When I first began helping out at Jubilee Kitchen in September, I imported into the situation some ancient baggage regarding my attitudes about the value of people in general. Until my experience helping at Jubilee, I was unaware that I had been breezing along through life on shallow attitudes dictated by a culturally infused implicit value system that assigned value to people according to the quality and quantity of their possessions. I thought of myself as a rather 'nice', understanding and compassionate person, but soon realized how 'hobo-phobic' I truly was.
In becoming acquainted, albeit peripherally, with this special population of men, women and children at risk for a unique type of human suffering, I managed to get in touch with the denial I lived in regarding the impact of human impoverishment, and in doing so, managed, for first time, to recognize the reality and depth of my own impoverishment, vulnerability and suffering. That recognition enabled me to gain a greater understanding of our kinship as human people bound together by the inescapable fact of human misery. For no matter how much we separate ourselves into categories of 'have's 'and 'have not's', when all is said and done, we all share the same needs for food shelter and clothing, and we each bear personal responsibility for working to effect the economic transactions necessary to satisfy those needs.
Our sociopolitical system seems intent on supporting the capacity for equal access to the means to accomplish this task. Yet it seems there are far too many factors that impede equal access to those opportunities, favoring those who enter life's race with an adequate (or better) foundation of support. Those who are born into families of rich economic, social, psychological, biological and cultural resources seem to face fewer barriers to having their most base needs met, and the structures that are in place, seem to reinforce their ability to multiply their assets at whim.
On the other hand, those who have inherited impoverishment in any of the aforementioned domains struggle daily to survive. They do so, but just barely. They are the disenfranchised. The mentally disabled who are simply unable to function in accordance with the high demands of the marketplace; they are the veterans suffering from post traumatic stress, who have yielded to the allure of substance abuse, to suppress the pain of unbearable memories; they are the deserted mothers with children who invested their hopes in a relationship with a man only to have their emotional vulnerability and spiritual poverty exploited. They are the men who were released from prison, and whose measily pittance of a discharge grant only went 'so far' but not far enough to give them a leg up. They are the otherwise healthy: unemployed, the jobless, the fired, those whose unemployment benefits have expired. The litany of poverty continues as a common thread through every day, every year, every decade, and every century. And thankfully, good will organizations such as Jubilee Kitchen exist to meet the demands of this particular population at-risk.
Outside of the back room kitchen banter, I did not really have much opportunity, due to time constraints and the demands of the daily tasks, to familiarize myself personally with the broad specter of persons that make up the Jubillee community. Surprisingly, Jubilee does more for the homeless/hungry population than supply a daily meal. For about 6-8 hours each day it provides a place to 'be'; a roof and a respite from the elements. A place to 'hang out' and make social connection. It also provides a medical clinic, a job bank, bus tickets for those going to employment interviews, counseling, a shower for those who need it and it also has a daycare component. But most of all, it provides a bit of permanent hope for daily sustenance, and an opportunity to get their lives on track when they found those lives had fallen through the cracks and who have nowhere else to turn, since they have little to none financial resources for use to engage other more formal resource mechanisms.
I felt personally powerless to help, but I suppose I must be preparing for the right field if situations such as this invoke such an urge to help alleviate the suffering. Of course the issues of homelessness are so large and complex that it takes more than an empathetic individual to meet the challenges of this population. It takes an entire action system of dedicated professionals with access to resources, trained specifically to investigate the impediments that disempower, provide connection to resources and identify solutions that are not only curative, but those that are preventative as well.
As long as our current sociopolitical system remains in place, the problem of homelessness will not go away. As long as the predominant ethic remains one of self-interest and striving to multiply one's currency, the 'have's' will continue to thrive and the 'have not's' will continue to struggle with little hope for a better future. For the most hopeless among us, Jubilee extends that promise of hope.
My experience with volunteering at Jubilee has given a much deeper awareness and understanding of the unique relationship between the giver and the receiver. At day's end, we're pretty much the same, and often each taking turns at one role or the other in the wonderfully intangible yet ecologically balanced charitable impulse.