Our Blog

11

Little Moments

Amanda Maloney
Listening House Staff Member

Listening House is all about the little moments to me.

Little moments that give us all hope – staff, guests and volunteers alike.

Little moments can be a happy thing like wearing a silly outfit, getting a lead on a job, or showing kindness toward a fellow guest.

Little moments can be a bittersweet thing like accepting responsibility for a bad situation, opening up about a painful past, or apologizing for inappropriate behavior.

Little moments may not seem as significant as when a guest gets housing or beats an addiction, but they matter. They matter because sharing these brief encounters opens a door between guests and staff.

Little moments – when someone feels cared for – motivate guests to accomplish bigger things.

It is important to cherish little moments. After all, life isn’t about the destination; it is about the journey.

I have learned to savor little moments as I share the journey with our guests at Listening House.

17

Everyone Deserves a Second Chance

Daniel Berhane
Former Listening House Guest

The first day I entered Listening House, I was a depressed, angry young man filled with a potent, unholy mix of instability, frustration and hopelessness. I believed I was a burden with no value, a problem with no solution. Fresh out of jail, broke, and feeling a deep despair after learning my good friend died while I was incarcerated, and believing I had no future. Before coming to St. Paul, I had been homeless in the streets of Minneapolis after a felony conviction left me unemployed. Without work, I resorted to petty crimes to make some money and to keep my brain from thinking about the harsh realities of a world I believed lacked compassion. Getting a chance to live a good life seemed impossible at that point.

Listening House became a cocoon to my metamorphosis from a lowly worm stuck to the floor, into a graceful work of art. Listening House helped me rediscover love for the first time in a long time. Support, camaraderie and respect were abundant there – from the beautiful souls who served behind its counter to the struggling hearts of gold that received its services. After losing everything, Listening House gave me reasons to be thankful. Who knew that guitars, chess, couches, and clean clothes were enough to lift my spirit so much! My perception about life changed after basking in the tenderness and acceptance at Listening House. Listening House is more than a “living room for the homeless.” To me, Listening House is a like a military base positioned on the thin frontlines that separate enemy forces of hatred and self-destruction from heroic forces of self worth and goodwill. It was where I conquered my addiction to cigarettes and got into the best shape of my life, losing more than 50 pounds. It was where I learned the truth about success from accomplished businessmen and businesswomen who worked side by side with me as we volunteered to clean the bathrooms. No matter how hard I looked, I could not find outcasts. Everyone was accepted; no matter rich or poor, black, brown or white, Christian or Muslim. It shocked me to discover a wealthy business executive (weekly volunteer) would actually take time to answer my questions about the nature of success. I learned rich people are not much different from poor people because they had problems too. They taught me that even with the hardest problems and difficulties a person can still decide to extend a helping hand to others who are hurting. With this new sense of hope I began to give back.

I enrolled in college and became an honor student.

Listening House was like an emergency room for my heart and soul. It’s the place where I found another chance; it’s where I realized I can be a solution to the problem. Being part of Listening House empowered me and helped me believe again. It opened my eyes to accept the light of love and see myself as a winner.

12

Connections

Julie Borgerding
Program Director

“Love happens in community when there is mutual vulnerability.” Anonymous

“What do you like about coming to Listening House?” I asked our guest, James. He replied, “Because it’s our house too.” His answer reminded me of this quote because it reflects a collective attitude that we work hard to embrace at Listening House.

Everyone has rights, but also responsibilities. We all have to listen, respect, and help one another. Like any relationship, if a boundary is crossed there will be consequences. Some guests have been asked to leave, some staff and volunteers have figured out it is not the place for them. We ALL have had to say we are sorry at one point or another.

During annual evaluations, staff consistently comments that the most wonderful and most difficult part about working at Listening House is the same thing: vulnerability. None of us can hide here, nor should we want to – actually, openness is one of the greatest gifts we can share. The founders’ of Listening House wanted to create a place where people could listen to one another and feel a sense of connection. As we celebrated our 31th anniversary on December 8th and gave thanks that their dream is still a reality. The “house” is all of ours.

14

Blending In

Andrea Hinderaker
Staff

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.

8

Word From a Volunteer

Barbara Fitzpatrick
Volunteer

Listening House is addicting for me. I began to volunteer in 1994 after responding to a notice in the Assumption bulletin. What a grace that was! Those early years were at the small facility on St. Peter Street. One year later, Listening House became “homeless.”

It reopened at its present location in 1996. During those months, I missed not being part of Listening House, and was very happy when it was back in business. The space was larger, more services were added, and the clientele increased. But the attitude of respect and dignity for all had not changed.

At one point I took time out to volunteer at another organization. It wasn’t long before I fully understood where my heart was . . . I returned to Listening House.

I find it rewarding to connect with guests. Once a relationship begins, guests greet you with a smile and often a hug. When things are not going too smoothly, you know the capable staff is there for support. Although there have been staff changes over time, there is always an atmosphere of love and caring.

I really miss it if I am not able to come on my usual Thursday morning. My relationship with guests is an opportunity, and I realize that but for the grace of God, one of my children or me could be among the guest population.

Listening House is truly a place of Love and Caring! I feel blessed to be a part of it.

2

Gateway to Understanding

“I do not understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are,
but does not leave us where it found us.” Anne Lamott

Rosemarie Reger-Rumsey
Executive Director

“Even though I’ve got a place, I still feel homeless.” When asked to explain, Ron speaks of blank walls that haunt him.

Ron has been on the street or on the road most of his adult life. He claims to be a loner, but actually he hungers to belong and to be part of something. Like other guests, he thinks of Listening House with affection. People often enter feeling friendless, hoping for a short stay, but then come back even when circumstances improve. That is the mystery and marvel of this mission.

There is little pretense left by the time someone becomes homeless. Facades that can protect us in other settings disappear. Guests recognize our shortcomings as surely as we recognize theirs, and so we begin to relate to one another in a more unvarnished way. Quite a few guests are fighting grueling battles with addiction or an untreated mental illness. Deep down, they want very much to change or to feel normal, but can’t step out of their darkness. Some change in significant ways, others are swallowed up by their demons. In either circumstance, it matters to them that someone cares.

Staff and volunteers strive to meet people where they are. We don’t know what their journey has been or what they learned or were taught. But we do know when our attitude assumes they are basically good, people respond more positively. Oddly, this same approach can call attention to deception and signal staff to keep an eye on someone. Since our primary objective is to build trust with guests, it’s a delicate dance.

To do this, we need to balance authority with kindness. Ron once said, “Everyone here knows staff has the power to put us out in the cold.” His stark description speaks of the powerlessness of being homeless. In our crowded space, respectful behavior is absolutely necessary and though guests recognize the value of our rule, when they mess up they want to know a fresh start is possible.

Grace is active. It comes to us as it does our guests, and makes understanding each other easier.

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