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We Failed Gene

Together alone

His name is Gene, and he’s a handful.

He is a large man in his late 50’s, but has the mental processes of, perhaps, a 10 year old. He is loud and aggressive, and he scares lots of people. He is on medication, when he remembers to take it, and when he does, everything is well. When he doesn’t, it is disastrous.

He gets very frustrated with the housing and mental health system, which he doesn’t understand at all. In all honestly, I do this for a living and I don’t understand it either. He knows he needs housing, and he knows he needs assistance with things like remembering to take his medication. If you ask him what he needs, those are the two things he is absolutely clear about.

“I need to live in a group home, where somebody can help me take my medicine” is practically his mantra these days.

Many people have told him they will help him, but all he knows is he still sleeps outside that night. He then gets frustrated with the people trying to find him resources, and roars and screams and he gets banned from their facility, and he tries to start over somewhere else, where he repeats his mantra and the cycle begins again.

Lately, Gene has been hanging out at the Hospitality House here at Love Wins. Mainly he sleeps, since he roams the streets at night. But then he will wake up and tell us he needs a group home, where someone can give him his medicine. We listen, and explain that we have called the group homes we know, and we have called the group homes everyone else knows and that there is no place for Gene at any of them. He then gets agitated and we tell him he has to calm down. It usually works.

Tuesday, it didn’t. He got progressively more agitated and angry, and he came in my office and threatened staff members and threatened me. The community members felt unsafe, and the staff felt unsafe and, something that rarely happens, I felt unsafe. I told him he had to leave. He refused, and we called the police and eventually, he left.

I felt like crap, as I always do when I make someone leave. I always see it as failure on our part – failure to be a welcoming place, failure to understand them and their needs, failure to listen long enough or to truly hear their cries. After all, violence is the language of the unheard.

But the reality is, we couldn’t be what he needed us to be. What he needs is exactly what he says he needs – a supportive living environment that will make sure he takes care of himself. Often, I am in the position of advocating for people. Gene is fully capable of advocating for himself – but what he needs doesn’t exist here.

Wednesday, he came back. He came to the office and told us he knew he wasn’t supposed to be here, but he had nowhere else he was allowed to be, and we were the only people that would listen to him. And could we help him get in a group home where someone would help him take his medicine?

We had one new resource we had learned about since the last time he was here, so Madeline took him to the vacant lot across the street (because he was banned from our place, and we take that, and the safety of the people there, seriously) and called the new resource and we were hopeful.

It didn’t pan out. They weren’t what Gene needed either, and they were kind of rude, on top of it all.  So, we looked Gene in the eye and told him we couldn’t help him, and he wasn’t allowed to come back and we were really sorry. And he said he understood, and walked away, head hung low.

I don’t know what the answer is for people like Gene. Actually, that isn’t true. I do know, and you know, and even Gene knows. He needs a safe place to live where people will make sure he takes care of himself. The problem is, since the 1980’s, such a thing has become more and more rare. These days it practically is nonexistent. The largest residential mental health facility in the United States is the Cook County Jail, in Chicago.

On good days, I tell myself that I didn’t fail Gene – I loved him, I tried to create a safe place for him to be, I listened to him, I made sure he was heard. On bad days, I tell myself that I didn’t listen long enough or work hard enough. But on honest days, I know the truth – I didn’t fail Gene – we as a society failed Gene. Because while we as a society might lament cases like this, we are OK with it happening – we are OK with people like Gene falling through the cracks and becoming more and more isolated and more and more alone.

Because the cold hard truth is that if we weren’t OK with it, we would make sure there was a safe place for Gene to live, where someone would make sure he takes care of himself.

 

Most People Don’t Change

i want change
I work in what has been called “The Change Industry.”

Most organizations who work with the sort of people we do (people who are homeless, housing vulnerable, living in inner-city poverty) are based on the idea that they are effecting change. That because of their existence, people will change, and that Terrance, who has a 5th grade reading level and a crack habit will, because of the intervention of their organization, go back to school and become an accountant or something.

