Our Blog

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The Sewing Lady

Known as the Sewing Lady, LauraRose Paradis has been anything but sedentary since her retirement. Her boundless energy leads her to be a Thursday volunteer for Listening House and at other organizations that serve the homeless and disadvantaged.

LauraRose, a retired hospital chaplain who worked in the chemical and mental health unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital, discovered that sewing is a great compliment to her work as a spiritual guide. “My mom came from a long line of seamstresses,” she said. “I’ve been sewing since I was four.” Though she didn’t know how it would be received, she was inspired one day to take her sewing machine down to The Dorothy Day Center. As soon as she set up the machine, people came to her with ragged clothes and missing buttons, eager for her to give lessons. She uses sewing not only as a means of repairing goods, but also to teach and promote the self-esteem of guests.

She is very excited to bring her ministry to Listening House with our new location and enriched mission so she can get more people engaged and learning. “I hope people understand that this is a place for creativity and empowerment,” she said, “Because the more we teach somebody how to do something, the better they are going to feel about themselves. Then they think, now what else can I go out and do?”

LauraRose has big plans for creative opportunities at Listening House including giving new life to backpacks, belts, pants, and pajama bottoms; recycling old clothes and transform them into bags, or headbands.

I asked LauraRose how she came to be the Sewing Lady. Her motivation is living out a promise she made to her son who died from addiction: that she would make his life valuable. She does this in her efforts to connect with Listening House guests on a deeper level. “Addiction, mental illness, and ego shut us off, but spirituality allows us to connect with people,” she said. “I’m not just Christ-centered; I minister to everyone. I’m more spiritual and centered in a belief that we are all connected; that we are all one.”

If you want to help LauraRose with her mission at Listening House, please donate sewing kits, scrapbooking supplies, jacket zippers, envelopes, and stamps.

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The Garden of Stability

Callie Sleper
Listening House Staff Member

Amy has been a guest at Listening House for years. When she was living at Dorothy Day, she first stopped by for some coffee. Now, she stays for a lot more.

Amy experiences an ongoing battle with mental health issues, and the friends and opportunities she has at Listening House help her through it.

Amy is a frequent volunteer at the Listening House Garden. The garden has been operational for about five years and is part of Healthy West Seventh Community Garden on 7th and Otto. For Amy, the garden represents far more than the onions, squash, herbs, and other edibles it produces: It gives purpose and joy to her day. From a very young age, she was already helping her mother and grandmother plant.

“Ever since I was two years old,” Amy said, “I was helping grandma plant snapping beans. I got to poke holes in the dirt so she could drop in the seeds.”

When she was older, Amy was part of an intentional community in Indiana that shared a forever-feeding garden. The housemates would eat what they raised, and the compost layered with mulch, dirt, and grass kept the garden abundant. At another point, she was hauling some 40 plant pots around with her in a travel trailer and didn’t let the fact that she didn’t have a home with a yard stop her.

Amy has been helping out at the Listening House garden for about a year and treks down to help there most weeks. Though she is still one of the fresher faces around our garden, she is already proving her talent at being a green-thumbed planter and visionary.

Amy grows whatever is edible—onions, basil, cumin, rosemary, thyme, and cilantro (among others)—and gets seedlings from the Farmer’s Market. She hopes to plant some squash, tomatoes, peppers, chives, and garlic if it indeed ever quits snowing in Minnesota.

When she is in the garden, Amy feels peaceful and very at home. For Amy, rolling up her sleeves in a garden means peace, stability, and investment a clean lifestyle. Settling into familiar territory such as gardening helps with her mental health. It is also an opportunity to develop her own skills.

“Listening House gives me the opportunity to have a hobby and do something I love,” said Amy. “Gardening gives me something to do. It really helps battle PTSD and depression. I’m really excited about [Listening House’s] new place because there will be more things for people to do. Hobbies can mean skills you can take with you into the work force.”

Amy, who has struggled with addiction in the past, is now in new housing and is hoping to start in a jobs training program soon.  The soil of her life too is rich for growth.  Hopefully the work she puts in to both the garden of her life and our community garden will produce a rich harvest.

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Homeless Runner an Inspiration to Many

Callie Sleper
Listening House Staff Member

He’s run 12 half-marathons. 3 full marathons. 2,080 miles per year. And he’s 1,460 days sober.

Ricardo Flores Solis makes running look easy; like it’s just something he does to pass the time. However, it is not usual for a homeless person to run as much as Ricardo does.

“I don’t know, I just keep running,” said Ricardo when asked why he runs. Ricardo is a guest and volunteer at Listening House of St. Paul, a community hub where homeless, disadvantaged, and lonely people can go to feel welcomed and seek practical assistance. Ricardo joins the Program Director, volunteers, and other Listening House guests for a weekly Next Steps running club which began in 2013.

“When we invite Listening House guests to join Next Steps running and walking group, we tell them to just show up and do their best,” said Program Director and Next Steps head coach, Julie Borgerding. “For some, that means a 30-minute walk; for others it is marathon training. But, as with any first step, it all begins with showing up, setting goals, and then working to meet or exceed them.”

Ricardo, who has been a part of the Next Steps club since its inception, is constantly setting goals for himself and exceeding them. If he tells himself to stop at the next streetlight, he will likely keep going. Contrary to popular thought, his goal now is to run a bit less, and to keep his runs under the three-hour limit he constantly extends. “I run too much sometimes,” he said. “My goal is to keep it under three hours.”

His favorite place to run is by the river and in West St. Paul because there are hills to challenge himself and not as many cars as in Downtown St. Paul. Sometimes, if a car doesn’t see him at an intersection, Ricardo will even give them a stern talking-to so that they don’t become a repeat offender.

Ricardo lends many other talents to Listening House as well. He makes keychains for Listening House’s Next Steps Race and bracelets for people who come in. His crop art, which he made at Listening House when it was also an evening shelter, has taken first place at the Minnesota State Fair.

“Ricardo is very zen to me,” said Julie. “He is better than anyone I know at living in the moment. He does get stressed; he’s very human. But you’ll hear him laugh with, joke, and tease volunteers. He brings joy and ease. He’s a very hard worker, and I think that’s what a lot of people around Listening House see first.”

Ricardo is an inspiration to his peers. Guests see a man who has worked through struggles with drugs and personal setbacks and shows them that change, difficult though it may be, is always possible. However, achieving goals wasn’t always easy for Ricardo.

“Running changed my life because everybody loves me,” Ricardo said. “Before, when you’re on drugs, no one loves you because, all the time—you’re in trouble. One day I was drinking and I felt bad or I smoked weed and felt tired all day. I told myself, ‘I’m done—I quit!’ Later I found Julie and she helped me start running. Listening House helps me because they keep me here and I can stay. They help me a lot; they give me everything.”

Julie compared Ricardo’s attitude to many other runners with more privilege, including her own. “I ran a marathon in Duluth once and afterwards was able to ease my soreness at a snazzy resort,” said Julie. “After Ricardo ran the Twin Cities marathon, I saw him eat a hamburger. You wouldn’t even know that he was sleeping that night in a tent because all he was thinking was, ‘Isn’t this hamburger good?’”

Running is a huge part of Ricardo’s life and has become just another part of him. He hopes to win Listening House’s annual Next Steps race this year. He said, “Last time, I got sixth, and I am not happy.”

Listening House’s Next Steps 5K race and 1 mile walk, made possible by Anderson Race Management, takes place at 8:00 AM on May 21st, and is held at Upper Landing Park in St. Paul. There, you will see Ricardo and the magic of Listening House in action.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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