Thursday, August 25, 2011

Goodbye, Katie!

After two years at LPCS, Katie McNamara is moving on to another organization.  She wanted to take the time to say "Goodbye and thank you LPCS guests, volunteers, and staff!" 

When I was a junior in high school, our Humanities teacher gave us the homework assignment to: Intentionally put yourself in a new and uncomfortable position for a day and report back. My friend and I decided to “be homeless for a day”. We went to the thrift store and bought “homeless looking” clothes, allocated only enough money for the train ride from the suburbs into Chicago, left our wallets at home, perched ourselves in front of the train station at Madison and Canal, and begged for change so that we could get back home at the end of the day and maybe get a bite to eat. Looking back, I realize how ghastly naive this was, but I see what my 16 year old self was trying to accomplish. I was searching for some kind of understanding around what it meant to be homeless; what was the day to day experience of these mysterious folks I saw on the streets of Chicago?; is it easy to be homeless?; is it hard?; what are these people like?; should I feel bad for them?; should I help them?

Now, almost 10 years later, and having worked at the Lincoln Park Community Shelter for two years, these answers are coming into focus. Mostly, the answer is “it depends.” It’s no surprise that this is not something one can discover from a one day high school homework project, in which we received an A for effort and an F at “being homeless.” These days, as a graduate student receiving a Master of Arts in Social Work and taking on the role of Case Manager at LPCS, my “assignments” are more sophisticated, but sometimes still as uncomfortable and new. There are serious emotional, physical, financial, and spiritual challenges that our guests face; however, the most surprising aspect of my time at LPCS was that, despite the heart-wrenching stories that come through the door, it is generally a happy, loose, comfortable place to be. I’ve appreciated that our On Track Program sticks to the philosophy of empowering homeless individuals to make life changes; this fosters an environment where the infamous “burn out” of social service providers is largely avoided. LPCS was also a wonderful place to be because of our volunteers. As Volunteer Coordinator, I would often say that opening up my work email absolutely restored my faith in humanity. It was consistently filled with messages from enthusiastic, creative people asking how they can help out.

My next position will be as a social work intern at the Jesse Brown Veterans Administration Medical Center in their Addiction Treatment Program. It is frightening sometimes to consider the countless new challenges I will face in this and future jobs. However, I am comforted by my firm confidence that there is nowhere else I would have rather begun my career than at LPCS. Thank you LPCS guests, volunteers, and staff for an unforgettable learning experience.

--Katie McNamara, Case Manager and former Volunteer Coordinator

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A little bit of inspiration...

Every day while working at the LPCS, I am reminded of the reasons I’m here. Beyond the desire to assist people as they improve their lives and end their homeless situation, the guests I work with constantly inspire me with they way they are making progress.

Like many guests, Dee has overcome some odds to improve herself.  She recognizes the need to take the steps to get to where she wants to be, even though a leap or jump is preferable.  We referred Dee to the CARA Program for job readiness and job training, where she has excelled in the classroom and in self discovery.  At the CARA program, the class participates in daily inspiration, where someone will share about themselves with the group.  One of these inspiring assignments was to write a letter to yourself.  Here is what Dee wrote:

“Dear Dee,

Guess what girl, I just love you.  You have really made me proud.  You have [come] a long way. You have really shown me that if you put your mind on something that Dee wants to do, that she can accomplish it.  When you said that you [were] going to quit using drugs, you succeeded, regardless of how you did it. No only that, you also stopped smoking cigarettes. Dee, where things went wrong and you thought there wasn’t hope, you stuck in there and you never gave up, even when you had to move from staying with your significant other because he left you after you had been in a 25 year relationship. I thought you were not going to make it, just coming out of recovery.  After the death of mother and grandmother, you’re still keeping your feet on the right path. After staying with daughter did not work out, Dee, you know that you are a strong lady.  Girl, you just don’t know how strong and determined you are....

Dee, I love you just for who you are. I even love you for making a change in your life. Staying at a shelter is a big step, but you have to start somewhere to get somewhere.  All you have to do is to get out of your own way and do the right thing....

Dee, I am proud of you.  Now you are at this program called CARA, and you have been staying motivated. You have been transformed all over again.  Girl, you make me want to cry everyday because I see you doing something positive with your life.”

Dee's story serves as inspiration not only to herself, but to those around her.  Keep up the good work, Dee.  It will all pay off in the end!
--Brianne Spresser, Case Manager

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Community Impact

Working the morning Interim Housing shift often includes interacting with breakfast volunteers.  On several occasions this summer, high school youth groups participating in short term mission trips cooked and served breakfast.  The students are often timid and unsure of what to expect at a homeless shelter, but eventually realize that homeless adults aren’t so scary, and most are even willing to have a conversation similar to any other adults with whom they interact.

I was once one of those students, later an adult chaperon, away for a week with my church youth group, trying to see what impact I could make.  These experiences are often eye opening and challenging.  They also create lifetime memories and change one’s heart.
When someone asks what my “life changing event” was, or why I want to work at a homeless shelter, I think of one such trip to New York while I was in college.  One of the ministries during the week was to cook food at the facility where we stayed, and bring it to Tompkins Park (of RENT fame) along with clothing to pass out.  Hanging out with homeless people who slept in the park sure was intimidating, until I discovered that as humans, we are all able to connect and to learn from each other.  Seeing the effects of systems of oppression in that park, I began to feel like this one week wasn’t enough for me.  I began to feel as though focusing on social justice would be my life’s work.
Fast forward 10 years.  I have been working at the Lincoln Park Community Shelter for almost a year now through Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC).  LVC’s core values include Community, Simplicity/Sustainability, and Social Justice.  My job placement with the LPCS is primarily the social justice function, by walking alongside and finding ways to empower individuals to make life changes. 

I also see the other two core values of LVC reflected at work.  This interim housing shelter is a community of adults working to better themselves and each other, existing within and being supported by the community in Lincoln Park.  My experience living in an intentional community as part of LVC has allowed me a bit of understanding about community living within a shelter: it is challenging, and requires both patience and compromise. At the LPCS we encourage guests to learn about “Living Green,” while we also try to reduce environmental impacts (sustainability) and well as unnecessary spending (simplicity). 
I’ve found that the little things make an impact.  Maybe you have the time and resources to cook a hot breakfast and eat alongside the people for whom you cooked.  Maybe you can share your skills through teaching a class. Perhaps you have some household goods that someone who finally has their own space could use in their new home.  For some of us it’s a week long mission trip to serve, or a year long volunteer commitment; at the LPCS, our daily mission is serving and walking with fellow members of our community.

--Brianne Spresser, LVC, Case Manager

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Meet an LPCS Graduate!

We love to share to good news when someone graduates from LPCS.  Here is the story of one individual who recently graduated:
Robert* entered the shelter only a few months ago.  He had a long  work history doing primarily maintenance type of work.  He was very concerned about whether he would ever be able to become employed again because he had not worked for almost 2 years, was in his late-50’s, and had virtually no computer knowledge.  Notwithstanding his initial reluctance, he attended a computer class and regularly saw a volunteer computer tutor who came to work with the guests at LPCS.  As a result, he learned how to use email and apply for jobs online.  Attending a job readiness program helped Robert put together a resume and gave him practice with mock job interviews.  Last month he applied for a full-time maintenance position at a new supermarket.  Even though there were over 300 initial applicants, he interviewed extremely well and got the job. LPCS provided CTA passes so he could get to and from work until he got paid.  He has now moved into his own permanent residence and will be financially independent as a fully functioning member of society once again!

*Name has been changed to protect anonymity.