There is but one problem with that premise.

Most poor people do not change.

Most rich people don’t either.

Oh, I know change happens – I have seen it, I have even experienced it. But change is seldom the result of a light-bulb moment, brought about because the white people who love Jesus showed up in the neighborhood with Backyard Bible School. If you asked the average pastor how many people in his congregation experienced lasting, positive change in the last year, the truthful answer is going to be, not many.

Change, when it happens, is the result of a process. There are distinct stages to change, which can be summed up as

  • Not Ready to Change
  • Getting Ready to Change
  • Ready to Change
  • Taking Action to Change
  • Maintaining the Change
  • Changed

What this means in most organizations is that intervention takes place at the point when the person is at the Ready to Change stage. This is what the AA folks call Hitting Rock Bottom, or Being Sick and Tired of being Sick and Tired. The dirty little secret of most change organizations is that only a small percentage of the people who enter their programs actually achieve the change they desire, because the application of the program seldom happens at the Ready to Change stage.

If you attempt to help people change at any other point in the model, you are wasting your time. And theirs.

So, what do you do about that?

There are really three approaches you, as an organization, can take.

The first, and by far the most prevalent, approach is to ignore this reality, and pretend that your program is so efficacious, so tweaked, so awesome that people who are exposed to it have no choice but to change. And if for some reason they don’t change, then it is because they are stubborn, or sinful, or, that most dreaded of words, noncompliant.   I call this the Rescue Mission Approach.

The second approach is to recognize that change happens in stages, and the goal is to intervene with people who desire change when they desire change, and to not waste time on people who don’t desire change. This model depends on large numbers of people being exposed to your program because, based on statistics, a percentage of them will be ready to change. This is the Social Services Agency Approach.

The third approach is to assume most people aren’t ready to make changes in their situation, and to recognize that when they are ready, they are most likely to reach out to people in their network of relationships for help. Therefore, the most certain way to be the person they seek help from is to be in their network of relationships. This is the method we use here at Love Wins, and we call it the Community Approach.

In the Community Approach, we recognize most people don’t change – ever. So we don’t have effecting change as a primary goal. We never talk about ending homelessness, because ending homelessness requires other people to change, and remember, most people don’t want to change.

Instead, we focus on the relationship as the end goal. We have no higher goal than achieving real relationship – relationship based on mutuality and respect, relationships that assume the value of both parties – secure in the knowledge that whatever positive change occurs in either of our lives will occur as a result of the relationships we have.

In other words, working for change in this context means focusing not on fixing people, but walking next to them on a long, hard journey. It means being, first and foremost, commitment to the relationship, even when that is really, really hard. And it sometimes means loving people in advance, before they are able to love themselves.

Not everyone can change, or wants to change, or will change. But there is no one beyond love.

 

Love Wins. For Everyone.

Happy Valentine's Day from Love Wins.

In 2010, we lost nearly a third of our funding when it came out (no pun intended) that we are accepting and affirming of all sexual minorities. In other words, churches quit supporting us when they learned that we fully serve and minister to all God’s children – not just the ones that are straight.

We have caught a lot of flack for this over the years. I have been refused speaking engagements when they googled me and saw things I had written on the intersectionality of LGBT Issues and homelessness. We had people quit donating when they learned we baptized a woman who identified as LGBT, and who quit donating when they learned we hired LGBT staff members and I have been called a heretic and worse on the internet.

But we have not wavered, because the consistent witness of Jesus is clear – there are but two kinds of people: Our neighbor, who we are to love, and our enemy, who we are to love. The concept of “other” should be alien to the Christian. God does not discriminate, and neither do we.

But beyond that, the fight to end homelessness is intertwined with the fight for equality for our LGBT brothers and sisters. LGBT orientation is a leading cause of homelessness, with 40% of homeless teens identifying as LGBT. Most of them are homeless because of their orientation, with the most frequent reason being give is, “I came out to my parents, and they threw me out.”

