Thursday, December 29, 2005

Away from the situation

I have spent the last few days away from work and from my community for Christmas, and I miss both. I always thought that it was hard to return home from College, this is way more difficult. This is the longest that I have been away from my community, and it is hard. In just the four months that we have lived together, we have bonded very closely, and now, I cannot imagine my life without them. I never dreamed that I would be so close to seven people.
I also miss work quite a bit. I have grown to love my coworkers and the clients that we work with. I know that they need me too, so I will be anxious to get back to work tomorrow.
Seperating myself from the situation, by about 1000 miles has given me some perspective. I really appreciate what I am doing, and I am so glad that I am not working at an ordinary job!

Friday, December 02, 2005

The holidays where you find them...

Last night we decided to make our own Christmas by decorating our house. The extent of our holiday decorations is very slim. We have the pieces of approximately 2 1/2 fake trees in the basement, some battered gold garland and exactly six glass Christmas balls. We assembled the fake tree, and it is bedraggled and leans precariously to the left. It is hung with some lights we borrowed from a roommate, the glass ornaments (down one since I dropped it on the floor) and some construction paper snowflakes. We cannot hang popcorn since we do not want to increase our chances of having mice.
However, we played Christmas CD's and drank hot chocolate and had a great time. It is really not about the stuff. It is about the people. The holidays are really what you make of them.

Our motivation

The other day, my roommates and I were discussing our motivations for serving this year as volunteers. The reasons are as varied as we are. However, I have not really examined why I am doing what I am doing. I just do it.
I decided to participate in this program last April. I wanted to do something for a year that would be beneficial to the common good, would offer career development, would offer me a chance to do some self- actualization and learning and would be better than some entry level job.
What I was not expecting is how massive the problems of poverty and homelessness are. My year of service is merely a drop in a great bucket. I was not expecting to see systems of poverty and injustice perpetuated by the government, families and the homeless themselves. I was not expecting to meet people who were not willing to help themselves or better their situations. I was not prepared for my response to these people, I was surprised by my own lack of empathy and feelings of sympathy for the people I work with. I try to be kind and giving, but I have always been a realist and I have become a cynic.
What motivates me to come to work every day is the fact that I feel that I am called to do this. I feel like I am doing at least something in line with God's will. I derive satisfaction from my j0b, knowing that I am working towards a better society. Not like if I was working at some bank somewhere or some office building, shuffling papers. Also, I am preparing for a career in this field, and every day is professional development.

Greed knows no season

One of the rather disheartening things happening right now at work is the greed surrounding the holidays. Our clients, and clients throughout the metro area are positively going nuts about getting as much as possible for the holidays. Every single day I get at least 15 phone calls from women wanting holiday assistance. Our organization decided several years ago that we were stopping "hand-outs" and trying to give "hand-ups". However, our clients do not see the rationale. They want presents. As I have mentioned before, I have noticed that homeless and impoverished people will try to amass as much "stuff" as possible, and they do not care what it is, as long as they have some possessions. Well, that drive for possessions is only heightened by the commercialism and spirit of excess surrounding Christmas and the other holidays. I am seeing a very troubling side of our clients, they are greedy and demanding at this time of year. It is enough to make me want absolutely nothing for Christmas.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Health care for the homeless and impoverished

One of the most challenging aspects of working with the poor and homeless is their lack of health care. For many of our clients, their primary source of health care is the emergency room, for everything from legitimate illnesses and injuries to medical check ups, mental health visits and requests for medication.
Emergency rooms are the only places where people cannot be turned away based on their ability to pay. Therefore, our clients often spend long hours in the emergency room taking time away from other people who have actual emergencies. Denver has tried to counteract this problem with the Stout Street Clinic, a clinic where homeless people can receive services at no charge, but the problem is so massive.
Usually at least once a week we have to call the ambulance to transport an ill or injured person, because we are not allowed to make judgments about their condition. Yesterday the paramedics came twice. You know it is bad when you begin to know them by name!

Saying No

Today we had a discussion about saying no to our clients. Oftentimes, I feel like that is all I do. They have crazy requests and I say no, because we cannot accomodate them or there are too many people. However, saying no to an easy answer is saying yes to the women as people. Saying no means that I have faith in them as people to find their own solutions and make strides towards self-sufficiency. I have never thought about it that way before.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Yesterday during our women and family services meeting one our pro bono counselors came in the meet with us. She discussed how dealing with a mob of people (because that is essentially what we are dealing with) takes a toll emotionally and physically on us. Some days I think that manual labor would be less exhausting than dealing with these challenging (and charming) women. Each of the women's resources advocates has physical and mental quirks. I grind my teeth and clench my jaw. Other women can't sleep, have nightmares, have back and stomach problems, chronic headaches, and the list goes on. Our numbers are just unmanageable.
However, yesterday we learned some coping measures. In the midst of the chaos, we are merely reactive. We respond like machines to what is in front of us. To the women we have no identity other than someone that gives them bus tokens and food. We are trying to anchor ourselves in the present, and realize that we are more than our jobs. We need to have a sense of self, and if we do, and we convey that, the women will respect us.
Some days, well most days, upper management does not have a clue what goes on in emergency services. There is such a disconnect between their idealistic view of what we should do, and what actually happens. This population is not easy to work with. But there are genuinely great people in the midst of the chaos, that do inspire me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Reflections on Domestic Violence

