MISSION STATEMENT OF MERCY HOUSE (Nov. 2012)
We are the residents of Mercy House, an intentional community creating a House of Hospitality, in the traditions of Dorothy Day and Jane Addams. In forming this community, we dedicate ourselves to fostering relationships of kindness, gentleness, generosity and mercy among ourselves, and to supporting and encouraging each other in works of mercy.
As a community, we dedicate ourselves to works of mercy in all their manifestations — words and actions by which we care for others. Traditionally, works of mercy include comforting, consoling, forgiving, bearing wrongs patiently, instructing and advising. Such works also include feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing those in need and welcoming strangers.
To these, we add all works of justice, such as befriending the lonely, listening with an open heart, community organizing, sheltering the homeless, solidarity with vulnerable, marginalized and dispempowered people, and advocacy on behalf of the poor, the stigmatized, the mentally ill and the addicted. As a chief witness of charity and a preeminent work of justice, we include peace building.
Supported and encouraged by our community, we aspire and dedicate ourselves to extending mercy and hospitality to our entire world, particularly the homeless, the abandoned, the ostracized and the most poor and lonely. In forming this community, we hope that our care and compassion for each other overflows to those who most need it. We desire to make it easier for all people to be merciful and to do good to others.
23 May 2013
Sorry. It’s been a busy year. To paraphrase and add to the sentiments of my very wise house mate Peggy; living in community if freaking challenging, and loving is ridiculously hard work a good lot of the time. It is also worth it. At least most of the time.
Yes, still here at Mercy House. (I think i have talked to you all about the house of hospitality we started in January. ) Things here are mostly good. I love the work we are doing. Often subtle, behind the scenes stuff. We have recently decided we are “closed” to drop in guests on Friday and Saturday. Now, our guests seem to have a hard time grasping this concept and often stop by anyway. None of us is particularly good and saying “get out” so we usually gently remind them we are closed, and offer a meal or a cup of coffee in the context of “a quick lunch before you go“. Slowly, folks are getting the idea.
Sunday — Thur we are open from 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM and houseless folks stop by to do laundry, take a shower, grab a bite to eat and endless cups of coffee. Mostly folks come by to be seen and heard. Peggy and I often laugh that we should write a book. Several books actually. We figure they can turn at least one into a reality series… but no one will believe it is real.
Recently, A group of about 4 people who frequently come by for showers have set up their tents in a vacant meadow. The land owner (who lives out of state) has turned a blind eye to their presence so technically the police can not evict them without his approval. However, that doesn’t stop them from harassing the folks there. Three times one night they came to shine flash lights in people’s tents, tell them they are only there because they are unwilling to follow the rules at the shelter. (Not acknowledging that things like anxiety disorder and PTSD might make shelter unwise for some….not to mention the 2 month wait list at shelter) The police were generally being a pain in the ass. So, a few of us have started sleeping there a few times a week each, just to provide some accompaniment and to document the harassment.
I could go on and on w/ the individuals whose lives have become so intertwined with mine, that is where the real update is. In sharing about these new friends, some of whom have become family and this amazing community I have come to be a part of.
As memorial day approaches I am very aware of how many veterans we serve in our community. Many who are “ineligible” for a variety of services because (in theory) they can receive support from the VA…. except of course the VA is over capacity and doesn’t have the resources they need. I have noticed that many of these guys are reluctant to talk, and super reluctant to be critical of the military. Until they get started. Usually when it is just the 2 of us they will start by gently challenging me on the nonviolence work I do. It is naive, it doesn’t work etc. — I listen, if they want to hear explain why i believe in it, and generally it is not too long before we find common ground. Once we do… damn…. the stories poor out. It breaks my heart not to be able to “do anything” and yet, time and again I hear how much it helped just to have someone listen.
Well, I best end here for now. You already have a novel to read. Sorry, hadn’t intended to go on so long
Much love and peace and blessings, Sher
June 19, 2013
It can be hard. Or as we constantly remind one another “loving is ridiculously
hard work a good lot of the time”. This weekend offers a nice example of the swirl of activity at our house.
