A Peace House Update

There is a free store here at Peace House, Ypsi.  A corner of the basement where I’ve pushed together some cheep closet racks (repaired with duck tape and held up with belts and  faith), a few shelves and plastic bins where folks who come in can “shop” for donated items. Clothes, toiletries, a few household items, blankets, and a food pantry focused on camp friendly food.

Often I love this opportunity for folks to engage.  There are guests who check it out routinely upon arrival, and some who timidly ask if they can take this or that. I find a lot of joy in watching our regular guests see things they believe another will like and bringing it to them, or taking a new guest into the basement to find something.  It feels like the best of community – watching out for one another.
It is also a challenge. A friend who practices Buddhism once  joked with me that it is my version of a Sand Mandala – while not as beautiful it certainly keeps me grounded in a lack of permanence and the transitory nature of things.  No matter how much time I spend organizing it, or how it is organized (by size, color, type of item… ) it only takes one day of open hours  or one event at the house to find it a mess. So, I try to keep in mind the beautiful images he referenced when I re-organize- each time holding in my heart a sense of gratitude and love. Well, trying to!  A reminder that prayer and meditation happen in every action if we do it with an attitude of prayer and meditation. Occasionally guests will join in the clean up, and I get to remember to let go of the illusion of control (does it really matter where the t-shirts get hung?!)  turning  clean up into a celebration of community.
Recently, however, I realized a new challenge with our free store. It brought me face to face with my own lack of faith in abundance.
We try to create a sense of abundance in a community where there is often such a sense of scarcity.  I will set a few items aside, squirreled away for those who have a specific need.  A certain hard to find shoe size, an interview outfit, or some hard to find necessity.  Items needed for survival (tents, sleeping bags… get stored separately and given our one at a time on request ) But mostly, everything is out;  “take what you need” is the message. Some folks come and hesitate; “are you sure it is okay if I take 2 pairs of socks?”  “I don’t need more than one pair of pants, leave it for someone who does.”   I think about my multiple scarves, drawer full of socks and enough shirts that they require a second drawer.  Do I need them all?
And sometimes when people first start coming, oh do they need.  I will watch as someone will walk out with a garbage bag full of clothes. Things they will never wear, things that don’t fit, things that I have no earthly idea how they are going to carry to camp let alone from place to place should camp be evicted.  Sometimes other guests or volunteers will chime in “Does she really need all of that?” “You should put a limit on what people can take.”  Maybe. Most of the time I don’t know… there is no set way to love and we are all making it up as we go.
But, here is what I have seen. That person who walks out with a garbage bag full of stuff the first time (and maybe even the 2nd and the 3rd) eventually starts taking only one or 2 items. This is the same person who after a month of carrying out all they can (or 3 months or 6…) eventually says “I only need one pari of pants, leave those for someone else.”.  The people who walk out with a garbage bag full of clothes today start bringing them back tomorrow (or next week, or next month…). I’ve seen this time and time again. It is predictable magic.
Yet recently, as I said, I found myself struggling with my own sense of scarcity and lack of faith in abundance.  A new group of folks have started coming on Sundays. Camped not far away they often show up together hungry for breakfast. Hungry. I’ve found myself having to improvise a quick round #2 of breakfast as the items from the initial menu get devoured. I find myself worrying, “will there be enough.”
 Two Sundays in a row I went down to the free store after open hours and found empty bins, bare hangers and lonely looking closet racks. I’m not proud of my reaction. “It has like a plague of locust has descended” I said to Pat.  I found myself worried that we wouldn’t have anything else to share.  I tried to trust. I tried to hold on to a sense of abundance. I didn’t feel it.  Knowing sometime the actions come before the feeling. So I acted as if I had faith that more would come.  I smiled at the guest who carried our our last large duffle bag crammed full of clothing, towels and toiletries, “oh good, I’m so glad you found what you needed.” I put up a note on facebook and sent out an email. And the donations arrived.  Friends and supporters cleaned out their closets, hit the thrift stores and climbed into dumpsters at student move out. Bags of clothing arrived.  Abundance.
It can be such a challenge to hold on to that faith in abundance. The free store looks bare. The cupboards get emptied.  It can be hard. And it also works both ways
Last summer and fall friends dropped off veggies from their gardens. Peggy called me from Mercy House, MASCO had planted a community garden for them and the veggies just weren’t all getting used at Mercy House. Abundance comes with sharing. Not wanting them to go to waste she wondered if we could use them. “Of course”, this former vegetarian  happily agreed, “yay for veggies! bring them by.”   She dropped off a couple big bags of  goodies – mostly zucchini.  That same day a friend volunteering with food gatherers brought us some left overs – a giant case of zucchini.
Too much abundance. Over-abundance. Embarrassment of riches. What am I going to do with all this zucchini?
We had stir fry, zucchini fritters and veggies lasagna.  And we made mountains of zucchini muffins. Zucchini muffins with nuts, zucchini muffins without nuts, chocolate zucchini muffins, chocoalte chip zucchini muffins, gluten free zucchini muffins. We ate them. We shared them with the neighbors. Baskets delivered to neighbor’s doorsteps. We also set up a small card table just outside the front fence. Groaning under the weight of veggies and displaying a hand written sign “FREE VEGGIES: our friends and their gardens are abundant. Help yourself #mutualaid #sharingiscaring. ”  Abundance comes with sharing.  They disappeared in no time and it was such a joy to sit on the porch or in the window and watch the excited response from those who walked by on their way in and out of DHS or Packard Health. Abundance shared with nothing to waste.  Perhaps there is a lesson in that which can remind my faith when the cupboards get emptied and the free store looks bare.
And so it was as we entered the Memorial Day weekend.  We’d had a busy week open hours full and the weekend was looking no less busy.  A movie night on Friday where we borrowed a projector and showed a movie outside projected onto our shed, a gathering Saturday to write letters to incarcerated friends and loved ones. Sunday open hours and Monday open hours with a Memorial Day Cook out. Would we have enough food? Would folks find what they need? Would the donation room be bare again and could I ask for more stuff so soon ? Lots of thoughts. Sometimes my thoughts get in the way of my believing.
The movie night went wonderfully. A guest from the near-by camp brought some wood and we made a little fire in the fire pit. Another used their bridge card to pick up some snacks. Pat bought us dinner. Another guest used a gift card from Amazon to rent the movie. Community made abundance. Our letter writing day went much the same; I was able to get some snacks thanks to the generosity of folks getting this email. Others provided stamps. A friend showed up with notebooks of plain white paper rescued after student move out. Again shared abundance. Open hours on Sunday was busy and complete with an unexpected birthday celebration.  Our Memorial Day picnic during open hours included an abundance of food donated, again, by some of  those of you receiving this email and guests chipping in change and bridge card purchases.
I didn’t need to worry.
Our free store is full again – for a week or two — but more than that my faith is too.  Sharing often creates abundance.
Community is powerful. Love is powerful. Thanks for being a part of that!