We see quite a few women who are victims of domestic violence, who are already in safe houses, need to be placed there or are survivors of DV.
Today a new client came to the shelter who had just left her abusive husband. She did not want to go into a safe house. She insisted that she would be safe on her own. We wanted to do more intensive case managment, but she would not have it. She slipped out before we could catch her. She is in the midst of a cycle of abuse, and who knows how long it will be before she tries to leave again. Our stats say that a woman will leave an average of 9-11 times before she leaves for good.
However, much like the cases of homelessness and chemical dependency, a person cannot change unless they want to change. We need to respect where this particular woman is at this time. And that is just one of the hardest things to watch.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

the journey continues

I am settling into a routine that includes seeing abject poverty and homelessness and dependency every day and knowing that I cannot help everyone. I have several observations about the population that I am working with:
First, a sense of helplessness and dependency is very pervasive. Today for instance, a woman was looking up job opportunities and phone numbers were not included on the webpage. She was complaining about this, and I told her to look in the phone book. She said that she did not want to, and I replied that I did not want to either. Eventually, she ended up finding the numbers on her own.
Next, irresponsibility is rampant. We received a grant for bus passes, and so distributed them to several hundred women. It is curious to note how many women have lost them in the week that they have had them. Now they want more. Also, we see alot of women who wait to find food or diapers or something else until they are out of whatever item. Then they become desperate, suddenly their problem should urgently become our problem. One of our mottos at work is "We are not responsible for your poor planning. We can't fix your life."
Finally, people lack information. People are not aware of life skills, family planning, poor choices...the list goes on. It is amazing how much we take for granted. The number of life skills that my family taught me is so amazing, and I cannot imagine not having had that skill base.

I find myself attempting to emulate Grace in my life. I have to be patient, more patient that I have ever been before. I have to continually give these women the benefit of the doubt, day after day. I have to listen to their stories without judging. I have to encourage them to take responsibility and initiative, while still being caring. There is a tight line to walk between being firm and being unkind. All I know is that I cannot do it without prayer.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


This week I was suprised at myself. Before I came here, I was a bleeding-heart liberal, willing to do good and help people. I never expected to get tired of helping the same people day after day. I am struggling with some issues of my attitude towards some of our clients. It is frustrating for me to see the same women day after day, demanding the same services day after day, and not doing anything to work for self-sufficiency!
I really feel like we are unable to more fully help the women that do need more intensive help, and we are doing a disservice to the women who receive our services everyday, because we are not helping them to be self-sufficient. We do not have the staff to do intensive case management, so we are just doing a lot of "band-aid" fixes to some situations that could be bettered.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


I have been working full time for about a week now. So far it has just been alot of training and meetings. I am rapidly learning more stuff about computer programs than I ever thought possible. I will be responsible for managing several large databases. Interestingly enough, I will also have to participate in the other side of working at a non-profit: the public appearances. Already in the next month I have two cocktail galas to attend. It seems so strange to be volunteering ( I am literally a part of the working poor that I serve) and yet also attending very formal events. Good thing that I packed a black cocktail dress as an afterthought!
I also work part time in direct service, where I do some intakes and provide direct care to clients. We do a little case management, and it can be very overwhelming. The hard lives and the stress level that some of our clients have can really make them disagreeable people. I just try to be empathetic and positive and try to meet their requests (and demands). I really like my job!

Saturday, September 03, 2005

First days off!

I am downtown in the Denver public library, because the internet was cancelled at our house on account of the last residents not paying the bill! The taste of Colorado is happening right now, so the entire downtown has turned into a massive festival of the arts and of food.
We are going to a Colorado Rockies/LA Dodgers game tonight at Coors field. Then, later this weekend we are going to deep clean our house and I am going to paint my bedroom. I will be starting my job this next tuesday. It will be great to get into a routine.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

more reflections

I am trying to process my first few hectic days here. We live only four or five blocks from the downtown area. This is an interesting area because it is a site for urban renewal, so there is a lot of new buildings and landscaping around us. However, we are also only several blocks from Colfax, the most economically depressed area of Denver. We live on a block where the land is worth over a million dollars. Yet, my work is within walking distance, and the women that we serve are very poor and even destitute.
I have decided that I love the city. There are so many things to do, and the tall buildings and interesting architecture offer a different kind of beauty. However, there are certain things to get used to as well: the noise of the buses and the light rail, sirens, car alarms, etc.
We are trying to live differently than we might in our other lives. I have volunteered to be responsible for the composting and the recycling. Others are taking on the yard maintenance, grocery shopping and other stuff.
Right now, this is where I feel like I am called to be. I resisted God's call to urban ministry for so long on account of fear and uncertainty, but now, I cannot imagine being anywhere else. The job that I have right now is close to the kind of career that I want for my life.

The city life

I have been in Denver since sunday. We are in the midst of training and orientation right now, and I will begin my job next tuesday. I am living in a house with seven other people. We will be going into the mountains this weekend for a retreat to set up our house plan. We need to plan the system by which our house can live together and function as a community. This includes everything from cleaning the bathrooms to cooking to cohabitation and drinking.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Amy in Denver

I am getting ready to head to Denver! My parents are kind of scared about me living in the city. They bought me a can of pepper spray the other night, but warned me never to use it. What? I shipped one box and two rubbermaid tubs the other day, for $67! I guess that it is better than driving another car down.
Patty and I will be leaving tomorrow morning and driving to Casper, WY then down to Denver the day after. I really have no idea what I am getting into, but I am excited!