Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"Free chocolate chip pancakes for all!"

In a recent conversation with one of my favorite guests, Frank (not the guy who had the heart attack), we were discussing the presidential primary election that was to be taking place the next day in Pennsylvania. As was expected, Frank told me he was voting for Obama but then proceeded to tell me that he was going to write himself in on the ballot. After a bit of discussion, he told me that he'd invite me over to the White House for a big brunch with "Free chocolate chip pancakes for all"... this was Frank's way to resolve all the problems the United States currently faces. How can you not love this guy?! Oh if only it were that simple.
Since we have experienced rain for 4 days straight, both the Team and the guests were getting antsy. With high numbers so early in the month, we were waiting for the breaking point... and it came last night. Mondays never prove to be an easy day. They are long and exhausting and it seems as if all the craziness occurs on Mondays. I started the day at Benny's (the thrift store). Due to the pouring rain, it was so slow! I only made $34, a personal all-time low for me! After my shift at Benny's ended I went back to the Inn to begin making dinner for the Team as it was the FVMs' turn to cook. We chose to make burgers and fries with strawberry shortcake, a nice summer meal! I was upstairs cutting potatoes when Brother Fred came up and said Jen, one of our guests, had been stabbed and was downstairs. Jen, as you may recall from past posts, got married a year ago in Las Vegas and returned to Philadelphia with a drug habit... at least that's what I was lead to believe until yesterday. She had a large cut across her neck and on her arm and had literally been stabbed in the back with a knife. There was blood everywhere and as I held the cloth on her back to stop the bleeding, she wouldn't look me in the eyes. I held her and and sat with her until the ambulance got there. All the while her husband, Dorian, was no where to be found when she was stabbed.
Apparently Jen and Dorian had gotten into a fight earlier that afternoon because Jen was looking to "turn tricks" so she could make some money to support her habit and Dorian got upset and left. When Dorian came to the meal just about an hour later, I told him what happened to Jen... the look on his face shocked me. He seemed upset but not nearly as upset as I'd expected him to be. He told me that the reason why they were fighting was because he was sick of living on the streets and standing by Jen as he watched her slowly killing herself. He was angry, of course, but not only at the man that attacked Jen but also at Jen for putting herself at risk yet again. Jen just got out of rehab last Thursday and was back in her addiction by Monday. The last I saw Dorian, he was heading to Temple Hospital to visit Jen but I told him to get out of Kensington.
Right at the beginning of the meal, Jose, a guest who was recently banned for stealing from the Inn, came to me for a ticket to eat. As I began to explain that he was banned, Fred and Renee came to my assistance but this only aggravated Jose more. This may have been one of the few times I felt intimidated by a guest only because Jose is very mentally unstable and is capable of seriously hurting himself or any of one us. Eventually he let up on us but stood close by screaming profanities at me, Renee and basically anyone who represented charitable organizations. We attempted to call Mobile Mental Health but they didn't show up.
In conjunction with Jose's outburst, Jorge, one of our beloved, perpetually drunk guests began his own tirade in a mix of Spanish and English. It took Barbara and Sister Leslie to get him to at least get off our corner. When Jorge drinks, he typically gets violent so in an effort to avoid such a situation, we just tried to get him to leave. It worked but I fear for anyone who has crossed Jorge's path since last night.
Okay, so we have Jen, Jorge and Jose. Next up, we had a fight in the yard. Over bread. Yes, bread. I'm not entirely sure what happened but there was a lot of yelling and as I ran over to break it up, Barb and Renee came flying over and the altercation was soon dissolved. Let me just remind you that all the while, it was raining buckets and I was standing in it.
I used to find it hard to believe that all the guests would be in the same rhythm... everyone has their own beat and follows that but it seems as if there are a few days out of the year that everyone starts stepping in time and things just break down. Without hopping on my soapbox too much, I would like to point out that there were plenty of witnesses to Jen's stabbing but absolutely no one jumped to her aid. My housemates and I have been talking about this a lot lately, how the guests just don't look out for each other as I would expect them to. There are so many people here that are "friends" but would turn around and steal from their so-called friends just the same. The camaraderie is simply not there as many of our guests would probably need. I'm not sure if this is a symptom or a cause for their situations but either way, it needs to change.
And as far as the whole Jose situation goes, he tried really hard to make us feel guilty for denying a homeless man a blanket, especially on the Sabbath. Jose is not the first person to try to guilt me into helping them and as hard as it is to be strong, one of the many things I've learned this year is that we must be consistent in our assistance otherwise we get walked all over. In recent conversations with a specific guest, Richie, I have told him that if he simply respected me, I would respect him and be more inclined to work with him rather than "keeping a homeless guy down". We're taking small steps daily, Richie and I, with the hopes that we can be on the same page some day.
As the last week went on, I kept making mental notes of things to update in my blog so that's why there's such a jumble, but I wanted to be sure to give you a fair account of what's been happening down here. Thank you all for bearing with me! Love and peace to you all!!!

