Jalissa looked like a deer in the headlights. I could tell it was her first day at the Lamb Center, and I briefly introduced her to the services available. Jalissa explained that she was newly homeless, having lived in her car for the past three months.
It was another “Lamb Center Day,” fast-paced and invigorating, when Jalissa first came through the front door. It was the day of the “Point in Time” (PIT) count in which all the unsheltered individuals must be counted so that HUD can produce the yearly numbers of individuals experiencing homelessness and allot resources accordingly. I was set up at the front door making sure everyone who came in was counted.
As Jalissa and I sat down to complete the PIT survey, I explained the Rapid Rehousing Program administered by our partners at FACETS, as well as the benefits she was entitled to due to her economic hardships. Her countenance immediately changed.
“You know, Tanner,” she began, “today was my breaking point. Up until this point I had no idea what to do or who could help me.”
Jalissa began to see the hand of God in her situation, and the fact that He brought her to the haven of the Lamb Center on the day her strength was failing. I invited her to stay at one of our hypothermia shelters so she would not have to sleep in her car and made arrangements to meet and discuss benefits and support resources the following week.
Jalissa came to her first case management meeting which, for the newly homeless and for folks not used to working with social workers, can be a scary and humbling process.
“You have given me hope. Before I came here, I had almost lost hope,” she shared.
We continued to reflect on God’s workings in her life between applying for medical insurance and supplemental nutrition assistance.
At our next meeting, Jalissa came with stories from hypothermia. She reported that she was grateful for the opportunity to share the Gospel with other guests and staff at the hypothermia shelter. “If God had not brought me through this,” she reflected, “I would not have the humility to empathize with others in these situations.” She paused briefly, “Now I don’t just have hope, I have something to give.”
As a case manager, I come into work each morning with the intention of serving the guests who come through our doors. However, Jalissa reminded me that Christ is not just found in the “warm feeling” of helping another but also in the raw encounter with suffering where, if you refrain from turning your gaze away from it, you will see Christ. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote, “Social justice implies that persons have an obligation to be active and productive participants in the life of society and that society has an obligation to enable them to participate in this way.” Every guest who comes through the doors of the Lamb Center has the infinite potential to give back to the community. I am reminded of this by witnessing it in action.
Jalissa’s story is very similar to the recent phenomena of increased homelessness due to the pandemic. Individuals, who were otherwise making it utilizing their resources and skills, are now no longer able to keep up with the bills due to loss of job or deterioration of support networks. These individuals, often being newly homeless, do not know where to go or where to begin to seek appropriate assistance. The Lamb Center stands as an oasis in the desert and a haven in the tumultuous seasons of life where individuals are not only helped but empowered to discover and employ their own gifts of the Spirit for the building up of the Kingdom.
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” ~ Romans 12:4-8