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.