Last night a small group from St. Joseph’s had the opportunity to join St. Mary’s Church in Rochester on its monthly outreach to those currently living on our city streets. Anne, Mike, and Marie volunteered to join Katie and myself. Katie coordinates and directs this effort for St. Joe’s four times a year. Earlier in the day, other St. Joseph’s parishioners had shopped and prepared 35 lunches and organized toiletry bags with much sought-after socks.
In addition to a police escort, a physician, people from the Salvation Army, a representative of the Veterans Administration, a Medical Motor Service van and dedicated driver, there were several social workers from the county and various agencies as well as key players from St. Mary’s including Diane, Beverly and Deacon Dave.
The goals of the ministry are simple yet so complex: help people get off the street and get them connected with services that can provide meaningful support. More importantly, a goal is to bring the love and compassion of Jesus, even if just for a few moments.
All those encountered receive a meal and toiletries. People are offered a motel stay for the night and the opportunity to meet with a caseworker in the morning. Some people prefer to stay on the street because of their prior lack of success with the system or deep distrust or a myriad of other issues.
After gathering at St. Mary’s for last-minute instructions and prayer, we were off in caravan to several sites near I-490 overpasses. A few people got food for the night; one guy decided to take us up on the motel room.
Our final site was the Civic Center garage, ironically situated under the “hall of justice.” There is nothing just about a society that cannot find beds and homes for its most vulnerable citizens and veterans of war. The tendency of the homeless to bunk in the garage has been the subject of much debate in the City of Rochester. For now, it is a relatively safe haven, thanks to those who speak out on behalf of the voiceless. If not for the garage, where would they go?
On this balmy spring evening, the garage was surprisingly well occupied by homeless men and a few women. Our supply of lunches and toiletries was quickly depleted. The social workers went to work. By around 11PM, 13 men and one woman were in the van en route to a motel for the night; another one or two went off to the Salvation Army. All will receive bus passes in the morning and will be offered the opportunity for intensive case work.
The outing was amazingly uneventful. Good people doing good work. Good people living on the street as their last resort. Good people grateful for a helping hand. I especially enjoyed the gentleman who came outside from his motel room to inquire about getting to an appointment on time in the morning. As he went back inside he said, “God bless you all. Be safe.”
But for the grace of God … we can all find ourselves as the good people doing good work or good people grateful for a helping hand. Deacon Dave made the point that his downtown parish receives a shocking number of requests for financial assistance from people who live precariously in the suburbs, people who would not think to come to their local parish for assistance out of pride or the parish’s lack of resources dedicated to helping those in financial crisis.
In recent years, I have had the opportunity to be both the helper and the one receiving the support of good people in so many ways. It is so much easier to be the doer. But it is equally important to know how to ask for and receive help with grace. God created us as creatures dependent on both the love and mercy of God and the compassion of each other.
And so in the words of a wise man,
“God bless you all. Be safe.”