In my quest to further enlighten myself about aspects of homelessness, today I visited the Peace House Community in Minneapolis.
Unlike the service-based organizations organizations I've volunteered with, Peace House is rather stripped down programmatically. It has good coffee and nice new building (its funky storefront with the identifiable mural on Franklin Avenue was taken to redevelop the block with affordable housing). But none of the health care, job services, storage, showers and laundry I've seen elsewhere.
A volunteer comes in periodically to help members draw up living wills. Another comes in and does art. Each day, there's a meditation that's designed to draw people out or to allow them to reflect, less structured than either a church service or an AA meeting.
Peace House serves a light breakfast and a lunch, but unlike the all-comers soup kitchen model, Peace House uses food to foster a sense of community. And that's what the volunteers do as well. We are present and without agenda. We talk and listen. Mostly listen.
I can't say how many of the people I met today even regard themselves as homeless. I would call them experienced. Adrift. Finding stability. Not defining themselves by where they take shelter but perhaps not yet on a path away from where they are now. It'll be awhile before I can fairly say.
Like other places I've been, the community contains diversity. Yes, African-Americans, African immigrants, Native Americans, Hispanics and Anglos, but also the diversity that goes to the heart of individuality, that cracks apart preconceptions, that laughs with an intelligence that includes you one way or the other—as target or fellow wisecracker.
Its paid staff have come from the streets, bringing that combination of empathy and take-no-prisoners bullcrap detection I've seen in other places. The volunteers are mostly like me—liberal-leaning grey hairs with a spiritual streak. The community members, based on a single day's involvement, felt welcoming to me, the first timer.
I got into discussions about poetry and bike riding routes and circumventing bureaucracy. Talking seems to be the point.
From the back porch we watched a couple guys change the wheel on a bicycle next to a truck filled with miscellaneous frames and wheels.
Calvin noted that one of the shade tree mechanics was stabilizing an axel nut with a pair of bolt-cutters.
Yeah, it's a multipurpose tool.
I'm going to learn a lot, I think.