Lessons Learning

Wednesday I want to visit a friend incarcerated at the local jail. A 1/2 hour video visit for which one needs to arrive and “check in” 15 minutes early. I have LOTS to say about the jail;  the dehumanizing evil of video visits, the ridicules and petty assertions of power over and control at ever step of the way, the injustice of people never found guilty locked away for months on end waiting for trial because they can’t afford bond. LOTS to say, but don’t worry – that is for another email.  What I want to tell you here is that I assumed, with travel time, I’d be gone about an hour and 15 minuets.
Ah… assumptions. Silly me.(File that under, “and then the universe laughed.”) Upon leaving I bumped into another friend, just released after 90 days locked up he had only the clothes he was wearing (far too warm for the day…he went in in February), no bus fare, no place to sleep, no money and desperately in need of a meal. So, I gave him a few bus tokens, and spent the next several hours driving him around, getting him a bite to eat, letting him use my phone to secure a place to stay for the night, taking him to see his probation officer and assuring he had my number in case his overnight accommodation fell through. 1 – 1 1/2 hours  quickly became 5 hours of my day. And so it goes, we plan and life happens. 
This scenario, and similar, play out so often in my days. A call becomes a ride to the ER, becomes hours spent in the wait room with a friend in crisis. Open hours end to be followed by taxi service or help setting up that tent that was picked up from the donation room which is followed by what friends in the community have dubbed “sherapy” (essentially holding space with someone and being present to them.)   I think of this when someone, trying to wrap their head around this life will ask in confused exasperation “But, what do you DO all day?”  And, to be honest,  I think about it every time I schedule something — a meeting, time blocked out for cleaning or writing.  And I think of it each time I struggle with the need to find paid work outside of Peace House that will not only keep my car insured and phone on, but also the fridge full and coffee flowing. What do I DO all day.  It’s the constant balancing act of the “work plan” with the daily crisis and emergencies that inevitably pounce when living and loving in a community where trauma is the norm and the edge is so close all the time.
When I was on the international governance council of Nonviolent Peaceforce a fellow council member was giving a report on our pilot project, an evaluation and look at what we had learned. Presenting in English which was not her first language, she noted her presentation was on “Lessons Learning”.  It strikes me how much better and more accurate that is than “lessons learned” — let’s keep learning!
And so in honor of Wednesday’s lesson in flexibility and in the spirit of “lessons learning”, here are some “spring thoughts” from a catholic worker….
Flexibility!  I remember the importance of flexibility in this work. Yes, there are some things that can’t depend on the dictates of the moment. Presentations, meetings, jobs and things that impact others schedules and their time are less flexible. As well,  self care dictates that sometimes I turn the phone off so I can’t respond to the crisis of the moment (‘cuz Goddess, God and the universe know if I answer the call I’m not so good at saying “no” and not respond to the crisis of the moment when the phone is on.) Honoring a relationship means holding the time for bowling or dinner with your boyfriend and his kids as sacred…. but most of our lives here at Peace House remain based on the needs of the moment. And those are often unpredictable and ever changing. Just when you think you have a routine the universe laughs.
Living in the Grey area  “in between”!  Flexibility is key and we have to be comfortable in that grey area. That in between space that is neither blank or white.  I say that a lot when facilitating nonviolence training “with Meta Peace Team (MPT).  “It is not black and white, we need to be comfortable in the grey area.” And yet,  I didn’t know grey area until I begin doing this “work”! Open Hours at Peace House, Ypsi are Sunday 10-2, Monday 12-4, and Wednesday 5-9, yet folks drop by outside of these hours and it is rare we don’t invite them in. Flexibility.  I don’t purchase alcohol for those with a substance use disorder, except when a friend  is desperately trying to get into treatment and is in danger of seizing or worse while detoxing alone it a tent, and that 1/2 pint is not grey area. I realize that, while this can be stressful, it is this very thing that I love so much.  Fluid boundaries are in fact boundaries.  Which brings me to the next lesson I’m learning….