People who are LGBT have historically been more ostracized from their support networks and been denied housing, with no legal protection. In North Carolina, it is perfectly legal for your boss to fire you because you are gay. And getting fired is one of the leading reasons people become homeless.

So it is all tied up together. I can no more run an organization that serves people who are homeless and not mention LGBT rights than I could run the NAACP and never talk about slavery. It is the reason why a great percentage of the people we serve are here.

Today is an historic day here in the US. The Supreme Court has ruled that LGBT people have a right to get married in all 50 states.  And today, we rejoice that the world is a bit more fair, a bit more just for people we love in our community. And this morning, I stopped by to see our friends at the LGBT Center of Raleigh, where there was celebrating and high fives and hugs and crying.

But there is much more work to be done. You can still be fired if you are gay. You can still get kicked out by your parents if you are gay. You can still be refused housing if you are gay. You can still not be hired because you are gay. Being gay puts you in both physical and economic danger.

In other words, if you are LGBT, there is still a tremendous risk to being yourself. There are many places you cannot go and be accepted, be loved, be ministered to, be treated as if you are valuable, be treated as human. There are lots of places you can’t go. But as long as I have the means to do it, I know of at least one place where you can.

Because, well, because we believe that Love Wins. For everybody.

If you want to help us stay open so we can continue to be a loving, affirming presence to people experiencing homelessness, regardless of their orientation, I wish you would consider making a one-time donation.

 

How’s Your Wife, Hugh?

Laboring Mommy
“How’s your wife doing, Hugh?”

I bet I have answered that question at least 20 times a day the last few weeks.

The back story: My wife Renee has a rare heart disease that runs in her family. She has been on a pacemaker since she was 13. Two of her sisters have had heart transplants. Her mother died at age 45 of this disease. Her grandmother died at 27.

Most of the time, she is fine, as long as she isn’t trying to majorly exert herself. Walking long distance is hard, as is stairs. But she could sit at the table with you, or next to you on the couch, and you wouldn’t know anything is wrong with her.

But lately, her markers the cardiologists watch have been getting worse. And it has become more and more obvious that a heart transplant is in our future. And then we got the call that it wa time to be evaluated for transplant.

We spent three days at Duke Hospital a few weeks ago, undergoing a battery of tests – physical, psychological, financial – to see if she was fit to be on the list. Honestly, the iffiest one was the financial qualification, as a heart transplant costs north of $750,000, and the Love Wins health insurance plan is pretty nonexistent. However, she is on Medicare and Medicaid and together, that was enough to piece together a somewhat shaky financial plan for paying for all of this.

Last week were received the call that we were approved for transplant – now she is officially on “the list”. This means lots of things for our family – making sure we always have a phone with us, no long-distance trips, and cleaning up healthcare messes now. They want you to have all your other health problems fixed before transplant, as surgery becomes a lot harder after transplant.

Which is why on Wednesday of this week, Renee was in the hospital, having her gallbladder removed, a surgery she had been putting off for a while. And while it is often a same-day surgery, when you throw heart problems in the mix, nothing is simple. The plan was to keep her one night for observation, but she had complications, and has now been there two nights and in on oxygen because of some lung situation and really, just nothing is easy anymore.

And in the middle of all this craziness, I have been trying to lead our little community. We have 4 staff folks, some full time and some part time. Sara is out on maternity leave. Every other staffer has less than 3 months of experience at Love Wins.

So there is a lot of explaining that has to happen, and lots of meetings, and lots of “this is the way we do it here.”   We are a pretty unique work environment, with a pretty unique work style, and when we have lots of time, it is the best way we know to build community. But when, say, the most experienced person on the team’s wife is in the hospital, it gets more… interesting.

So, we are limping along here. The team I have is great, and they are doing good work and whatever they lack in experience they are making up for in compassion and openness. And the guests and community members are really stepping up to the plate – an open secret here is that the community really runs the day to day operations of Love Wins – the paid staff just keeps things moving.

