Before this week, I had never heard of the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality. The house is for displaced families who have become homeless and looking to get back on their feet, while staying together as a family. Tonight, I met Sister Maureen, fellow volunteers Miki and her daughter, and a volunteer of the house. The house has had 27 families live there since opening its doors in 2006. However, tonight the house was empty of families. This made Sister Maurine slightly uneasy of the thought of a family not having a bed to sleep in for the night. But, as she said, there is unfortunately a need, and they are there to serve for the next family that God places in the home. On Sunday nights, the families and volunteers gather for prayer and dessert. The prayer time is for reflection on the week, thankfulness, and concerns for the future. As we went through the readings and time of reflection, I was able to think back on my week and all the new experiences each day brought. After prayer, we went to the dining room for dessert and to hear more history and stories from Sister Maureen of those that lived at the Dorothy Day House.
As Sister Maureen spoke, she pointed out certain families on the wall. She explained the circumstances that brought them to the Dorothy Day House, but also everything they have accomplished since leaving. Families come to the house from different situations: generational poverty, job loss, or circumstantial, such as apartment fire. Some families stay for a few weeks, others for months.The house has room for three families. What I found most shocking and heart breaking are the reasons we often do not see homeless families. Sister Maureen shared with us that boys can not go to women’s shelters with their mothers past the age of 12 and sometimes even as young as 6, depending on the shelter. Husbands and wives also get split apart. So many families live in a car, sleep in a bus stop, or from house to house of relatives or friends. The families stay out of sight because of the fear of being separated. The shelters around the city know of the Dorothy Day House and try to get families into the house as often as they can. Most of the time, the family will share a room and bathroom. There is also a play room for the children.
Sister Maureen and Jaimi Cornelsen are the only staff members. There is a board that works together to decide if the house is the right home for a family, helps the families once they are in the house, and also helps the families get settled after leaving the home. Volunteers come in to serve those living in the house in all different manners. Teachers come in for after school tutoring, lawyers come to help settle any issues that may arise with finding some where to live, accountants offer their time to help teach the families how to budget and open checking accounts. Part of the mission of Dorothy Day House is to understand how the families became homeless, so they can better help them out of the situation. Families do not leave the house until those on the board feel they are ready to be on their own. Most of the families keep in touch with Sister Maureen and are family to her. She lights up when speaking about what they have accomplished since leaving the house!
The Dorothy Day House, much like the rest of the organizations I visited this week, is successful based off of volunteers and donations. On Monday a volunteer brings dinner to the families. Since I love to cook this is a perfect way for me to get involved with the Dorothy Day House. I can’t wait to do this, I’m already contemplating on making lasagna with rolls and salad or chili with all the fixings! I was thrilled to hear they are booked with volunteers through August, so I will have to wait until September, but none the less, still excited. My thoughts and feelings on the homeless have definitely changed through this experience. I am still hesitant to give someone money, but there are so many organizations in Memphis that help the homeless, that need donations or volunteers. Sister Maureen, shared that she gets a dollar and some change about every month from a woman, that says it’s all she can give, but hopefully it can buy someone milk. Sister Maureen says the house needs a few things, prayer, volunteers, and donations, to continue to serve families in need.
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