Week 9, Day 6: Ellen at “The Bridge” Street Paper

 

Today’s volunteer experience was particularly difficult for me. I helped man a booth at the Cooper-Young Farmer’s Market where vendors were selling “The Bridge” – a newspaper written by and/or about the homeless of Memphis. Its intention is to bridge the gap between those without shelter with those who have a home, raise awareness of homelessness in Memphis and provide an income for the vendors of the $1.00 publication who are, in fact, homeless.

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I sat and chatted today with two vendors, one of the directors of “The Bridge,” (a remarkable 18-year old college student) and another volunteer with a determined dedication to help the homeless. Time flew as we all sat and got to know one another when we weren’t encouraging folks to stop by the booth and learn what “The Bridge” is all about. But as I got to know one of the vendors, “Pepsi Kid,” (he prefers this nickname and also requested I reference him by this name for my blog), I found myself trying to conceal tears squeezing out of the sides of my eyes. I surprised myself when I had this reaction. I’ve accumulated about six years working with poor families in struggling communities. I have invested long hours meditating on how to balance compassion and courage with acceptance. But when “Pepsi Kid” told me about his day-to-day life and struggles, an irrational bleeding heart mentality that I thought I had grown out of desperately wanted to emerge. Did he want to come by my house and take a shower? Could we cook him a big, healthy meal? I quieted those thoughts and mentally slapped my irrationality across the face as I continued listening.

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So I did just that: continued listening to real life stories about homelessness. The other vendor, “J”, and “Pepsi Kid” would talk about sleeping spots, places to get a meal, and how to obtain birth certificates. We also shared fun moments and laughter while talking about movies we liked, hobbies and things we’d like to do one day. “Pepsi Kid,” would like to have a family and is looking forward to an article he wrote being published in the September issue of “The Bridge.”

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I know that tonight as I reflect on my experience, “J” is at the shelter where he stays and “Pepsi Kid,” who doesn’t like to stay in shelters, is looking for a clean, hidden spot to sleep somewhere in downtown Memphis. That’s hard to accept after spending three hours getting to know them. I hope it is also hard to accept for the seventy people who bought “The Bridge” today. When offered the perspective of what life is like without a shelter, it changes hearts and affects perceptions. I extend my admiration to the students of Rhodes College who initiated this project in Memphis and are providing a way for the homeless to share with the sheltered, as well as make a small income. I also admire the homeless who are putting themselves in the public eye to sell a publication to people who often would rather pretend they don’t exist. It is our chance as “the sheltered” on the other side of “the bridge,” to reflect on how we perceive homelessness and what we can do in response. The causes and appropriate responses are complex, but taking up the challenge to reflect on it is 100% worth it. Buying an issue of “The Bridge” from a vendor is the perfect first step.

 

El resumen en español:

Hoy fue el día más impactante de mi odisea. Estuve ayudando a vender un periódico que se llama “The Bridge” que vale $1.00 y está escrito por y/o acerca de personas desamparadas. Yo pase tres horas con dos vendedores del periódico, quienes son hombres sin hogar. Ellos reciben las ganancias de sus ventas.

Hubo un momento en que tuve que esconder las lágrimas que querían salir de las esquinas de mis ojos mientras me estaban contando acerca de sus vidas. Esta reacción mía me sorprendió mucho. Tengo años de experiencia trabajando con familias pobres. He invertido mucho tiempo en meditar como balancear compasión y coraje con la habilidad de aceptar. Un lado de mi persona irracional quería escapar e invitar a los hombres a mi casa para bañarse y comer. Mentalmente yo pegue una cachetada a mi irracionalidad y me quede callada escuchando acerca de la realidad de ser desamparado.

Yo sé que hoy en la noche unos de los hombres que no le gusta dormir en los refugios está buscando un lugar limpio y escondido para descansar en el centro de Memphis. El otro ya está en el refugio. Eso es muy difícil aceptar después de pasar tres horas con ellos. Espero que sea difícil aceptar también para las setenta personas que hoy compraron “The Bridge.” Cuando uno está enfrentado con la perspectiva de cómo sería estar sin hogar, nuestros corazones y puntos de vistas son afectados y cambiarán. Admiro mucho a los vendedores por salir en el ojo público para intentar ganarse la vida en un mundo que prefiere que no existieran. Es nuestra oportunidad como los que tenemos hogar en el otro lado del puente de reflexionar acerca de la realidad de las personas desamparadas y cómo podemos responder en una forma constructiva. Las causas y las respuestas son complejas, pero tomar el reto de meditar sobre el asunto vale la pena 100%. Comprar “The Bridge” de un vendedor es el primer paso perfecto.

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