So yes, it is scary. But not as scary as it would be if I didn’t have a community of people who care for me, who ask me how Renee is doing, who bring me food and make sure I am ok and who call me and pop by and check in on me.

This is scary. But not as scary as it would be if I was doing it alone. But thanks to community, I don’t have to.

And that, in a nutshell, is what we do here at Love Wins. We build community – because on your worst days, no one should have to be alone.

What I Really Want For My Birthday

Birthday Cake

 

Today is my birthday. Somehow, I made it to be 43. Like Mickey Mantle said, had I known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.

But anyway, here it is. I have been asked a lot what I want for my birthday, and I don’t have a good answer for that. I have great friends and a wonderful community and an awesome family. I have an amazing job where I get to touch dozens of lives each week, and have managed to create a place where healing can occur and where people who were once strangers can become friends.

Like this week, when my bank account was hacked, and I had $200 taken from my account. I was pretty mad – while they eventually will sort it out, it was frustrating and inconvenient, and I was ticked. I posted about it on Facebook, and my friend Jim saw it.

Jim was living at the shelter and struggling to stay sober when he first came to our community, but he is now housed and employed and sober as a judge. And he is my friend on Facebook.

He had seen my post, and came by the building on his way to work. He told me he had seen my post, and it made him mad, too. Then he handed me a hundred dollar bill, told me he wished he could cover the whole loss, but hoped this would help.

And then he gave me a monster bear hug and walked out of the room.

I get to have a life where that happens.

So what do I want for my birthday? I want to be able to keep doing this work for another year. I want Frank to always have a safe place to go. I want to be able to host impromptu dance parties where the guest list includes crack addicts and people with master’s degrees and people who live outside and college students. I want to work in the dirt of our community garden with Henry. I want to demonstrate the goodness of God to people who have legitimate reason to doubt that goodness. I want to bear witness to the power of community.

In short, I want to keep doing what I am doing.

The last six months have been brutal for us, financially, here at Love Wins. We had to move, and that cost us much more than we had budgeted for. We had some employee turnover, which is always expensive. We lost two large donors – one was a church that went out of business and another was a local who moved away. We are adding slots for street outreach, to reach people who haven’t been into the Hospitality House, which was supposed to be covered by a gift that fell through. And it is now full on summertime, when the money just dries up.

So, for my birthday, I would love it if you would consider making a one-time financial gift to Love Wins. If we are going to continue to do this work, we need your help to do it.

To help us build our financial reserves and continue to do this work, please click here.

 

Accepting Homelessness

Alone

“I’ve never had anything like this happen to me before!”

Tim is a tall man in his late sixties, who, thanks to an unscrupulous landlord, some black mold and some paperwork issues, is now living in his car with his partner of more than 20 years.

They had lived in an apartment for years, on a Section 8 voucher because of their fixed income. This year, however, the apartment didn’t pass inspection because of the black mold crawling up the wall. So they looked for another place, and found one. They packed, rented a U-Haul truck and headed over to the new place… only to find it wasn’t ready, and hadn’t passed its inspection, either, and wouldn’t be ready until the 28th.

What do you do? They couldn’t go back to the old place, and they can’t move into the new place. They have a U-Haul truck full of furniture. And weeks before they can put the furniture in the new place.

They rented a storage unit and unpacked the truck. They moved into the local no-tell motel, a sleazy joint the city has threatened to shutter for years, but is the default short-term housing option for many folks I know who are experiencing homelessness. They stayed there until the money ran out, and had spent the last several nights in their car.

And now they were in my office. They came in because they were hungry, and had seen the sign had outside, advertising the community meals hosted by the church we share a building with. When they found out what we do, Tim began to cry.

The story Tim gave, which I have just summarized for you, was punctuated with many disclaimers.

“This isn’t supposed to happen to people like me.”

“I don’t want to end up homeless.”

“I’m not some bum.”

