Just make eye contact and smile

Past guest is now housed, warm, and moving forward in her life of self-sufficiency

This reflection was written by Linda, a dedicated volunteer at St. John’s Ministries.

“They treated all of us like human beings,” Mary said when talking about receiving an Easter meal last year. “When we are on the streets and people know we are homeless, they figure we are not worth talking to.”

Those words from Mary I will never forget. Those words came from a woman in her late 70s who experienced homelessness for the first time this past year. I have been a part of her journey from the first time she entered St. John’s Ministries Women’s Shelter in January of 2023.

I remember those first few days interacting and talking with her. Someone experiencing homelessness for the first time in her life was asking what she could do to help others and keep the building clean. One would think Mary would be focused solely on herself and improving her situation.

That was far from the case with Mary.

I began volunteering more regularly over a year ago and the men and women in shelter are amazing human beings. They are someone’s mother, father, son, or daughter. They have families and some have children. They have cell phones. They work full-time jobs. It breaks my heart when people in the community see, talk, and think about those in shelter like they are less than the rest of us.

More in our community need to talk positively about those struggling. There are hundreds experiencing homelessness and they need to be seen and smiled at.

Just make eye contact and smile. It will change everyone’s day. It will brighten our spirits.

Over time I have gotten to know Mary on a personal level. The story of her children, her childhood, and what makes her happy. I haven’t met a more resilient and independent woman.
When Mary finally received her apartment our Bible Study group donated household items because she needed everything. We even included a new Bible and devotion book. Mary refused because she had one that meant a lot to her. It is weathered, torn, and beaten up from the past year being in her walker and on the streets. I admire her spirituality and love for the Lord.

I helped Mary select furniture from St. Vincent De Paul using a voucher. The experience was a blessing. I wish everyone could have shared the joy and love she expressed that day when she found the recliner (picture above). I get emotional thinking about it.

Mary is home now in her apartment. She feels comfortable again. It’s amazing to think over a month ago she was standing at the doors of Women’s Shelter waiting to get in for the night.

I have seen Mary’s journey come full circle. She rarely asks for help with anything and is always thinking about others.

Mary once said, “People see the homeless on the street like they are nothing. They get bad looks and it breaks my heart. There are so many elderly people with nowhere to go.”

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