Boundaries! When I started doing this work I never shut my phone off. Now, I might feel guilty doing it, but I do. I’m just a person – not 911. I’m getting better (slowly) at doing what I can and trusting my community and the universe to pick up the rest. There is an activity we do with MPT when building trust among people going on high risk teams; have folks stand up in the circle and mill around. At random individuals stop, plant their feet, and yell out “I’m falling” – then fall backward, knowing someone in the group will catch them. Inside the circle you are never more than a few steps away from someone so it’s easy to feel sure you’ll be caught.  After awhile we encourage folks to move outside the circle, wander around the whole room.  Again, at random individuals stop, plant their feet, this time yelling out. “1…2…3…I’m falling”, giving folks a chance to scramble over to where they are at and catching them as they fall. It’s a bit more challenging.  What I realized when I did this was it was so easy for me to fall.  Without missing a beat, I’d plant my feet and lean back. What was difficult was not catching every single person who fell. I’d hear “I’m falling” and I WOULD get across the room to catch the person. It didn’t matter if they were on the other side of the room and 8 people were immediately next to them, it didn’t matter if I had to take out a person or 2 to get to the one falling. I was going to catch them. I needed to learn to trust others to catch folks. I needed to learn I am not the only one, or the best one, or needed to catch every single person. I’m learning this. I’m learning setting boundaries means trusting others will catch folks.  I’m for me, trust and boundaries are deeply entwined.
Giving the gift of receiving! When Peggy and I first started this work there was a man who came to live with us who worked a seasonal landscaping type job. It was winter, however, and his only source of income was selling plasma. Once or twice a week he would walk the 7 miles to the plasma center to get the money he was living on.  I was always looking for an excuse to offer a ride (he never took me up on a ride if he thought I was going out of my way)  “I’m heading to Ypsi to walk the dogs, I can drop you off”, “I am going that way anyway.” I would tell him.  I remember the 2nd time I drove him he insisted on giving me gas money.  Approximately $2.00 in change, mostly pennies dropped into my hand.  I insisted it wasn’t necessary. He insisted it was, and catching the eye of the other guys in the car I knew I could not say no without offending him. I remember thinking “I am LITERALLY taking blood money from this man who has nothing. ” Except now I know, he did’t have nothing. He had a sense of who he was, he had self respect. He had a work ethic. He had pride. He had skills at landscaping. He had a desire to give. Somewhere along the way between then and now I’ve come to see the importance of receiving gratefully and gracefully.  I’m learning how to do that.  My life and Peace House are full of rocks that were picked up for my altar, paintings and art created for our walls, donated scarfs and hats, and other items selected from the incoming bounty by friends who “had to grab it” for me. I’ve been given jewelry found on the street and some made from me. Meals cooked with food purchased from bridge cards and collected cans. Some see my life as full of giving — and I hope that it is. It is also full of gifts. I’m learning to receive.
We are all more than the sum of our parts — Someone I know and love deeply is serving a 2-10 year sentence for criminal sexual conduct. He is the guy (with the traumatic brain injury ) who might just grab your ass, or touch your thigh and make a totally inappropriate comment.  He is also the guy who brought me coffee to bed EVERY AM for years. He is the guy who can’t drive past a broke down car or someone in the ditch without stopping to help. He is the guy that lived a life of abuse and neglect and someone learned to love and give back.  Another guest and friend I love deeply is in jail waiting for trial facing charges of  “assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder.”  And although he is innocent of this crime and in jail only because he can’t afford bail (see those first lines of this letter about the evils of our injustice system) I know his bail is set so high not only because of fear he will not show up for trail but because of a past that includes 15 years in prison and a host of violent crimes.  He is also the guy who spent hours shoveling heavy dirt all on his own to help me. He is also the guy who tears up when he speaks of his children or his father. The guy who uses the last of his money to buy popsicles for the kids in the neighborhood on a hot day. The woman was caught stealing to support her drug habit is also the one who gave her jacket away when she saw someone in the cold without one, and spent hours helping me clean to help another friend who lost his housing when he went to jail. We are all more than the worst we have done. We are all more than the sum of our parts.
The list of “lessons learning” could go on and go. But, I’ve already gone on long enough, so for now, I will end here by adding one last lesson. Of course that lesson is love. Radical love. As the vision of Peace House says “by living in community and loving radically we heal ourselves and the world.”  Visiting friends incarcerated in jails and prisons or fighting a system that puts them there; inviting people in to enjoy Sunday brunch or a comfortable bed and respite from their tent or demanding affordable and accessible housing for everyone because it is a human right; listening, laughing, respectfully confronting… waging love. Every day. It’s a lesson. It’s a gift. In the long run, it is all there is.

