not punitive and retributive.

Plus, I’m always uncomfortable with a mentality of “throw the book at them” in a system where “the book” is weighted against people of color and those living in poverty.  And I tend to want to abolish prisons period. So… I start from that place.

I also start from a place of believing in some inherent goodness in most people, and a deep understanding that people can change. I admire and am inspired by people like Marietta Jaeger (Co-founder of Journey of Hope whose 7-year-old daughter was kidnapped from the family’s tent during a camping vacation, molested and brutally murdered. Yet who went on to forgive her killer and befriend his mother. )

But,still it’s a step from “being uneasy with” to feeling passionate about the need for change.

Did I mention I never thought i’d be speaking about this, writing about this, caring so strongly about this…

Then I got involved in catholic worker style houses of hospitality. I got involved in the homeless community. I started to really get to know folks whose lives have been forever hurt by these registries.  I started to count these folks as family and friends. And I knew I had to take a look, do my own research and eventually I knew I had to speak up.


I believe that public registry laws were originally enacted with a good intent; to protect women and especially children from the predatory behavior of some very sick, broken, individuals. Yet, in many states (and certainly in Michigan) they have become a catch all and I believe are not only no longer serving the cause of safety (if they ever were), but in fact contributing to violence, injustice and danger.

Michigan has the country’s fourth-largest sex offender list, with 42,700 registrants and approx. 200 added every month. Clearly something is wrong…

I said they have become a catch all. Of course, it varies state to state, but many registries don’t differentiate crimes. There is a huge difference between stealing a candy bar from the local convenience store and robbing a bank (or owning a bank, but we’ll save that for another blog ) Both crimes are considered theft. But they are different, and are differentiated by law.

Yes, but “rape is rape” you say.  Here is the thing, you can end up on the sex offender registry for forced penetration, for groping someone, for consensual sex with someone under age (even if you didn’t know they were under age, even if the age difference isn’t huge, even if 10 years later you are happily married with kids…).  You can also end up on a registry for public urination, for having sex in a public area (even if you are homeless, thought no one could see you and are living outside), for failing to reveal a positive HIV status.  Those are all very different things, but by and large the are not differentiated by the law and not by a scared and angry public who just see “registered sex offender.”

In many states there is little to nothing someone can do to get off the registry.  I think this comes from an assumption that people who commit a sexual offence will do so again and again. The facts just don’t show that. A study by the US Bureau of Justice found that while the property crime recidivism rate was 73.8% , only 5.3% of sex offenders were arrested within 3 years of their release (and a chunk of those were for other kinds of crimes – non sex related – not surprising given the difficulty in finding housing, employment etc. ) Study after study after study shows similar findings as well as find that public registries have little or impact on crime rates.

Except, perhaps increasing vigilantism.  Posting names, addresses and photographs on a sex offender registry  seems clearly a risk to those on the list.  I know several people personally who have been harassed, threatened, beaten up, and falsely accused of further sex crimes because they were on a public registry. These are people I know personally, acts of violence and harassment I witnessed or saw the aftermath of. But there are countless more in the literature; two sex offenders were murdered in Maine. In this case, the victims were no longer likely threats; one was simply a young man who at 17 had a 15-year-old girlfriend. One man on a sex offender registry found the severed head of his pet dog on the front porch of his house. I don’t know if he had family or not, but family members of those on the registry have also reported threats and violence.

Right, family …. family  reminds me of another thing that people kept bringing up. The idea that keeping offenders away from schools and playgrounds is for safety. Maybe that was the initial thought, but again the evidence doesn’t hold up. Anyone who has worked in the social work field or with survivors of sexualized violence knows it is not the stranger lurking in the bushes you pass on the way to school who is most often a perpetrator, but an uncle, grandfather, older sibling, family friend.  Statistics vary, but are similar, and the one that I recall is that 97%  of perpetrators of sexual assault are people known to those who they victimized.  We are putting the focus in the wrong place.

I was so deeply struck by something someone said at a meeting of Citizen’s for Justice (a support and advocacy group for people who have to register and those that care about them) . A mother was speaking of her son who had been convicted of a sex crime, he told her when he was released from prison “that’s the hardest thing I’ll ever go through.” she followed that with “and then the next 10 years happened.”

Unemployment is incredibly common among those that have to register, regardless of educational background and experience. Homelessness is a huge problem. Not only from lack of income, but because many landlords and apartment complexes have rules excluding sex offenders. Plus many states have residency requirements.  In Michigan, for example,  the law states that you can not live, work or loiter within 1000 feet of a school.  Add to this a lack of affordable housing in many areas and the exclusion of those on the registry from federal benefits such as section 8

All of this leads to isolation, and more difficulty reintegrating into society. Which is not only cruel punishment for a life time –long after being released from prison where we like to claim people “pay their debt to society.”

Wow…. I was gonna say a few words. I’ve said over 1000. Clearly it is time to stop. yet, I know there is more. So much more. For another time….

Thanks for reading. Thanks for your questions and concerns. Keep ’em coming.