by Sterling Cunio
Last week a group of friends and I sat in a center street McDonalds chatting around a chicken nugget, big mac and milkshake filled table. In between mouthfuls we spoke weather, sports, relationships, dogs, motorhomes and more. In a mix of jest and jokes we also discussed issues of homelessness.
Oregon Governor Tina Kotek recently declared a state of emergency over our state’s homelessness identifying it as a humanitarian crisis. Rightfully it sparked conversations among city leaders, housing experts and citizens alike, and as our state response begins I wish we could hear the voices around the table where I sat slipping salty fries to Max, an adorable pit-bull.
If people hear Kim’s pride filled announcement of another grandchild, James’ talk of bikes and fishing or even hear the melody of Kandi’s cheek blushing laughter, I believe it would exponentially advance our efforts towards resolving the humanitarian crisis by personalizing the humanity of the stories. This group of friends, smiling, munching, and bonding would all be sleeping in concrete streets, cars, parks or bushes were they not guest of Church at the Park’s Village of Hope. A micro-shelter community for Salem’s unsheltered residents.
When recently asked to write something brief about the good at Village of Hope I feared it an impossible task. How could one capture the profundity of changing lives in parking lots, of providing roofs and locked doors to those without shelter, hot meals on cold days and cold water during heat waves. Merely attempting to list the spiritual and moral goods of meeting crisis with compassion would require at least a case of paper. If one were to capture the full good of staff teams working around the clock to improve lives they would have a masterpiece. And don’t forget shoeing the barefoot and feeding hungry puppies.
Seeming beyond my ability to articulate concisely the content of such vast good, I began to fret the task too big. When self-doubt rattled my confidence, I practiced self-empathy and granted my request to breathe and reflect--so I did. Reflection returned me to the group my friends and I were in before lunch at the Village of Hope, where we sat in a circle sharing whatever was on our hearts and minds. A circle of housed and unhoused Salem residents connecting through humanity, empathy and stories. All of which are essential to solving a humanitarian crisis.
Reflection brought clarity and in my earlier sense that personalizing plights of houselessness would excel state response, I found my answer to the task I feared too large. It’s clear to me that amongst the greatest good at Village of Hope is our love for the Humanity of Homelessness.