/ 28. March 2007 07:12
September 5th, 2006: “My first day at St. Vincent de Paul Village, a homeless shelter in downtown San Diego- my first impression- my first experience was uncomfortable. As I walked into the main lobby with Eileen I noticed a man in his late 20s. I couldn’t help but think that he looked exactly like a friend of mine. However, when I noticed his tattered clothes, broken sunglasses, and dirty fingernails I returned to the present moment and realized I was finally here, at St. Vincent’s. I sat down next to the man on a freshly cleaned bench inside the lobby. He was sitting so peacefully with a new set of clothes placed in his lap. I heard him ask the receptionist if he could shower. He was told that it may be a few hours before he could shower, but instead of complaining he simply looked at me shrugged his shoulders and smiled. A few minutes later, he asked me if I had just moved in. I said “well yeah kinda” and then began to explain that it was my first day working as a full time volunteer in the Village’s family literacy program. I told him more about my job and how excited I was to tutor k-8th and teach pre-school but in my mind I was much more nervous than excited. Just as I was realizing how nervous I actually was, our conversation was interrupted by the receptionist. She told the man to get off the bench because it had just been cleaned. As I went to pick up my bag and remove myself from the clean bench also the receptionist kindly looked at me and said “Oh no dear you’re fine.” The man’s expression dropped and he turned to me and said “wow, being homeless sucks.” That morning I got off the clean bench and I stood to wait for Jayne, my new boss to show me around the Village. While I stood waiting I realized I was no longer nervous or anxious because I knew that this was exactly where I was meant to be.”
That was the first thing I wrote in my journal when I got home from my first day at St. Vincent de Paul Village. Looking back on that first day, I still remember so vividly the moment that man was asked to get off the bench and I was given the ok to keep sitting. He was smiling in the beginning of our conversation but the second he was asked to get off the bench his peaceful smile was gone.
I have been working at the Village for almost seven months and one of the most valuable lessons I have learned is to treat everyone with dignity and respect. Homelessness is dehumanizing and degrading. There is a lack of peace on the streets surrounding the Village and there is a lack of peace in the Village as people are oppressed and suffering. Chronic homelessness is what plagues most of the impoverished population in San Diego and throughout the U.S. Working specifically with the wonderful children at the Village; I have come to understand more clearly the cycle of poverty operating in the U.S. The cycle harms a child’s dignity. The children I teach, tutor, and play with everyday suffer at such a young age from abuse, violence, and instability. I know there is a liberating path for them. Each day when I see the kindness, selflessness, and love that comes from the staff and volunteers at the Village as well as from my housemates, Anthony, Keeley, Beth, Zack, and Cheryl, I am so hopeful and energized to continue working for that path towards peace, that path that exists when all people can smile because they have been treated with dignity and respect.
San Diego, CA 2006-2007