About a week ago, our team toured the Hesed House facilities a second time and learned more about the transitional living portion of the shelter. Brightly painted doors leading to dormitory style rooms line both sides of a long hallway, and furniture sits in the hallway waiting for a thorough cleaning. Our guide explained that this was a very good sign, because it meant that someone had moved out and transitioned to independence. The communal kitchen is large and clean. As we passed through, a young mother was feeding her sons breakfast; they were dressed in superhero pajamas and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying their cereal. Our guide then showed us the communal living space, which included a space for watching television, two computers, and several dining tables. Residents must check out the remotes in order to watch television. There is also a children’s playroom that is used for structured children’s programs and can be reserved by parents for private family time.
I went into this experience expecting very little. I had experienced this tour only a few months ago. At that time, I had been incredibly impacted by the dedication of Hesed House and by its holistic approach to serving the homeless community. Although I looked forward to hearing about the organization again, I didn’t expect to gain a lot from it. However, as the tour began, I noticed things I had missed the first time. Having heard the impressive statistics and the theory behind each program before, I found myself focusing on the guests and the looks in their faces. I found myself wondering what it would be like to live at Hesed House.
The Hesed House facilities lie in stark contrast to the life of a sixth grade girl, Dasani, who lives in a New York housing project and was profiled in the New York Times’ series “Invisible Child.” Her family of nine is crammed into a room plagued with asbestos, lead paint, rotting walls, and mice. She and her seven siblings fear sexual predators and use the bathroom only in pairs. Mealtimes include an hour-long line to receive a meal and another line to microwave it each night.
Far different from Dasani’s life at Auburn, the families residing in the transitional living space in Hesed House enjoy clean, private rooms and share recreational space. The Hesed staff ensures that school buses pick up children each morning and that no child worries about safety. However, this second tour made the challenges inherent in not having a private home incredibly real to me. It would be difficult to ever feel relaxed and at home. There is something intangible about private space, about coming home and shutting the door to the world outside your family. Private arguments, meltdowns, and even illnesses are a luxury many do not enjoy.
Perhaps I was surprised and upset by this, because I place high value on time at home with family. With a busy family going in several directions, our time together without friends, employees, boyfriends, etc. is precious. Home is a place where I can let my hair down, cry about stupid things, and wear sweats all day without judgment. Even as a 25-year-old, I value the rare times where the stars align, and my entire family is together at home. Since I was very young, my mother and father regularly opened our home to anyone from foreign exchange students who had trouble with their host homes, to extended family who needed to leave dysfunctional situations and even dogs who faced the pound. The most recent additions to our family include an ex-convict, an elderly woman my mother picked up on the side of the street, a friend’s girlfriend, and a young hipster trying to find himself. My upbringing taught me to be comfortable with strangers around and to want to welcome people into my home and family, but it also caused me to cherish private time. I suppose I was so impacted by this experience, because I recognized a challenge that Hesed House guests and I share.
With this (small) piece of common ground, I will endeavor to understand where our clients are coming from. I can build upon this and find other areas in which we share challenges, interests, and goals. Practically, I hope to be able to give a little extra grace to clients, knowing more about the challenges they face.