I’ve heard it all before.

In her 1969 book On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross postulated that there are at least five distinct stages of dying, which she later expanded to any sort of death or loss – the death of a friend, the death of a relationship, or the death of a career. They are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Every person I know who enters homelessness goes through many of these stages as well. Tim was vacillating between denial and anger: “… this isn’t happening to me… this shouldn’t happen to me… I don’t deserve this… I’m not homeless.”

While all of those feelings are valid, the reality is, none of them are really helpful in helping Tim deal with his situation. The faster he can get to a place where he accepts the reality of his situation, the faster he can deal with his current reality.

I once knew a woman who had been living in her car for two years, who wouldn’t go to the soup kitchen because she “didn’t like homeless people.” She eventually died in that car – she wouldn’t access services because she couldn’t come to terms with the fact that she was, in fact, homeless.

She was, in the words of my grandfather, “too proud to whitewash, too poor to paint.”

It was fortuitous that Tim and Steve walked into Love Wins – not because we could house them, or even because we could give them some sandwiches and coffee, which we did. But because we could give them a community to process with. We could give them a place to feel normal. A place to belong. A place where they could be treated as humans.

It’s only been a few days, but already, we’re seeing a change. Tim and Steve are rapidly becoming members of our community. Tim was washing the dishes yesterday, and Steve was listening to Malachi, one of our more, uhhm, verbose community members tell one of his endless stories. And last night, as we were wrapping up, Tim asked me about the night-time soup kitchen up the road. Steve had heard about it, and they were considering going. But first, they had a question.

“Tell me, Hugh – are they nice to us homeless people there?”

Facing homelessness is scary. Facing it without a community around you, though, is even scarier.

Leaving The Crab Bucket

Fishing crabs

Fred has been clean for almost four months now. Well, maybe. It really depends on how you define “clean.”

See, Fred had a come-to-Jesus moment back in the winter, when he smoked some crack before he climbed up to work on the roof of a house he was helping renovate. Fred, not surprisingly, fell off the roof, and in the week or so he was laid up, decided smoking crack was not for him.

He came into the hospitality house the following week and asked me to pray with him, and then told me he was quitting, cold turkey. Crack, weed, even the cold beer he drank on occasion. He was quitting it all.

I congratulated him on his decision to take better care of himself. Then I asked him if he had heard my story about a bucket of crabs. He hadn’t.

I told him that if you’re going after crabs, you have to have a lid for your bucket for the first crab. But after you get the second one, you can get rid of the lid, because every time a crab tries to get out of the bucket, the other crabs will pull him back in. Once you’re in that bucket of crabs, there’s no getting out at all. *

Then I told him that his old friends he used to smoke crack and party with were the crabs, and where he hung out was the bucket. And that if he didn’t get out of the bucket, his “friends” would grab him, and drag him back in.

It was here that Fred told me he was allergic to shellfish, so he didn’t have anything to do with crabs.

Yeah. Well.

Fred, however, has now latched onto the metaphor. When I ask him how he’s doing, he will often reply, “Good! Just dodging crabs!”

He told me the other day that Raleigh is too much for him. “I’m back to smoking weed,” he said.  He was in a group of guys, and they started passing a joint around, and he just joined in.

“The crabs got me, Hugh. They got me.”

Fred has decided he should move back to where his family is in Virginia, before the crabs pull him back to smoking crack. So, he’s going home, before the crabs get him.

This is what’s hard for me. If we were an agency, then we could count Fred as a success story, because he’s going home and will no longer be homeless. Or we could have counted him one back in the winter, when we celebrated his quitting using. But we’re a community, so we count none of that.

Instead, we’re just happy he’s part of our community. And we’re also sad, because we will miss our friend.

But sometimes, being a friend means celebrating when your friend escapes the crab bucket once and for all.

*I have never crabbed in my life, and have no idea if this is true. It’s a good story, however, and a good metaphor for the way our associates can pull us down, however.

