When I decided to return to Annunciation House, I made this decision for many reasons. One of the main reasons was that I felt like I had found an organization with an amazing mission and way of running the house, and I felt like I could contribute to that mission. Part of this included a desire to help people in need (and in turn become much more the person I hope to become).
I love that feeling when a guest asks me if I can help him or her and I can say yes. When I find that ingredient they need to make dinner. When I help them understand a letter from a government office they received in the mail. When I went to a job fair with a guest and helped her fill out job applications that were only in English.
I savor these little or big moments for days when I cannot say yes. When I don’t have time to play a game with the kids or make the banana muffins that everyone is in love with. When I have to get on to a guest for doing something wrong. When I am dead exhausted and just want to go to sleep but still have 2 more hours of shift and am not always super friendly.
This includes saying yes or no to the core of what we have to offer: shelter and hospitality. I have to answer at least one call per day (usually more like 2 or 3) from someone who is looking for a place to stay because he or she has no other options and somehow ended up with the Casa Vides number to call to ask if there is room.
Of course, the answer is pretty easy at Vides that no, we cannot accept you here, because Vides does not actually do any intakes. New guests are only received at Annunciation House. But it is my responsibility to ask more about the person’s situation in order to get a sense of whether I should refer them to call Annunciation House to possibly begin the intake process or whether I should refer them to another shelter in town. Basically, I’m trying to see if they have any other options (usually not or else they wouldn’t be calling in the first place) or to see if they fall into the categories of people we most strive to serve (the ones most barred from other shelters): being undocumented, a migrant, or a refugee.
It is hard sometimes to answer the phone and only have to in turn refer the person out to call another shelter in hopes that they have space. Sometimes I say things like “good luck!” or “I hope everything works out okay” in an effort to try to be hospitable to even those people we do not accept into our shelter. But while my empathy for their suffering is real in that moment, after hanging up the phone I am generally pretty easily able to shake the sadness that comes over me and move on to serving the guests who do live in my house.
It is an entirely different matter of trying to refer out a guest who is already staying with us.
All guests who enter A-house are assigned a volunteer to help them accomplish whatever plan they have described to us when we do the intake. In general, the guest stays in the house either until that plan has been completed or the volunteer decides that the guest has not been working towards that plan hard or fast enough and then they are assigned a “departure date,” a date by which the guest must move out of the house.
I am currently in the process of having to ask a guest to move on. And it sucks.
For privacy reasons, I obviously cannot give the details of her situation, but basically things have changed since what she said to us when she was accepted into the house. I do not believe that she intentionally lied to us; I believe she was misled by an official who told her wrong information. However, both houses are basically at capacity with more people soon to come (including a group of college students to come learn about the border!) and the honest truth is that she is going to need to stay here much longer than she initially told us. And for these main reasons, I have begun the conversation with her that she cannot stay here much longer.
Because of this I had my first guest welfare session in which a guest cried to me. She begged me to let her stay. That this whole process has been terrible on her and her family. Please don’t put more hardship on them by asking them to move to another shelter.
The thing that breaks my heart is that I completely understand that. I completely understand that her family has suffered enough without having to move from first A-house to Vides and now onto another shelter. That her children are crying because they just want to have a secure place to call home. And that I am being part of the organization that is saying no, you have to leave.
And so while I am having to put on a tough face and be sympathetic yet firm about this while talking to her, my heart feels a little like it’s breaking. And the crappy part is that I know it is just the first heartbreak of many to come from my year of being here. And part of me just wants to curl up in my room and escape the pain through TV shows or books (which, okay, I’ll admit I did for most of yesterday afternoon and night).
But the other part of me knows that while this is really hard, that nothing comes easy. Annunciation House is the experience of the joy and the pain. And thankfully the joy really does greatly outweigh the pain. So while I absolutely despise having to ask them to move on, I can keep in mind that this is opening up the opportunity to get to say “welcome” to another family who also really needs shelter and hospitality. And really, I think that is one of the best parts of my job.
P.S. Shout out to my wonderful House Coordinator Beth for helping me have the official conversation this morning about the details of when they have to move on, as it was sooner than they thought it would be and lots of tears that I would not have dealt well with on my own. So thankful for such a supportive volunteer community.