By Jhon Pacheco
A recent visit to the Immaculate Conception Homeless Shelter made me come to the realization that on the sur-face, reality is a perspective. Just a couple of weeks ago reality was returning to Miami to a world of parties, family and friends, and music festivals. At Trinity, reality is what we conceive within our bubble and the glimpses I see while tutoring at a local middle school every week.
Yet at Immaculate, reality meant a body and bag search at entrance, seeing as men waited outside in the cold to enter the closest thing to a home they had. Reality was speaking to a young man, also from Colombia, who could not have possibly been older than me and being too afraid to ask what his age was.
Reality, after serving food and conducting casual interviews of several other volunteers and homeless people, was what you felt and saw when you walked through the real streets of Hartford.
Immaculate Conception, one of the many homeless shelters in Hartford, is known as a “wet” shelter, which means it allows any homeless person to enter regardless of their state as long as they pass the search at entrance before 7 pm. Although my experience with the staff members, who were several times larger than me, at entrance was very rough, after speaking to them their genuine care and com-passion for each of the men in the shelter was felt.
In fact, most of them had been homeless and were helped by Immmaculate to provide consistency and order in their lives. After asking what made them come back, one of the staff members replied
“Man, just imagine. It’s 20 degrees out, middle of the night, and you somehow managed to sneak into an empty building or park undetected…and then it rains on you, with no bathroom no nothing. Living that and the feeling it is to have a roof to come to every night and a job to look forward to is what makes me come. People not like you guys, my group don’t come and just don’t care, and criticize instead.”
After entering the main room, I saw what was formerly a church converted into a massive common room-like structure where every possible inch was covered with bunk beds and mattresses thrown on the floor. I was told this was done to allow as many people to stay as possible and that even yet on many nights this was not enough.
Although I came at a particularly busy time as the leftovers of the pre-vious night’s dinner were being served as lunch, there was a clear reaction to our arrival. While some shelter residents were shy, the overwhelming majority were more than eager to speak.
“I need a voice, I just have so much to say and don’t nobody want to hear it” one of the men explained to me. The same man was ecstatic after I told him about Beat of the Street and how it could serve as an exposition of his struggle with homelessness.
After speaking to several men I also learned that the biggest problem now is a large increase in youth homelessness, even with the minimum age at 18. This is obviously a product of our society’s effort to ignore the issue of homelessness. As the issue is ignored its causes and effects are also not considered, producing both a greater amount of youth susceptible to the horrors of homelessness.
“And with the economy the way it is, who do you think was the first to go? The college grad or me? Bad thing is they probably fired him later too,” one of the young men remarked.
Just widening your scope, your focus, produces a deeper and more conscious reality. It produces a reality that expands to consider the lives of others struggling to even keep their lives in a world that chooses to ignore them.
I will never forget what one of the men told me – “All I need is a little help, just an extra effort from these people, you people, and maybe I’ll be on the other side of that table.”