Related: Sometimes Love Is Boring

We’re Starting A Community Garden

Red beetroot leave

It’s springtime here in the Southland, the birds are singing and the flowers are blooming. And many of us are putting in our garden. Some of us have been working on it for weeks.

Maybe you know how good it feels to buy a $1.50 packet of seeds, stir up the soil and tuck them in, water them regularly and watch them sprout. They then become beans or tomatoes that feed our bellies, or maybe they become beautiful flowers that feed our soul. What was once a muddy dead place now becomes useful, or beautiful, or both.

But that presupposes you have a spot of earth in which to do that, or at least a flowerpot and a sunny windowsill. For a lot of the people who come through our hospitality house, memories of digging on the earth to make it productive and beautiful are just that – memories.

As a child, I was taught that to have a thing and not share it with others is sinful. And it occurred to us one day that in our new location, Love Wins has this big yard just sitting there. And we have folks with tons of experience in landscaping, construction, farming and so on, also just sitting there.

And we have all of you, who could help us make something beautiful happen. Put that all in a pot and stir it up…

What we came up with was, we need a community garden. In all senses of the phrase – a garden for our Love Wins community, and a garden where we can build community, and also a garden that makes the larger community – our neighborhood, our street, our city – more beautiful.

And then there’s the food. The ability to control the food you have access to is a form of power – one often denied to the people in our community. And while we’re not fooled into thinking that our ability to plant carrots or kale will suddenly improve the diets of the people we know, we do believe that the key to improving anyone’s life is to increase their choices.

So, we’re starting a garden. And we need your help.

Because this isn’t just some tomatoes and peppers in the flowerbed. It’ll be a place of beauty, with flowers and birds and butterflies. Because our folks have too much that is ugly in their lives – and need a place of beauty.

So there will be flowers. And benches. And a rose arbor. And mulched paths and raised beds and a hedge of blueberry bushes. And fruit trees. Because the people we are doing this with, and for, deserve a place to work, to relax, and to enjoy all that is beautiful.

But beautiful costs some money. And takes some time. And our goal of building community requires that you be there, too. So we need your help.

I hope you will click this link, and decide to help us do this. I hope your small group or Sunday School class will sign up to help us do this.  I hope you will decide that a rose arbor for marginalized people to sit under, where they can enjoy beauty and forget, even for a few minutes, the struggles of their existence, is not frivolous, but worthwhile. I hope you will decide to plant flowers with us, and sit on the bench with us and watch the birds chase each other.

But mostly, I hope that you will hope with us. Because things like hope and beauty might not be everything, but they are high on the list.

Visit our community garden page to learn how you can hope alongside our community.

We Aren’t Fighting Homelessness

Hugh is in Syracuse, New York this weekend facilitating a leadership retreat wih the Isaiah’s Table community. Here’s a post from the archives reminding us that homelesness isn’t just about housing. – Sara

Lonely man

Yesterday around three, Ron comes in my office. He looks depleted.

“I lost my bed at the shelter.”

Ron has been in the shelter for a while now, participating in a program designed to help him bridge the gap between homeless and housed. He is due to get a housing voucher in the next two weeks, which will mean leaving homelessness and re-entering the world of the housed. Losing his bed is bad. Very bad.

I ask, “What happened?”

As part of the terms of the program he is in, Ron is supposed to attend classes. He missed one yesterday because he was out in town at a medical appointment and the bus ran late. Since he was already on probation, having had this happen once before, they banned him from the shelter for 30 days for “noncompliance.”

So, Ron lost his bed. But it is worse than that – he is in real danger of losing his housing voucher after months of waiting. But it is worse than that, for Ron is disabled, and his health conditions won’t be improved by his being outside.

But the thing that really frustrated me is that we have several nights of below freezing weather in the forecast for the next week. See, on nights when it is below freezing, they open the shelter to everyone, to keep people from dying on the streets.