Friday AM I get a call from one of the women who often hangs out in the plaza down town. (She has sort of has adopted me as a “big sister” . ) She calls hysterical because her partner is in handcuffs and she believes being arrested. The 2 of them are sleeping under the overhang of a church and it’s not the best space for a woman alone so she has that safety thought going on as well as all the fear of seeing the person you love in handcuffs. I tell her i’m on my way and start driving to the park/plaza when I get a call from Ray (not his real name) . He is both a good friend of hers and a dear friend of mine. He is unusually stressed and wants me to come to the plaza “right away” because a new friend of his is there and so scared and upset she can’t talk. She was beat up by her boyfriend.
I get there and Stew (the partner – not real name) has been released and he and Ray are on a total adrenaline high. I guess the woman’s boyfriend showed up at the park and pulled a knife. They jumped in between him and the woman. and chased him off. Somehow in all that Stew got detained.
Meanwhile, Melanie,(name changed to protect privacy) the woman who was hurt is sitting in a corner in the fetal position just rocking and shaking. Completely in trauma, completely shut down. When she tries to tell me what happened she is still talking in present time “his hands are around my neck, he IS hitting me….” This is way way above my pay grade right? She needs professional help. But that isn’t gonna happen. I am it. And all i can think is “dear goddess, please help me to not make it worse”.
I took her hands and had her look at me and just lead her through a bunch of things to bring her back to present time. “Count how many windows you see. How many bird songs do you hear.” Once she is back in the present and tells me her story I take her to Mercy House. There i learn she is also going through withdrawal. She says from alcohol (which I am sure was true, but probably something else too.) She stayed on our couch all day sick and scared and a general mess. Sleeping on and off. At some point she got a shower and was able to keep some watered down juice down. She was still too traumatized to think beyond the next hour – let alone days out.
Our house if full. Over full actually so we technically had no space for her. But I had an MPT training in Detroit so I knew I could stay at the Detroit office. I worked it out w/ my housemates that one of the long terms guests who we know/ trust could sleep in my bed and Melanie could spend the night on the couch.
The next AM I came home and took her to the ER (she just hadn’t been ready to go before that. ) 5 hours in the ER!! There is most defiantly more to her story than we are getting and i don’t trust her 100%. But still, she was victimized and needed help. The police came to the hospital and they were awful!!! That is an email in and of itself. I felt like I was trapped in training video of what NOT to do. Their whole attitude was “your homeless and involved in drugs and new to town (she’s been here 2 weeks) so you don’t matter.” They told her to go back to Midland, they told her to go back to the guy who beat her up, they told her she was lying. They were awful. At one point I really thought I was going to get arrested. They wanted me out of the room, but she was clearly scared and feeling attacked and I was clear I would not leave w/out her okay.
Sadly, even w/ the hospital calling and advocating there was no room at safe house. So Peggy and I paid to put her up at a hotel for the next 3 nights. She needed more, but that was all we could afford. We had 2 of our friends (Alice and Stew, who are also homeless and who have really befriended her ) stay w/ her. That way she wasn’t alone and felt safe. We trust them not to do anything illegal (read: smoke pot) at the hotel or do anything that would screw us and since we don’t know her we weren’t sure about how she would be. Plus it gets them off the streets for a few nights.
In the meantime the guy that hurt her kept showing up at the plaza and free breakfast church etc. looking for her. I guess he pulled a knife on one of our friends and later flashed a bunch of folks from a church that were handing out food and bibles. I’ve been doing mini nonviolence training w/ folks at the house and in the park and when he did that several of our houseless friends intervened, chased him off isolating him and “cornering” him until the police came. These are folks who usually would have just beat the shit of him. One of the guys later told me “Sheri, you would be proud of us. We herded him instead of hurting him.”
While our friends were chasing the guy that hurt her I was taking her to buy her meds (she is on anxiety meds, adhd meds, bipolar meds, plus antibiotics for her cuts and and and ) all of which her ex-boyfriend has. Plus filing a complaint about the treatment by the cops and helping her make a “to do” list of numbers and all that jazz.
