a year at house of charity

Bob Hieger, 2011-2012 Jesuit Volunteer in Spokane, WA, reflects on his journey this year while serving at the House of Charity:

I have been serving here at the House of Charity since last August, and I have learned so much during my time here. I have met many wonderful and amazing people, both among those who work and volunteer, and among those we serve. Every person here leaves a memory I will take with me when I leave in a few short weeks. As is the case with such experiences I am often left wondering exactly what role I play in the lives of those I am serving. More often than not, I feel I am actually being served. The patrons here have taught me a great deal.  Arriving in Spokane, I had no idea what to expect. I knew I wanted to work with a homeless population as part of JVC Northwest, but I had little idea of what I would actually be doing. On some level, I honestly believed I could change the lives of people for the better, help lots of people no longer be homeless.

One of our volunteers once mentioned to me that working at the House of Charity allows us to see people as their truest selves, at their most raw. What the volunteer said was true. The House of Charity allows people to be at their most raw because of their constant need for basic necessities such as food and shelter. However, is it not simply human nature, to crave things that allow us to thrive?  And further, isn’t this something many take for granted? I know that I certainly did coming up here straight out of college. Time and again I am caught explaining exactly what my position is to patrons who ask what I do.  I always tend to forget that I have my housing provided for me, I have a shared food budget with my community. I always try to play up my monthly stipend. I tend to forget that I have something those I am serving do not.  I have shelter. However, I learned we all share something in common: community.

I live with five other Jesuit Volunteers who work at various service sites around Spokane. The House of Charity acts as a hub for the homeless of the area. What shocked me most at first (and continues to shock me) is the community I see among patrons. I have seen one patron give another a pair of socks when we (the HoC) were out. I have seen people offer simple things, like cigarettes, and great things, like a sack lunch. When someone does not get a bed and appears lost, I have seen patrons step in and have the person follow them. The absolute last place I would have thought I would find anything remotely related to community would be a homeless shelter, but sure enough God wanted me to see things a bit differently than I was used to seeing them.

A lesson I once learned from a patron was the difference between homeless and houseless. When a person is houseless he or she lacks adequate shelter. When a person is homeless he or she lacks a place to feel wanted or normal. I have found that the House of Charity helps people truly no longer be homeless. It acts as a place where all can come and belong.

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