On March 17 I was sent home from my office at Duffy Health Center, deemed a “non-essential worker” at the very beginning of the pandemic. In a time of physical distancing, I couldn’t imagine how I could work because everything that I do involves being present, being close enough to hear pain whispered, to hear confessions of past misdeeds, to offer consolation, to breathe with people and offer a voice of compassion and a measure of calm. None of this seemed possible when we were told to isolate from each other. But even though I wasn’t working from the office, I certainly did not stay still.
After I was sent home and spent a couple of days processing what was going on in the world, I began to realize that many venues that unsheltered folks rely on were being shut down. Restaurants closed, the library closed, the churches closed, some stores closed, even the medical center closed its programs. This created a terrible inconvenience for people like me who have a home, who have access to electricity, to a shower, to food, to a bathroom. For our people on the street, this created a desperate situation. Those who live unsheltered lives depend on convenience stores for food and for bathrooms, they depend on the library for shelter and for charging their phones, they depend on the events at the churches that give them access to food, clothing, and agencies that provide services for the homeless. It was all pulled out from under them in less than 4 days.
That weekend I ordered pizzas and soups and traveled around Hyannis with Adam, my husband and partner in ministry. We gave out blankets, hot soup, slices of pizza, waters. We listened as people told stories about being on the streets in the freezing damp cold of March with no place to go to get warm, to get clean, to get their most basic needs met.
The town, the service agencies, the police department and Duffy Health Center all quickly pulled together and created new ways to meet these basic needs. Soon there were portable showers, clothing donations, restaurants offering suppers, Wendy’s gift cards, safe places for people to be if they were ill, and notices that helped people find access to food, water, charging stations.
Here Now Ministry was on the front lines of this rebuilding of structures to help those who are experiencing homelessness. Our outdoor ministry became a food ministry, with over 20 volunteers making hot breakfasts every morning for those who are living unsheltered lives in Hyannis. We partnered with the Federated Church who gave us a safe space to offer food, we received help handing out breakfast bags from the Medical Reserve Corp, Housing Assistance Corporation joined Duffy Case Managers and myself at the site, offering both assistance and also fellowship.
In a terribly concerning time, this breakfast ministry has afforded us the opportunity to safely gather, to have contact with those whom we serve, and to be with colleagues. I write this 6 months after being sent home, and I am so grateful for the many people who came together to provide life saving services for those who live with homelessness. I am also so grateful for the opportunity to be with clients each day, to see their faces -albeit masked – to know that they are ok, to talk with them, to continue the important work of compassionately connecting with people and walking with them on their journey for a little while, of holding what is heavy for them for a little while, to offer presence and care, and to know that while we may be physically distancing we are still here for each other….masked and six feet apart.