Week 10, Day 7: Rae-Anne Pitts at Dorothy Day House

On the final day of my volunteer week I went to the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality. The Dorothy Day House provides temporary housing for homeless families. On any given night there are over 200 homeless families in Memphis. Typically, when a family becomes homeless, the men in the family have to go to shelter or seek help downtown, at either a soup kitchen or through Hospitality Hub. An assistance shelter such as the Salvation Army can take in the mother and smaller children. Older children are often put in the foster care system until the family is able to provide a home again. This system pulls the family members in different directions, and keeps them from staying together as a family unit. This flaw in the system is what the Dorothy Day House seeks to address.  The Dorothy Day House enables entire families to stay together. The facility opened in 2006 and has since seen thirty families pass through the doors. Unless you knew what lies behind its doors, you would think it is just another house in midtown Memphis.

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From the outside, The Dorothy Day House is unassuming; I had passed by the house probably a hundred times. There is no sign out front but what happens at the Dorothy Day House is truly remarkable. On this night of volunteering, my husband came with me. When we pulled up to the house we were not sure if we were in the right place. We walked up to the front door, with our dessert in tow, and rang the doorbell. The director at the house is Sister Maureen, who answered the door. She showed us around, and then sat us down to tell us about the history of Dorothy Day and the Dorothy Day House.

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Dorothy Day lived from 1897-1980, in New York. She helped to establish the Catholic Workers Movement, in which she advocated for non-violence, and the belief that the needy should be take care of by churches, not the government. She felt, it is the responsibility of individuals to take care of those in need. Sister Maureen told us that she and others had studied Dorothy Day years before, and because of her teachings, began to pray for the needs in Memphis.  Sister Maureen says that the Dorothy Day House began out of prayer.

Sister Maureen works with all of the families that come to the Dorothy Day House, to see what it will take to turn their lives around. All of the families set goals and monitor progress during their stay. As long as they are working towards their goals, families are allowed to stay.  Mostly, individual contributions fund the Dorothy Day House. It receives some donations from churches but no money from the government. Volunteers help with needs of the families there, and the maintenance of the house. The absence of government funding makes the Dorothy Day House distinctly different from other housing organizations such as the Salvation Army. With government funding comes restraints on how long families are able to stay, whereas at the Dorothy Day House families can stay as long as they need as long as they are working towards their family goals.

Every Sunday night a few volunteers and the families meet downstairs, for prayer and dessert. I volunteered to bring dessert on this night. We all recited prayer, and passages of scripture with one of the volunteers leading us. Everyone was given the chance to say what they are thankful for, and ask God for blessings such as patience. After the prayer, we all had dessert and visited with one another.

I loved that they have family photos on the wall of families that have come through the Dorothy Day House.

I loved that they have family photos on the wall of families that have come through the Dorothy Day House.

The image of the homeless that is often not seen or thought of is that of homeless families. If you picture homeless the image that most often springs to mind is that of a homeless man, who lives alone, and begs for money. Homeless mother and fathers, with children living in their cars or cramming in an apartment with many family members is also a reality.  These families do anything they can to keep from being separated, and to keep their children rather than have them taken away, and to be put in the system. The Dorothy Day House is a unique and special place that fills a serious and often overlooked need in Memphis. These families do not have anywhere else to turn, and no other way to stay together. My husband and I enjoyed learning about the Dorothy Day House and visiting with the families. We both signed up to keep volunteering there.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in public policy, non-profit administration, or social science research. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or raeannepitts@gmail.com

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