Homelessness

Because of my volunteering with homeless individuals, I immediately notice whether the situation there is better or worse than in Chicago each time I visit other cities. And if it is better, I wonder what these cities are doing better and what we could do in Chicago.

I think about this each time I visit Helsinki, but it was even more pronounced this time. I went to clinic escort on Saturday morning, and I had to go to the earliest shift because I was leaving the same day. It was the first time I ever ook the Red Line as early as 5-15 AM, and the first two cars were pretty much “sleeping cars” – I didn’t even try to get in and move to the third car right away. The next day, I read a letter of complaint from some North Side residents about the homeless encampment and how “they have too many defendants, like the Night Ministry…”

I understand people’s frustration, but I also know that, unfortunately, we do not have any solution in Chicago. It’s great, that the homeless problem in Helsinki is almost non-existent, and I wonder whether we will ever be close to that…

How Was The Week

There has been a lot of work at my actual work in recent days – one of these weeks when you can’t lift your but off the chair. In addition, I started to resume some activities which got off my radar during the previous week. I remembered that I didn’t finish several professional-non-work-related things and put them back into my plans. I went to see the “Hadestown” in the CIBC Theater – great production, but I could not get fully engaged being in the state of mind I was. I am much better today, though. 

On Thursday, I went to the Shelter: the volunteers are finally back in March, so it was my second time after another pandemic break, and I sincerely hope it was the last one! We did a “make your own pizza” activity. The crusts were pre-baked, so the youth just had to assemble the toppings. Only about half of the residents participated, but this is a pretty good turnout! One more time, I am developing new relationships, and I hope that not everybody will disappear when I am back in April. 

And it was a great week at work! I can’t stop smiling, recalling some conversations with my co-workers; these conversations helped me get back to reality and the problems I was trying to solve three weeks ago. This week, the client I had was a true dream client, a pleasure to work with, so I am finishing the week more energized than tired. 

I hope to keep the same level of energy all weekend long :). It will not be easy having the upcoming cold spell, but I will do my best. 

Tulips from my neighbor

ODS Christmas Party

This year, the Night Ministry decided against the large Christmas party as we used to have in the Church – for the residents of all different programs. However, each program had its own party.

I can’t really tell whether I like it more or less this way (to be honest, I think the food was not of the best quality and variety in comparison with the previous years). But it was still fun, and my cookies were very much appreciated, although the residents kept asking when I will come to make Mom’s soup 🙂

A Slightly Dramatic Cookies Decoration

On Monday, we were decorating Christmas cookies in the ODS. It was a very dramatic story. First, since I was coming from home rather than the office, I was somewhat late (I can never calculate the time correctly). What was worse – when I transferred to the Blue line, I saw that I had to wait for 14 minutes until the next train. Unfortunately, the train got delayed even more and then more, and I ended up coming 50 minutes later than I planned.
The next thing I learned was that the oven was broken. It turned out that it was not broken entirely, it’s just that the door was not staying closed, so I had to watch it all the time. I had some baked cookies with me, which I baked at home, so we could start decorating them right away.
The cookies in the oven didn’t turn out very well either. That oven does not bake evenly even on its best days, so even when you use a small baking sheet, the further side is burned, and the from is undercooked, but with the broken door, it was even worse. I destroyed almost the entire first batch!
Then, one of the girls who really wanted to decorate was not there (I knew she had a class, so the fact that I came later left no chances. Many people were not interested and/or wanted to eat undecorated cookies right away 🙂

We ended up making some really nice ones, but I was so frustrated that I didn’t even take pictures! Oh well, next time!

At The Night Ministry

I mentioned this young mother from the shelter before. T. was the one who told me one night when I was about to leave: Ms. Henrietta, do you know that you need to be here every night? And I told her that I knew, and if I had seven lives, my one life would be in the shelter every night. 

And then there was another time when she was very harsh with her 3-year-old daughter, and I wanted to interfere but felt strongly that we were not close enough yet for me to interfere. The only suggestion I made was to help a little girl stop crying by putting damp clothes on her face. 

Later that evening, T. came over to me and asked when I would come next time and what we would cook. She wanted to try to make borshch, and I told her that we would need to make two soups because not everybody likes beets, and she said she was up to the challenge.

We walked to the volunteer coordinator and asked him what day I could come, and he said – November 2. I asked her: will you survive until November 2? and she nodded.

Out volunteer coordinator took a short vacation right before November 2, and on November 1, his flight got canceled. He messaged me in the morning that we would need to cancel and asked whether I could come Wednesday or Thursday. I had something on both days, and I told him I would come next week. 

That day was yesterday. I came in, put my backpack down, and asked the staff whether the produce was in the kitchen. He replied: I have bad news for you: one is that we have no cabbage. I started saying that they should have told me and I could pick it up and it should not be last-minute shopping, and well, we will make borshch another time, I just promised T… He continued: and another bad news is that T. is not here anymore.

It was not that I was shocked. I said: that’s really bad news, not like I am surprised, but… what happened? He replied: she was discharged for acting violently. 

I know that our program’s success rate is low if you judge not by the number of youth placed into jobs and got their housing, so for T., it might not work anyway. Still, I feel that I was so close to being able to help her, and I didn’t.

***

I came home very late and went to check for mail. I saw a Thanksgiving card from the Night Ministry in my mailbox – the one they send every year for all staff, donors, and volunteers. I took the card out and opened it quickly to read a message from the Vice President – I knew she would add a couple of her personal words as she always does. To my surprise, I read: Hettie, what a beautiful picture of you! Then, I turned the card the other way and saw that I was indeed featured on this year’s Thanksgiving card!  