A Peace House Mothers’ Day Letter

Dear Peace House Family,
I want to start by saying Thank you!
Thank you to each of you who have in some way supported Peace House, Ypsi. To those who have shared your material resources by donating money, by dropping off food and items for our donation room or helping us meet the special need for a guest.
Thank you to those of you have given your labor to cut the grass, plant flowers, move wood chips, organize donations and so many other things.
Thank you to those of you have given your emotional labor and PRESENCE to our guests, to me, to our community.
Each of you are a part of the Peace House, Ypsi community. And for that I am grateful. For you I am grateful.
Your support and your love matter, and I am in this amazing space where I get to see the impact. Every day.  So, I wanted to take just a moment and share what that impact looks like.
Mothers’ Day is a hard day for many people experiencing homelessness, housing insecurity and poverty in general. Although originally conceived by women who wanted to use their status as mothers to speak out against war, poverty and injustice it has become, for many, a day of consumerism. (Side note: if you don’t know the herstory of the day it is totally worth checking out; google Anna Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe and the Mothers’ Day proclamation ) When you can’t afford to give mom flowers or chocolate, when you can’t enjoy breakfast in bed because you are in a tent or a hotel, when you can’t even call mom because you have no working phone with minutes left it can be a harsh reminder of the ways in which society tells you that you “have failed.”  Add to this the many broken and fractured relationships; women and men who no longer have contact with their own mothers, mothers who have lost custody of (and often contact with) their children or who have made the huge and loving sacrifice to give up custody and have someone else raise their babies when they knew it was better for those babies.
A hard day. And like many days that leave people feeling raw, the emotions come out sideways –  anger and conflicts being so common.
As people arrived at Peace House Sunday AM for our usual Sunday AM Brunch plus Mothers’ Day offerings,  I noticed one of the women with black eyes and bruises. I didn’t ask, knowing she would tell when and if ready, but offered some ice and another guest offered some Motrin, we offered a bed if she wanted to nap.
Her partner was sitting in the backyard and the tension between them was obvious; his own back and arms full of deep scratches and bite marks; his head with its own bruises.  We did what we could to keep them in different spaces, but ensuring both had a chance to enjoy quiche, waffles, bacon, sausage and hot coffee.  While another frequent guest and friend sat inside with the woman (I’ll call her Terri ), I cleaned and put antibiotic ointment on the her partner’s arms and back. Eventually sending him off (with first aid supplies and strict instructions on keeping his wounds clean ) a few hours before the house closed to give Terri some space.(But with the understanding he was welcome back when she was not there.)
She spent the night and throughout the night we talked. Well, she talked. I listened. And listened. And listened. She used my phone to call family out of town. Arrangements were made. She would have a safe place to go. She got a greyhound ticket for an early Monday morning bus, and after a good nights sleep packed her up a lunch and some snacks for the long trip and drove her to the bus station.
It can be so easy to judge. Why did I allow them both to come here? How could I help a man who hurt the woman he states he loves?  My answer is the only one I know…because I don’t get to determine who is “worthy” of love. We all are. As Father Gregory Boyle repeated often when I heard him speak recently at WCC, “we all all more than the worst we’ve ever done.”  I believe this. We are all more than the sum of our parts.  Our work, our reason to be, here at Peace House is radical love. Radical love is messy. Especially on days when emotions are raw.
After open hours we did a quick clean up and got ready for round 2. Clean table cloth and festive colors. Fresh flowers and a table full of goodies. Bridget and I had planned a mothers’ day gathering for the community. Anyone who identifies as a mom was invited. We had a big hearty salad and garlic knots, cookies and muffins, cheese cake, fresh fruit and smoothies. We also set up a free store in the green room for the guests to shop in… pamper yourself gifts; chocolate, flowers, bath salts and oils, lotions and body wash…. all the trappings. Take for yourself. “Shop” for someone who has mothered you. We sat around and talked and laughed, planned future gatherings. It was mellow and relaxed, with only a touch of the sadness that the day could bring. I wanted to share with you 2 things that were said to me as folks headed out….
* “I needed this today. I didn’t know I needed it. But I expected the day to be awful and instead it was full of sisterhood and laughter. Thanks for including me.”
* “Thanks for letting me come today. Can I call you mom like everyone else does. My mom gave up on me. She told me that. She told me she has given up on me. But I’m not ready to not have a mom.”
And so it goes, A Peace House, Ypsi Mothers’ Day.  Some sadness, some trauma, some anger, tears and pain — and a whole lot of support and laughter, sharing and love. I think. the women who started mothers day would approve. Thanks for making it happen.
With fierce love and hard-nosed hope,