Since then the guy has been arrested and now released. She is continuing to call safe house a few times a day hoping to get a space, and is sleeping outside the church. She’s “tucked in” with Alice and Stew who are watching out for her as are a number of our other friends living outside. I stop by the church each AM and the plaza each PM in order to check on her and see what other support she needs. She comes to our house to shower, charge her phone so she can keep calling safe house, and just get some respite.
In the meantime – also on Saturday we had 2 meetings w/ city council members. And had a strategy meetings at the house. We are pushing to get an ordinance passed that says “individuals, groups and faith communities should be able to distribute humanitarian aid in all public parks w/out paying the $150 permit fee”. Most of the we are working w/ have never met w/ council members (don’t even know who they are). This is all new and intense for them. It’ is also a training ground for when we get land for camp and have to lobby for a zoning variance. Saturdays are usually a “closed day” at the house, but w/ the meetings and all we did have about 7 or 8 people there doing laundry and showering.
Sunday we had our usual free meal and meeting at our house feeding about 40 -45 people and sending several bags of nonperishable food home with folks. We also had about 9 people do laundry and about 17 come by early for showers and/or breakfast/lunch/nap on the couch. Lots of folks needed tarps and blankets and we are really low on those kinds of donations so Monday I went to salvation army and bought a bunch.
For some reason this Sunday things were really really tense. Well, for lots of reasons. But, that’s a whole other email. Suffice to say I spent all of Sunday taking walks around the block or speaking w/ people confidentially in the back shed. Talking down really angry folks, creating ways for people to not fight but still save face, and or have a pressure valve. Also 3 different people came to me asking if I could take them to get HIV /Hep C tests. They were all really stressed
In order to speak at city council here in Ann Arbor you either need to call the city clerk at 8 AM or show up at city hall and sign up. They take the first 10 people. Since it is hard for those sleeping in tents to be that “on time” — especially first thing in the AM, we told everyone who wanted to speak they could camp out at house. So we had an extra 10 + people sleeping on our floor. I took Monday AM off and cooked breakfast for folks then drove car loads to city council. After which I took the 3 folks to get their STI tests. Of course, all 3 wanted to keep it confidential so even though i was going to the same place I had to make 3 different trips. Then a salvation army run and the delivering of blankets to tents and folks around town. And a stop at the drug store. We now have a big candy dish of condoms on our table.
Quick change into my “cleverly disguised as a middle class adult” clothes, provide taxi service to city hall where I and 7 others spoke (taking 8 of the 10 public comment spots.) The meeting went well and I think we are making an impact.
July 20, 2013
I wanted to write you all an email about the work we’ve been doing. The days at the art fair booth passing out information and talking to folks. The 3 people a housemate (long term resident) took with him up north to visit his family and take care of some stuff with his car. How none of them had seen any of the great lakes (even though they’ve lived in Michigan for years or always) and how meaningful it was to be able to help them go on this little vacation just a few hours away. The awe and wonder in their voices as each of them took turns with the phone to describe their surroundings.
I was going to tell you about the young couple who have become such close friends of mine and how she miscarried and had no where to sleep but under the overhang of the church, so I gave them my bed for a few days, and how such a simple gesture meant so much to them. Or how many of the folks I take food to have coined a new word “Sherapy” for the countless times each week I take someone to coffee or a cheep lunch, or even just give a ride and listen to them. Just really listen.
I was going to write and tell you the latest in nonviolent intervention stories and how proud i am watching my friends interposition in fights and use de-escalation tools we practiced in the park a few days earlier. How much i giggle and love when they come to me with stories that teasingly start with “you saved a life today” — I didn’t kill the guy because I thought “what would sheri do” and then
But then something happened that made all that go to the back of my mind. Bill (Name changed to protect his privacy) came into our lives. A pastor friend called and asked if he could stay here. We were worried. Bill, a sweet, kind, African American man who a pastor friend asked to take in for a few days. He was in a recent car accident which left him with a mobility disability and uses a motorized wheel chair. He has several other medical issues including diabetes, emphysema and heart issues.
We worried because our house is not a shelter and not at all accessible. Not only are the showers on the 2nd floor and basement requiring navigating pretty steep steps, but there are stairs into the house, and the main floor bathroom is not big enough for a wheel chair. Still, his choices seemed to be our house or literally on a sidewalk downtown so we brought him here.
