Week 5, Day 7: Atina Rizk at the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality

You are a hardworking person with a family to support. You have a job, a home, a car and a truck, and are living a good clean life. The stock market crashes. Your small business fails. You live off of savings while you look for a job. Your car breaks down. You lose your house. You spend all your money to move to a new place where you have been promised steady work. The person you relied on disappears. Your truck gets stolen. You are stranded. But you still have that family to support. How are you going to keep them together?

The charming facade of the Dorothy Day House is just a hint of the architectural features within.

The charming facade of the Dorothy Day House is just a hint of the architectural features within.

 

For a precious few, the answer is the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality, a shelter for homeless families. Sister Maureen, a Catholic nun for 48 years, works to provide a stable and supportive environment for families while they get back on their feet. It’s in a large and beautiful house on Poplar Avenue close to downtown. At the moment two families live here, a mother (we’ll call her “K”) with two of her children and a married couple (let’s call them “Mr. and Mrs. G”) with one of their children. All of the things in the first paragraph happened to Mr. and Mrs. G.

Mr. and Mrs. G are victims of the recession. They are both clean cut, smart, and capable. Mr. G worked construction and demolition. He used to bid on small jobs and earned the majority of his profit by carefully recycling hardware, metal, and whatever he found in the buildings he was breaking down. Mrs. G had her own cleaning business. So many calamities have hit them that they haven’t been able to keep up. I cannot blame them.

The dining table at the Dorothy Day House is often set for many people, as members of the community often visit for dinner. The walls are lined with pictures of the families that have stayed there.

The dining table at the Dorothy Day House is often set for many people, as members of the community often visit for dinner. The walls are lined with pictures of the families that have stayed there.

I know that I would be able to fall back on my family to support me if all of this happened to me, but if your relatives are struggling just like you, how can you expect them to support you too? That is what the Dorothy Day House is to these people. It’s a place to go until you get back on your feet, a place to be encouraged for a little while; it’s what your family would provide if they could.

Mr. and Mrs. G both have job interviews next week, I honestly pray that they succeed, and I have a feeling that they will. They have never been homeless before, and it’s only been a few weeks. They seem so responsible, and are such good parents! I have never met more polite kids, which brings me to K and her children.

K's daughter's precious drawings on the driveway. The House provides stability for her while her mom gets things back in order.

K’s daughter’s precious drawings on the driveway. The House provides stability for her while her mom gets things back in order.

K has had a hard life. Her first child died of sudden infant death syndrome. She was a victim of domestic abuse. Despite her sadness, she had a steady job for many years, but she was laid off along with twenty other people during a company merger. She lost her car and then her home. I can tell it’s hard for her to tell me her story. Her children are both so bright and talented. K’s employment prospects are limited by where the bus can reliably take her on time. It’s a truly difficult situation, but she works to find a job every day. With luck, she’ll get one soon.

Homeless families are an “invisible problem,” according to Sister Maureen. They do not like to call attention to themselves, because they are terrified that their children will be taken away from them. This means they do not feel safe at the soup kitchens. No other shelter in Memphis allows for teenage boys to stay. Most of the shelters require couples to live apart. Sister Maureen has to turn as many as 100 families away a year. Thinking about that makes me want to weep, but it also inspires me give all the help I can. I hope you are inspired too.

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