Listening House has a welcoming energy to me. The mismatched chairs, coffee stained floors and day-old donuts are expected, almost comforting amenities. There is a familiarity and often a sense of peace as I head home that I did my best and will have another opportunity tomorrow.
Though familiarity can be an asset to my effectiveness, it can also come with certain blindness. Our ramp illustrates my point. Most often people looking for a moment of peace or a place to stretch out and sleep claim their spot here. Staff travels up and down this ramp a million times passing the same, mostly quiet people. They are my constants when things feel squirrely in our living room.
Connie was a ramp guest. She often was sleeping off a meth run, and would silently curl up under a blanket. When fully rested Connie had a quick wit – a bit sarcastic and laced with a street edge. Sometimes she would nurse pains in her back that would bring her to tears. Over the months I watched Connie fall in love, mourn a lost pregnancy, celebrate time with her grandchildren.
I simply expected to see Connie in her spot, never thinking she was out of place. That was until the day I asked her, about her. As it turned out, Connie had been running from a drug charge for seven years. She stayed at a local shelter under an alias the shelter staff accidentally gave her. She was afraid if she entered any formal services she would be exposed. Over the next few months she and I worked on taking care of her warrant, which included Connie walking back to St. Paul from Hastings after turning herself into the authorities. We helped her get a birth certificate to get reinstated at the shelter under her given name.
The next step was treatment, with hopes of moving into transitional housing. . .
One hundred plus days later, Connie is gone from Listening House. She successfully completed treatment and is now living in her own place. She is getting back into life as a sober woman, repairing many relationships, severing others. She calls to check in but still, there is sadness in my heart. Connie was a source of great comfort to me. She was the smile I could count on when I just wanted to pull out my hair. She was my sarcastic equal, she was my friend.
Now she’s in the big world, perhaps blending in somewhere as we all do while we live our routine lives. Maybe her aches and pains will lesson as she continues to enjoy the softness of a bed and steady meals. As she continues to heal she will likely touch many more lives than she ever could have on our floor.
Connie’s place on the ramp was quickly filled . . . but no longer do I simply pass by.