Home, Friendships and other blessings

peace flag.jpgJust getting back from a few days away. Pat and I went to Ohio where he met my family and childhood friends. I dragged him around to all the old haunts and shared home town memories.  On our first night there we got together with 3 of the friends I grew up with. We’ve known each other since elementary school – Sam and I having met in Kindergarten. In that moment and now as I look at the photo of the 4 of us that Pat took I know beyond a doubt what a blessing it is to have these women still in my life. Forty-five years of friendship and I know that if any of us were in trouble the others would be there for her – just like always.  Now back home at Peace House I remembering a birthday card given to me by Cary as we entered our teen years where she wrote “thank you for being there for all my gripes and my glories ” what a gift to have friends who can do that.  Still.
As we went to bed that night Pat beat me to asking the question I ask him so many nights, my nightly reflection: “what are you grateful for today? ” How quickly the answer came and  I find myself still reflecting on the gift of those life long friendships.
I know that in many ways these friendships, as much as my family, anchor me to a feeling of home.
I realize how few of our guests have this blessing.  I think of how many folks have listed me as their “emergency contact” at the hospital. People I’ve known sometimes only a few weeks who will answer the question “what is your relationship” by saying “she is the closest thing to family I have.”  I find myself thinking about how often I’ve heard (or said!) “oh, I’ve known (insert name here) forever ” when forever has meant a few months or maybe a couple of years. Is it because the shared trauma of homelessness bonds us in a way that makes the relationship develop fast? Is it because trauma impacts our sense of time? Or is because when you are so aware of the uncertainly of where you will put your head from night to night and who will be a part of your life next week let alone next year 6 months is “forever”?
Fractured relationships are so often a part of the experience of homelessness. Sometimes those fractures are brought on by issues of addiction or mental health struggles, sometimes by the inevitable neediness and struggle  of living on the edge and sometimes by the reality of uncertainty and transient nature of living homeless or in poverty. It can be hard to “keep in touch” when your phone keeps getting shut off or you have run out of minutes.  In a culture where visits so often revolve around “meeting for dinner” or “getting together for coffee” it can be a deterrent when you know you can’t afford it and don’t want to always have to rely on others to pay.  And our self esteem, often already at a low,  takes another hit when we realize we can’t send that birthday gift or baby gift and maybe even forgot as we deal with the stress of the living in the margins. Stress is such a constant part of the lives of those experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity and that itself puts pressure on every relationship, it is no wonder so many fracture and break apart.
I can’t help but wonder what the long term impact of so many fractured relationships is, and more specifically find myself thinking about a lack of any longevity in relationships. As I said, I know that these friendships anchor me to a feeling of home.  I’m so blessed that “home” is something that comes easy to me. When I was experiencing homelessness it was stunning how quickly that the tent became home, or as friends allowed me to stay with them for periods of time (in and of itself a huge blessing for which I am forever grateful!) how quickly the house or apartment I stayed at for a week or a month became home.  Traveling with MPT or to visit friends I’m like a turtle bringing home with me.  Friendships tethering me and giving me a sense of place when a building doesn’t.  I go “home” to Ohio and return “home” to Peace House and Ypsi because those are spaces of love.  Those are spaces where I can wage love and those are spaces I feel love.
I wonder if the blessing of such long term friendships is connected to this ease at creating / experiencing home.
When asking folks around here what home means to them I am often told “Peace House feels like home”. This answer always makes me smile and feel like maybe we are doing something right. Other folks chime in “home is where you are always welcome.” “Home is where you can be comfortable in your own skin.” Breaking my heart , one guest replies “I don’t know, I’ve never known.”
“Home is where the heart is” Pat says “I mean any place CAN be home.”  And I realize that even if the saying is cliche it is true.   Like I said Home is where I am loved and where I can love. How incredibly blessed and lucky I am to have many places that fit that.  How grateful I am to those friends who make that so.   We all need shelter, a basic human right and human need.  I again an reminded that is different from home. I think we all need home too.  How very much I want to work for a world where we all have that.
As always thank you for helping to build that world.
With hard-nosed hope and fierce love, Sheri