An honor and a gift for me

In Milwaukee With Anna & Family

I spent most of the last weekend with Anna & family in Milwaukee. There was no special occasion, not big plans – we just wanted to get together. 

Also, after a long wait and anticipation, I was finally able to take Amtrak to Milwaukee. It’s tons better than it used to be taking the Van Galder bus to Madison! The ride is about 1.5 hours and very comfortable, with WiFi and electric plugs by every seat 🙂

The thing I enjoyed most was the water quality monitoring. Anna is involved with the Milwaukee Riverkeeper project, and she asked me whether I would like to go with her and Nadia to do the measurements. 

It was so interesting! She has a whole case of scientific instruments and chemical reagents and the instruction book from the program. The monitoring includes measuring the water temperature, transparency, oxygen level, and more. 

I enjoyed this experience on many levels: 1) it is super cool that volunteers can participate in a real scientific project, 2) it is so important for the environment 3) I enjoyed doing something important together with Anna and Nadia 4) I was in a forest preserve, which I really miss!

I need to figure out how to get out to nature even when I am in the city!

Open Door Shelter

I was in the youth shelter on Tuesday. This time, the volunteer coordinator asked me whether I would do the “make your own pizza” activity with the youth.

I didn’t make my own pizza for twenty years, but I realized right away what a fun activity it could be. I quickly googled all the proportions which I already forgot and supplemented them with my pizza-making memories.

Everything went fabulous, and apparently, seven pizzas were not enough :).
It was very touching that the youth thanked me, though it was nothing about me this time around. And closer to the end of the activity one young woman told me: you should come here every day! I told her that I was very touched, and if I had seven lives, one of these lives would be devoted to coming to the shelter every night…

Escorting

I was escorting today after almost a month of not escorting. That’s because we now have to skip two weeks after any out-of-state travel, so I had to skip after Michigan, and then I Lena was visiting. 

Today I was finally back. 

It was quiet first, but then we got three young priests with a large group of school-age kids. I do not think all of them were high-schoolers; some didn’t look older than eleven.

So they line up and pray, and each woman who goes to the clinic and comes back has to march through this corridor of human bodies. One of the priests even got into a verbal fight with one of the escorts. He said that he does not know what a bubble zone is and that we speak to him in an unacceptable tone. 

He didn’t sound like a Christian to me! Cardinal Cupich is a far better person! I don’t know on which assembly line such “priests” are produced!

At some point, a patient came out of the clinic doors and stopped in hesitation. I told her that I could walk her through this line of prayers. She turned to me: but what are those people? What are they trying to achieve?

–They are trying to tell you and others that you are committing a sin..

–Oh, they are! I already have three children, and my husband passed away a year and a half ago; why should I bring one more child into this world? They won’t be around when the baby comes; I would have to do it on my own.

The Night Ministry: What Can We Do Better?

Last Tuesday, I participated in a focus group for the volunteers for the Night Ministry. Two days later, I was at the ODS making dinner for a suddenly shrunk population. I was chatting with the volunteer coordination and other staff members in the process, and it seemed like a continuation of Tuesday’s focus group.
One of the questions we were asked was the following: suppose the Night Ministry would have unlimited resources, how should they be allocated? What would you do first?

My response was that the staffing is the most critical part. It’s not much that volunteers can do without the support of the staff. I know what a difference it makes in the residents’ level of participation depending on who is covering the shift. The staff turnaround is high. In some cases, it might be good when the people who do not have genuine compassion and willingness to work with the youth leave. However, I think more efforts should be made to attract and retain the best people who can make a meaningful difference in the lives of the youth. It would be great if the program would be expanded and serve more young adults, but even with hypothetical unlimited money for salaries and training, the right people are not easy to find. During our conversation in the shelter, we recalled some periods when we had people on staff that should not be there in the first place. And we recalled some young individuals with a lot of potentials, which required a lot of attention from the staff.

We started to talk about the youth we met in the shelter, and it was a long list! We wondered whether everything turned out fine for them and whether they were able to stay on their jobs and not end up on the streets again.

That’s another thing I talked about during the focus group. I know that the youth who graduate from the program want to forget about that period of their lives. I remember one girl telling me: I am very thankful for the program, but I cant’ wait to get out of here!

That means that most of the time, former residents do not want to come back and let us know how they are doing. I think it would be great to have some social services that would allow us to follow up with the program graduates and help them with their everyday challenges. Even for a successful young adult, settling in their first apartment and figuring out the budget is not an easy task. The support should be flexible and should not stop abruptly after a person receives their apartment keys.

During the focus group, one of the volunteers mentioned that the training was great, but then when he went on the field for the first time, it was hard because he could not establish any contact for a while. I told him that nothing was wrong with him, that it’s all expected, and if anything, I believe the training should be adjusted to explain to the new volunteers that the transition is difficult. Later in the shelter, we talked about some volunteers who come with the firm belief that they are doing other people a huge favor and want to “share their wisdom” with even asking whether anybody is interested :).

So, why did ten people had to leave the program just the day before I came? Because they were involved in major misconduct (I do not want to share any details, even anonymously). And here is another question: yes, the rules are the rules, and it is essential that young adults who want to participate in the program follow the rules. And if they don’t, it means that they are not ready. But how can we help these young people to get ready to make changes in their lives? And is it even possible?

I do not know that, but I will be in the shelter again next week, and I hope that it will make at least a little bit of a difference in somebody’s life.