Well, they open it to everyone that isn’t banned. So, Ron is sitting in my office, knowing that because of a schedule problem, he is facing a return to chronic homelessness, health problems, and nights outside in freezing weather.

There isn’t much you can say in that situation. Years of doing this work have shown me the futility of trying to reason with the shelters – they are firmly stuck in the “homelessness is a character problem” mentality.

And as frustrated as I am at the shelters in general, this post isn’t about the shelters.

Homelessness is almost impossible to understand until you realize it is a series of losses. Loss of a house, yes, but that is usually preceeded by loss of a job, loss of friends, often loss of children and spouse, loss of peers, loss of identity, loss of relationships, loss of dignity.

When Ron came into my office yesterday, he was not looking for my help – in fact, he never asked a thing of me, other than my OK to get his mail sent to Love Wins, something many people do anyway without asking.

Yesterday, he lost his warm bed for the next month. He probably lost his housing voucher. He lost his community at the shelter. So, he was checking in to make sure he hadn’t lost us, too.

The hardest thing for us to explain is that we are not fighting homelessness – we are fighting the loneliness that accompanies homelessness. We are less anti-homelessness and much more pro-community. That may be hard for our supporters to grasp at times, but yesterday, Ron understood it, and in fact, was counting on it.

The urge to “help” when it isn’t asked for is overwhelming sometimes. The hardest part of this job is allowing people to make their own decisions – which, when you think about it, says a whole lot more about me than it does about them.

Related: Acting Against Loneliness, It’s Not My Choice

Sometimes This Stuff Works

The obligatory silhouette shot

There are days when this work is thankless. Heck, sometimes, there are weeks.

On those days, it seems everyone who comes in the door wants to conduct a transactional relationship.

“Can you pay for my prescription?”

“Can you give me a sleeping bag?”

“Why do you only have grape jelly? I like strawberry better.”

And those are also the weeks you get inundated with emails from well-meaning church folk who want to come “help the homeless,” but only for two hours, and only on your day off, and only if they can take pictures of them and “the homeless.”

No. Just no.

No matter how many times I tell people that the opposite of homelessness is community, it still feels like there are people who don’t listen, and people who hear me but don’t care and don’t want to build community but only want to extract maximum value from the transaction and move on.

But then there are the other days – the days when it all feels worth it.

Yesterday was one of those days.

Ron is something else. He has long shaggy hair and a goatee and a thick country accent. He lives in the woods, largely by choice, as he “doesn’t get along with folks.” But he’s at our hospitality house a lot. He sticks around until the crowd gets to be too much, and then he’ll duck out for a while. But he’s one of our guests who has decided he has responsibilities – not ones we gave him, but ones he assumed.

Because he feels like he belongs.

One of the tasks Ron has assumed is taking the trash to the curb on Thursdays. When he doesn’t do it, we often forget, and then the trash piles up. But Ron doesn’t forget.

He also, like a lot of members of our community, has bad teeth. Dental care is hard for our folks, with all the carbs and sugar everyone wants to push on them, and the lack of free or low-cost dental clinics. But strings were pulled and sources were hunted for and finally, Ron had a much needed oral surgery.

Yesterday morning, the phone rang. I was in the office, and Elizabeth answered the phone. She shifts from professional voice to casual register, and chats for a minute. Then she hangs up.

“That was Ron,” she said. “He wanted us to know he made it through surgery and is doing fine. He also said to remind everyone that the trash needs to be taken to the curb today.”

And there you have it. Community in action. Calling not because he needed something, but because a) he knew we would want to know he is okay and b) because he wanted to make sure the community continued to function, even when he wasn’t here.

In other words, he called because he knew the community cared about him, and he cared about the community.

And those two things have not often been true in Ron’s life. And while they’re not everything, they’re not nothing, and are better than most other things on the list.

Some days, you realize that this stuff works. Some days, you see that community is happening in spite of all the conditioning against it. And it’s those days that give you the strength to go on.

Related: Dave And Communion, Acting Against Loneliness