Final Warming Center Musings (and a belated bday request )

It has been a week since the day time warming center has closed. Peace House, Ypsi has kept me busy as folks come for showers and laundry, food and especially camping equipment or to stay a few nights. (The nighttime warming center has also closed and folks are needing places to sleep!) Given the busyness of the house I haven’t really been able to catch my breath let alone wash and store warming center blankets, mats, first aid kit, “office stuff” etc.,  no time yet to finalize finances to close the books for the season or write up an end of the year report…. at least that is what I tell myself. The truth, I know, is that as much as I crab about it sometimes and as much as I needed it to be done for a bit, I already miss it.  I worry about some of guests that I won’t see each day. Did that couple get into housing? Will our friend who I worry may have some early onset dementia find a way out to the house or somewhere to be in community that he so needs? What about the older man with a substance use disorder whose drinking has clearly led to poor liver and kidney health? Who will watch out for him?
I know that many of our friends from the warming center have already found their way to Peace House and more will. Of those that don’t many will come regularly to Saturday AM breakfast at Mercy House or Sunday dinner at Hill House.  Folks have called and sent messages on messenger and more will.  We will stay connected, the day to day craziness of the house will take over from the day to day chaos of the warming center – but I realize the REAL reason I haven’t put things away is because as much as I needed it to be done for awhile, I am just not ready for it to be done.  And so it goes.
Meanwhile, as life at Peace house gets busier with folk needing a place to put their head at night or a hot shower and laundry after camping I am also reminded that much of the work of the Peace House, Ypsi happens outside the house. I am reminded of the wise words of my friend and former Mercy House co-conspirator Lindsay. Lindsay would often say when encouraging guests to move forward in their goals, “our work is out in the world, we need to be in the world.”  This past week saw us helping scout out camp sites and set up tents, it included court support for a Peace House regular,  2 jail visits with Peace House friends, and a visit with a friend in the psych hospital, and meetings with local activists and organizations to discuss possibilities for a cooling center in the future.
Spring can be a challenging time for those experiencing homelessness. With the resources of the winter closing up folks are left without places to put their head at night, fewer (if any) options for where to go during the day in Michigan’s unpredictable (and sometimes still miserable ) weather.  Add to this the reality that for those pan-handling (“flying a sign”/ “spanging” ) it can be harder to make the money one needs. Whose heart doesn’t go out to the human at the end of the ramp in the snow and cold?  But when the weather is warmer it can be easier to drive by — even though the needs are still there. (Insert rant here about this being why solidarity and mutual aid, building relationships and sharing material resources might look like “charity” or “a hand out” from a distance, but is very different and very important. )
Add to this anxiety producing set up some good old fashioned “spring fever”,sunshine days and the party energy of spring and sometimes people just misstep. This week has also included holding space for several friends who hit road bumps in their recovery journey.
This last week was also my birthday week. Birthdays always leave me feeling introspective — wondering if I’m doing what I should be doing in this world. And am I doing it well? What have I learned this last year?  How have I loved? Am I loving as best as I can? I’m never fully satisfied with my answer and eagerly set some goals for myself for the year ahead.   I had really really wanted to use the excuse of this birthday, my 50th, as a fundraising event for the 2 organizations that I believe are doing such an amazing job of waging love; Meta Peace Team and MISSION (the nonprofit home of the warming center and Peace House, Ypsi).  Maybe a 50/50 fundraiser for my 50th with money being split between MPT and Peace House?  Or encouraging those who attend to share with 50 friends the opportunity to in some way get involved with Meta Peace Team or MISSION. But, alas, with the warming center going I just couldn’t get my act together to plan anything.  Yet friends encouraged me not to drop it — Pat, Karen, Seth and others reminded me that most giving is done on line and that a party can just be a celebration of fundraising success.
So, in that spirit I invite you to SAVE THE DATE, on May 4th we will celebrate. Something simple. A pot-luck? A “stone soup” type of meal? I am not sure. I also don’t know where yet. And I’m not sure exactly when. But sometime that evening friends will come together and to play and to celebrate the love we’ve been waging!  In the meantime, between my birthday yesterday (thanks to those who donated already!) and the day of our gathering I invite you to join me in waging love by making a donation to Meta Peace Team http://www.metapeaceteam.org   (for those who don’t know about MPT check out the website and know that without the nonviolence training and practice I’ve gained with MPT I simple could not do the work with MISSION especially the warming center. Plus MPT introduced me to MISSION ) and/ or to MISSION (noting Peace House, Ypsi on the check/ form).  http://www.missiona2.org
I realize this way I won’t know if donations end up 50/50, and may not even know if donations come in as a result of this.  But this actually seems to fit for me and my belief that we need to “trust the universe” and know that things will work out as they should — and keeps the focus where it belongs on the work being done, the love being waged, the community we build.
I know so many of you getting this have donated so much already, so (as always!) no pressure. But if you feel so moved Meta Peace Team and MISSION are creating a better world and if I’ve done anything well in my 50 years getting involved with these  2 organizations have helped make it possible.
With fierce love and hard-nosed hope,


