Week 9, Day 1: Ellen at Hospitality Hub

Today was an intense start of my odyssey.  I went to the Hospitality Hub, a place where those without shelter can come to receive assistance. What I learned is how little I know about homelessness. When I thought of a homeless person, the image of a man with a long beard wearing layers of clothes pushing a grocery cart which carried the accumulation of his worldly possessions is what came to mind. Not to say that this image isn’t sometimes an accurate depiction of endemic homelessness, but this is not what I witnessed today. Today I saw people who mostly looked like any other person I might run into in Memphis and would never guess they were homeless. I witnessed many people who cared for their personal appearance and hygiene as best as they could and wanted out of the circumstances they were in. It is for them that Hospitality Hub exists.

With Kelcey in front of the volunteer information board.

With Kelcey in front of the volunteer information board.

Upon my arrival, I met director Kelcey Johnson, a man who has dedicated his life to help people get out of homelessness. He explained to me how the Hospitality Hub operates and provided a tour of the facility. With only a staff of six and a host of volunteers, they help hundreds of people on their path out of homelessness by connecting them with the appropriate resources, whether it be obtaining a Social Security Number, identification, an address, a telephone, a locker for storage, job opportunities and/or professional development, bus vouchers, how to locate a food pantry, temporary housing, access to rehabilitation, counseling, etc… It truly is a hub of resources.

When the doors open at 9:30 AM the staff and volunteers are prepared to do intake with those soliciting their services to determine which resources are best suited to assist them. I was fortunate to get to observe this process with veteran volunteer, Betsy, who has been volunteering with the Hub for seven years. She is a great representation of Hospitality Hub’s commitment to treat everyone with dignity and respect. The women that Betsy met with today appeared to be in desperate situations. One was in need of identification and was anxious to get it ASAP, while the other suffered from uncontrolled diabetes and had previously been diagnosed with a mental illness. It was difficult to observe because it made me wonder if it really is possible for her to no longer be homeless. I learned shelters provide temporary free housing for a limited amount of time, and she only had two weeks left where she was staying. Their hours are strict and no food is allowed to be brought on the premise. Due to her diabetes, she could not eat some of the food the shelter served. Her only other option was to skip a meal which she had done that morning. While Betsy had stepped out to acquire more information for her, she asked me where she could get a meal during that time of day. I   found the schedule of soup kitchens in Memphis, and we were able to locate a place where she could get lunch. I hope it was diabetic friendly.

z betsy and kelcey

Betsy and Kelcey at the intake desk

After observing, I started to sense a growing anxiety in me as I imagined a day in her or anyone else’s shoes who was there for help.  I could overhear the chatter from other volunteers doing intake and caught pockets of conversations:

“I don’t have a way to get around to seek out job applications….”

“I only have one more night left at the shelter…”

“I have scoliosis…I don’t know where to go for help…” 

But I witnessed how calm and collected Betsy and Kelcey were, and my heartbeat returned to its normal rate. It is not uncommon for the staff to come across a variety complicated situations, yet they know there is a solution. In the case of this particular woman with diabetes and a mental health diagnosis, she was enrolled in a program designed specifically to help people who are in such circumstances. She will get assistance in applying for disability, obtaining medical attention, mental health services and   locating a job. The Hub won’t do it for her, but they will walk alongside and support her with the tools she needs to regain a home of her own.

I asked Kelcey if there were any generalizations in the causes of the homelessness in the cases they encounter. He said every case is different; every case is unique. I am incredibly grateful for the staff and volunteers of the Hospitality Hub who have taken on a mountainous challenge to address every  case and provide people with the resources and assistance they need to acquire their own housing and regain dignity. I highly recommend it as a long-term volunteer placement for anyone with availability during weekday mornings. It is a way to help people turn their lives around and offer a hand-up to those who have been knocked down—often very hard. Just one morning there made me much more aware of the reality of homelessness and that a little help goes a long way.


El resumen en español:

Hoy fue un inicio muy intenso en mi odisea porque yo fui al Hospitality Hub donde las personas desamparadas  pueden ir para encontrar recursos que les ayuden a salir de esa situación tan difícil. El director, Kelcey Johnson, me enseñ­ó las instalaciones y me dio una explicación de todo lo que hacen.  El Hospitality Hub provee recursos a las personas sin hogar, como un lugar para guardar sus cosas, una dirección donde puedan recibir correos, teléfonos, acceso a computadoras, ayuda para encontrar trabajos, obtener identificaciones, lugares donde puedan recibir atención médica, ayuda para personas que tienen enfermedades mentales, etc… Es realmente una central de cualquier información que uno pudiera necesitar para salir del desamparo.

Hoy observé el proceso de como reciben a los clientes y les dan sus próximos pasos para obtener los servicios necesarios para ayudarles.  Yo vi este proceso con una voluntaria que se llama Betsy quien tiene siete años de experiencia de servir en el Hospitality Hub. Había dos mujeres con situaciones desesperadas. Es difícil para mí entender cómo es que van a salir de sus situaciones tan complicadas. Me dio tanto pesar pero vi la tranquilidad de Betsy y Kelcey y eso me calmo. Ellos tienen bastante experiencia de realizar este trabajo y saben que aunque sea muy difícil, hay soluciones para la gente sin hogar.

Aprendí hoy que las personas desamparadas no necesariamente aparentan serlo. Parecen como cualquier persona que yo pudiera encontrar en Memphis y la vida les ha dado un golpe muy fuerte. Un apoyito es un montón de ayuda para ellos. Súper recomendada  forma de pasar sus mañanas entre lunes y viernes si tiene ganas de hacer su ciudad un lugar mejor!

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