There is an enormous difference between reading statistics about homelessness and the realities of serving as a Jesuit Volunteer at a center for those experiencing homelessness. When you are reading statistics on the page, the faces, personalities and smells of those I meet are not directly in front of me. Moreover, any discussions about the justice issue itself are neat and lack the level of detail required to reach viable and mutual solutions. At my placement site, the Georgetown Campus Ministry Center, it can sometimes feel like solutions are far removed from the complexities I witness during my day-to-day responsibilities as a volunteer. But I know that my efforts toward building relationships and learning about these barriers are a method of support and accompaniment that is influential nonetheless.
When I ask individuals who experience chronic homelessness, whether they are seeking housing, some will say no. It is common that the individuals served by my placement site don’t trust the system enough to even consider housing. A complex web of disillusionment, trauma, and occasionally mental illness can lead to this disinterest. At times, I find myself wondering what I can do when the system is so broken, that those who are trying to make their way through it do not believe it benefits them. Building trust among the guests who lack it often looks like patiently serving food no matter how long the line gets. It looks like learning to play chess and cheerfully losing every time, because I can’t remember the rules for how each piece moves.
When arriving at the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, I knew that my placement site at Georgetown University was unique. I am splitting my time between more than one placement site and role, and each day looks a little bit differently. I am coordinating volunteers and events, processing donations, taking notes at the board of director’s retreat and more.
Somedays, I find myself wishing that I could fix every problem I see. But I realize cannot fix the problems I bear witness to—nor am I expected to do so. I am answering the call to build relationships with students, with guests, with coworkers and my community. And no matter the details of my job, that is what I am here to do. The reality and complexity of those I serve is so much more profound than any of the theory and I am grateful for the time to reflect on these realities. It’s a blessing: I’m learning more than expected and don’t spend my day all in one place.
Suzy Lefelhocz is from Cleveland, Ohio. She recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame with majors in English and Theology. She likes reading, running, and music of all kinds. One of her favorite things on earth is coffee, which she especially enjoys sharing with others. This year she is serving as the HOME Project coordinator with Georgetown University and Georgetown Ministry Center in Washington, DC.