PS to One Week Left

As this week progresses and I re-read this email I realize I forgot a very important feeling:
Joy and Contentment…. For me, this “work” is not separate from my life. It is who I am and what I am made of. These are my friends, many of whom are “friends become family” and “home” is a feeling. The feeling I have when cooking brunch on Sunday AM for the gang who comes by for open hours. Home is the sound of laughter when folks connect at the warming center over challenges so familiar and so painful that is is laugh or cry (and often both) as we discuss navigating the systems to gain access to shelter and supportive housing.
Monday at the warming center found a group of us gathered around the fireplace chatting and laughing. It started with a question “who is your celebrity crush?” soon the questions became more personal; “what is your most awkward moment with an ex? What is your most embarrassing moment?” So much laughter my face and stomach ached. This is community. This is what waging love looks like. What a blessed life.
Yesterday one of the warming center guests spent the night at Peace House. As he left the warming center I sent him off with the Peace House address and bus route info and said “I should be home by 6 , so come anytime after that. Oh, and do me a favor, if you are going to be later than 9:00 or if you decide not to come can you let me know? Otherwise I will worry. ” — He stopped as he was walking out the door, turned around, with teary eyes he said “really. wow. can I give you a hug. That is just. Wow. thank you.”  What an amazing life! That something as simple, as human, as instinctual as caring for someone can make such a huge impact that it brings tears.
So many amazing (and simple!) opportunities to make the world a little kinder.
Joy, Contentment….. community, home, family…. I am reminded here of a quote from Jim Henson, “Please watch our for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it.”  In the midst of so much pain and need it can be easy to forget, but it IS a good life. And I am so grateful to be able to enjoy it.
With hard-nosed hope and fierce love,

One more week

One more week.  I keep telling myself, just one more week and the warming center will be done for the season. This always brings me such a mixed bag of feelings….

