Humans thrive on relationship.
Before this trip, I was scared of the unknown. I knew I would be encountering people different than myself, vastly different. I didn’t want to walk into the Catholic Worker Storefront with my white, middle class, educated privilege and try to “fix” a community I am not a part of. I wondered how these people could be gracious enough to welcome me in, when I am often a part of the problem of propagating structures of poverty and inequality.
The first night at the storefront was drop-in night. The Catholic Worker opens its doors in hospitality to anyone who wants to hang out, play games, or enjoy a cup of coffee and soup. We were not there to serve, but rather to immerse ourselves in the community and build relationship. I sat down at a table with strangers and we just talked. After all my worrying, it turned out to be that simple. We laughed and nearly cried, shared stories, and found commonalities.
Throughout the week, we learned about gentrification pushing these people out of their own community, their home. The unintended consequences of the trendy new breweries and donut shops across the Near West Side of Cleveland are hitting the poor, minorities, and immigrants the hardest. Urban development and new upscale apartments are raising property taxes and rent for the working class who have called this community their home all their lives. They are ultimately being displaced or forced into homelessness. City Cycling Tours of people enjoying beer and wine along the street is considered trendy and legal, whereas unhoused community members are arrested for having the same beverages at a picnic in the park. While new developments are underway for high end apartments and sports arena renovations, there is such a lack of affordable housing that only 10,000 out of 50,000 Cuyahoga County residents who applied for CMHA housing vouchers were added to the waiting list for interviews. Meanwhile, 23,000 people are homeless in Cuyahoga county. This is a tragedy in itself, not to mention the lead poisoning, food deserts, and lack of mental health services so prevalent across northeast Ohio.
And yet, with this sad reality, these folks still have community and relationship like no other. Their culture is not a soulless game of consumerist competition and ruthless individualism. It is family. And family does not always mean blood relatives. It means caring for those around you because of your shared humanity. On our last night at the Storefront, I sat with a man named Hector and his wife Joan. Hector and I had a lovely conversation about his immigration from Puerto Rico and my growing up on a farm in rural Nebraska. He then introduced me to all his “nieces and nephews,” only two of which were actually related to him. He looked after each as his own and you could see the authentic love and relationships that had been built after many years of living in this community.
At the send-off service the night before we left Omaha, our missioner told us to allow our hearts to be broken this week. I can say now that mine certainly has. I can say that when I hear the words homelessness, gentrification, and poverty, I see faces and names with real stories to tell. I can say that these people are the ones who have served me.
Class of 2020
The SCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice (SCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the SCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.