Monday, May 16th, at the Drop-In Center

Twenty-two women visited the drop-in center today and one woman was brand new. There was a lot of laughter and many hugs. There was no discord, no drama. The weather was perfect and twenty-two women enjoyed lunch, crafts, and community. The center opens at noon and by 11:40 there were eight women waiting for the doors to open. Some days I am so struck by the dichotomy of the way the clients present themselves versus what is actually going on in their lives or what has happened to them in the past. I began talking with two women in the backyard, clients whom I know well, and their mood was light. We were cutting up and laughing when Sally shared that her mom passed away unexpectedly this morning. In that moment the mood changed and Sally broke down in tears. Although Sally‘s relationship with her mother was often strained, I knew that they had great love for each other. Sally admitted that she didn’t know how to cope with this loss. Before she left for the day, she said, “I love you,” and today it had a different feel to it.

The biggest block to progress is so often a lack of advocacy. Women so often need help with filling out paperwork, knowing what organization to call for help, finding transportation, having a place to have mail sent to, having a phone number to be reached at in order for providers to make appointments with them, the list goes on and on. The stories we hear are heartbreaking. On a weekly basis they tell me about being raped, neglected as children, abused by partners they’d hoped would love them, and being witnesses of violent crimes. Today a client told me that some days she just goes without eating due to poverty. When you end up living in a house with no power or running water and have to relieve yourself outside and you don’t have the mental wherewithal to fill out job applications, what do you do?

Something that frustrates me to no end is watching women (and this is by no means a gender specific problem) fall through the cracks. Our client Martha was able to get into an apartment a couple of months ago with the help of an organization. Shortly after moving in, the hot water went out so she continues to shower at the drop-in center each Monday. Furthermore, the apartment building won’t turn the air-conditioning on until July 1st. The temperatures have already began to exceed ninety degrees in Memphis. There is also no one counseling her for mental health issues that contributed to homelessness in the first place, so it could happen again. I can hear the question now, “Why doesn’t she just move?” There are financial constraints, an inability to navigate the system, and not wanting to seem ungrateful for the help she got to get where she currently is. There are adults who gain housing but don’t know basic skills like how to use the thermostat yet we expect them to thrive.

I met with a new client today to help her to get back into a healthcare clinic. She attempted to do it on her own recently but when they couldn’t assign her to a clinic within walking distance, she gave up because she has no transportation. We already have other clients going to the same clinic so we will transport her. This will enable her to have access to mental health medication, a counselor, and a case manager.

Most days, love propels me, love drives what I do, and passion, too. But some days anger is the driving force. And there’s no one institution to be angry at. There are so many holes, so many barriers. That’s the dichotomy at Lisieux. Every woman has a story. Every story seems to have immeasurable pain. Yet you have Britney who promised to send us pictures of her daughters wedding this weekend. You have Tina who told me about an affordable dentist when I mentioned I needed one. You have Staci beaming as she shows photos of her graduation last week. There’s Lisa making a card for the counselor who made a difference in her life. There’s Karla offering encouragement to Barbara who is having a family problem. There’s Rochelle who walks in the door each week saying, “Hey family!” There’s love and laughter and support everywhere you turn. No matter what propels us forward, we will be moving forward alongside one another, building community as we go.


Thursday, May 19th, on the Streets

The more bonds that the Lisieux Community develops with women, the more full our days feel, it seems.

Today began with one of our women, *Lucy, stopping by early for her care bag and some sunscreen. Lucy likes to jokingly call Whitney her nurse because Whitney has been helping her deal with sunburns and the skin peeling associated with that. Lucy also really enjoys reading, so I’ve been bringing books from home for her to read. Today, she reminded me that she only has one chapter left in her current book and is ready for the next one in the series. I told her I’d make a note to bring the next one tomorrow.

Two volunteers, Freedom and Nancy, accompanied Whitney and me on the streets tonight. In addition to the usual care bags that we hand out to women, we also had barbecue and fresh eggs to give to them. Both were brought to Lisieux this week by other volunteers.

We handed out 23 care bags today and connected with four new women.

One of the new women smiled when we told her about Lisieux and told us that she’s already heard of the center. She was excited when we gave her a care bag and other supplies - we heard her singing a song about it as we drove away.

One of our women, *Teresa, looked relieved to see us this afternoon. She ran up to the van and said that she’d been walking around, looking for us. We used to only see Teresa once every couple of months, but lately, she’s been making a point to connect with us on the streets. I find this so encouraging.

We learned that one of the other new women recently had a stroke and has been living out of her car. She seemed so thankful to connect with us. She is coming to the center next week to talk with Whitney about resources.

This has been another beautiful week of growth at the Lisieux Community.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.