Relief… I confess (although by this time next month I will be missing it) I am a crispy critter. Burn out plus compassion fatigue equals a crispy and exhausted Sheri. Although the numbers drop in this final month of the warming center the well of need is great and the underlying tension strong. With the day and night time warming shelters coming to an end folks are scared; where will they go? where will they sleep?  Folks newer to the experience of homelessness especially worry; will they be safe?  Those who have been to this rodeo before prepare themselves for nights in tent and days wondering where to go. Tensions are high and fear and anxiety come out sideways. There is lots of need for deep listening and just being present.  This is a challenge when I’m crispy with burn out and compassion fatigue and in all truth I am looking forward to wrapping things up.
Guilt and inadequacy … I feel guilty about my burn out and compassion fatigue. Loving is hard work and requires a consistency that I don’t feel fully up to right now. The well of need is great and the good old co-dependent in me is yelling that I am failing at meeting the needs.
Excitement  and  anticipation….As the warming center season comes to an end I’m looking forward to spending more time at Peace House and re-engaging more fully in other areas of this work. I’ve missed our weekly women’s night,  I am excited about the coming expanded open hours which will allow for more folks to engage in our home, and am eager to see what dreams can come to fruition when the warming center is not monopolizing my life.  Community gardens, tool lending library, movie nights and simply more time engaged in reaching out to friends who are caught up in our criminal injustice system (jail visits, letter writing, support for those who have loved ones locked away….) I’m dwelling in all the richness of possibility! And, of course, there is my other love – Meta Peace Team. Nonviolence training, peace teams, and organizing to create a world grounded in nonviolence and the sacred inner- connectedness of all life. I’ve been absent from my MPT family and this important work since the warming center began and I find myself filled with excitement at the chance to reconnect. Both the work and the people are in my heart and I know my soul will feel more complete as I reconnect.
Anxious and afraid… it is not only the day shelter that is closing for the season but the night warming center and men’s rotating shelter as well. It is not as though there is suddenly bed space available at the shelter to absorb all those needing a place to put their head at night. Where will all the folks I have grown to love go? Will they find safe places to camp? Will they feel forced out of an area that has become home and looses touch with community? My own lack of solid ground also brings up the anxiety – as much as the warming center is my passion and life’s work it is also a pay check and while it isn’t a job that is going to make me rich – it pays the car insurance, and phone bill, keeps the fridge full and ensures abundance at the Sunday AM breakfasts at Peace House. It also helps me support folks in the community with meals, transportation, and the occasional hotel when Peace House is unavailable or inappropriate. I am so blessed and lucky (and grateful beyond words to my Peace House, Ypsi partners Gail and Paul )  to have a roof over my head, lights on, heat and water… and even with these blessings I  know I need to find “a job”. What will that be.  Yes, all this “work” is how I make my life, but how will I make my living when the pay checks stop. Can I find a “job” that doesn’t interfere with “my work?”  Will it sustain me so that I can do warming center next winter?
Grateful... as I said, I know beyond a doubt that  am so blessed and lucky.  I am grateful beyond words to my Peace House, Ypsi partners Gail and Paul who make Peace House possible. Grateful to Karen, my co-worker who quickly became friend and then family and who gave above and beyond what the job required. Seth, who was an integral part of the warming center staffing volunteering full time to keep things afloat. Pat, Rose, and Fred also part of our volunteer staffing crew who gave their time, money, bus tokens, and so much of themselves  to keep the warming center going.  With Pat also helping to keep things a float at Peace House when I am too tired to worry about dinner or rushing too late in the AM to give overnight guest the support they need to get up and going in the AM. I am grateful to the faith communities that hosted the Warming Center, the office and custodial staff of all of our hosts, to every volunteer who came in and gave their money, time, treasure, talent and especially their love. I am grateful to live in a community that, when the polar vortex hit and temps dipped to dangerously low numbers quickly responded by lifting restrictions and trespass on the shelter, opening their homes and providing over $2,000 to help those for whom none of these options worked spend 2 or 3 nights in a hotel.  I am blessed by friends who support the work of the warming center and peace house not only with money and donations but with time and talent and by supporting me with a listening ear, shoulder to cry on, cups of coffee and dinners  and … so important, laughter. Laughter at myself and at the absurdity of it all.
Yup…my feelings are a mixed bag and all over the place as I write this!  with all this, there are a few things I know in my very bones. Community is awful, painful and challenging. Frankly, it sucks. It is also so much better than any alternative. It is powerful, fun, healing and wonderful. I know, as much — as anyone can know anything– our work, our reason to be is to love. And loving is the hardest (and easiest!… and hardest) thing we can do.
Thanks for loving with me.
With hard-nosed hope and fierce love,