Saturday, May 3, 2008


It has been almost a month since my last post and I think that should be indicative of the kind of month we've had! Just after that last post our reign of visitors ended with my friend Tara coming down from Boston. The following weekend Emily went to Baltimore to visit her brothers and run her first road race while Maureen and I welcomed the quiet weekend with wide open arms!
Since that weekend, the entire Team had been anticipating the first of the month... the guests seemed particularly on guard, the numbers were astronomically high, and we were all getting ready for Volunteer Appreciation Day which was to be the following Sunday. That week, for the first time since any of the Team can remember, we had three straight days of numbers over 400... that means that at our evening meal we had over 400 people walk through our doors to eat! None of the cooks were prepared for such hoards of people and none of the staff could have possibly been ready for such chaos to ensue. As crazy as it was, however, it was a time when I could look to my co-workers and know that despite all the insanity, these people had my back in whatever decisions were made. I'm beginning to think that it's not often that people find that kind of comfort and security in their workplace so I am constantly grateful for this incredible blessing!
Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening the Team, and anyone who wants to come, goes up to the chapel for evening prayer. It is lead by different Team members each night but is really just a time to relax and unwind from the craziness of the day. When I came to Philly last year with SBA, my trip went to evening prayer but were definitely not mature enough to handle it. I didn't really like it in the beginning of the year either but have really come to appreciate how it is a time when we can all be together in our exhaustion within the presence of God. So last week at evening prayer each person that walked in slumped down in their chair, put their head back and looked completely defeated. It is days like these where you feel like you've gotten beat up... certainly not physically but definitely emotionally.
Luckily after that short stint of craziness, things died back down to normal-ish numbers for the rest of the month (somewhere around 350-375 each night). Last weekend I got to escape the crazy for a bit by going home to visit family and to accompany Marcus (a friend from school) to his senior formal. I had a wonderful time at home, my first time really being "at home" without having to see other friends in the area. The formal was lots of fun!!!
Early Sunday I went to the airport and jumped on a plane to come back to Philly just in time for Volunteer Appreciation Day! We pulled in 5 minutes before mass started and had a beautiful celebration with all those volunteers that make our ministry possible.
This past week, as school is ending for many colleges, our volunteer numbers have been really low. Since we have no groups coming, that leaves the Team to serve and bus the tables. Believe me, it's soooo much fun! In one day, I served and bussed tables and was Maitre'd. The next day I was just a server, and the following day I was on line-up (outside), Maitre'd, and busser... all in one day! As difficult as it may seem to function without volunteers, it's actually kind of fun to be on the floor with all team members. I keep explaining the meal as a big choreographed dance. Each knows their steps and their role and executes it beautifully without much confusion or mess.
As the week ends, I've been blessed with two days off in a row! I am taking advantage of the opportunity to rest and recuperate from the week and gearing up for what is to come! May brings some busy weeks/weekends but I'm really excited for all the coming activity!
God bless you all as Summer comes your way!