He spent the night and left in the morning to work with agencies to try to find housing. By the time he returned in the evening he was in bad shape. Legs swollen, labored breathing, weak. I was at the art fair booth and Peggy and Caleb (the other 2 permanent residents of the house ) called to say they were taking him to the ER. Below I have forwarded Peggy’s description of the experience. (Sent as an update to the Pastor who asked us to take him in.)
From: Peggy Lynch
Here’s an unfortunate update. At St. Joe’s ER (thank God it happened there), Bill had an extremely serious congestive heart failure episode, requiring a nitro drip and many other interventions to save his life. This follows a heart attack he had two weeks ago and layers on top of his COPD, diabetes and physical disability resulting from being hit by a car 6 months ago. Around midnight, after deciding not to send him to ICU, the ER doctor determined he was stabilized enough to admit him to the main hospital, so Caleb and I left.
The next day, G (a former Mercy House long term guest who happened to be visiting) and I went to the hospital to visit Wi and make sure the hospital social worker knew staying at our house is not a viable solution, since this house is far from handicapped accessible and we definitely do not have the medical care he needs. Since this ER trip, Willie’s physical condition has significantly worsened. When he arrived here a few days ago, he could walk 10 steps. Now, he can walk maybe 1 step unaided, but needs much assistance to walk 10 steps. Caleb’s been carrying him everywhere.
Yesterday, I was told the social worker had just left a few minutes earlier, so she was unavailable for me to speak with. I did speak for about an hour with Willie’s RN, who informed me there was no one — social worker, nurse, doctor, anyone — to whom I could speak or send an email. Since there was no one else to whom I could speak, I told the nurse Willie’s entire story as I understood it, most particularly his homelessness and the fact that our house is not a solution. She assured me, over and over and over again, that Willie would not be discharged until at least Monday, when the social worker returned. The social worker would get Willie into housing, since the hospital policy is not to discharge people in Willie’s condition on to the street.
With great relief, G and I stayed and talked with Bill for quite some time. We heard endless details about the Tigers game to which a local church took him. Bill said the trip was fun. He doesn’t usually have fun.
I also told Bill we’d return the next day and asked what we could bring — magazines, a deck of cards? Bill firmly said he didn’t need anything, just his new friends from Mercy House. He told me in great detail all of the kind things people had done, carrying him downstairs to shower, giving him new clothes, tucking him in to sleep, asking what else he needed. He finally did start crying and said he’d been thinking about his new friends all day. I told him someone would for sure visit him the next day.
This morning, contrary to everything I’d been told on my previous visit, Bill called us to say he was being discharged. Caleb and I immediately returned to the hospital, to tell someone — anyone — that a tragic mistake was being made, thinking that through tenacity, we could convince someone in any professional capacity whatsoever to help. We asked to speak with the weekend social worker, who initially confirmed he was being discharged. I told her the RN told me yesterday the hospital would never discharged a homeless, disabled person to the street and Bill is both. The social worker said the nurse was wrong — they discharged homeless people to the street, “all of the time.”
After realizing Bill has Medicaid and Medicare, however, a solution was reached. With the social worker’s intervention, Dr. Akaah agreed Bill should have PT rehab. St. Joe’s would keep him until tomorrow, then discharge him to a rehab facility, where he could ordinarily be expected to stay for 10 to 21 days (he has insurance coverage for 100 days of rehab), probably long enough to get him into housing. After spending all day at the hospital without a meal or a even a break, Caleb and I left, assuring Bill someone would continue visiting him, since he has no other family or friends to help.
Caleb and I no sooner drove away from the parking lot, then the hospital social worker called to say Dr. Julia Akaah and the physical therapist determined that because Bill’s condition is now baseline for him, he doesn’t need PT. Since he doesn’t need PT, he won’t be going into rehab and Dr. Akaah would discharge him.
Caleb and I immediately started calling the charge nurse (Shirley) and Dr. Akaah. Shirley told us that Bill was being discharged onto the street because he’d refused their offer of going to the shelter. We knew Bill tried to get into the shelter right before he became so sick, but was turned away. We told Shirley that we were familiar with the shelter, it has a waiting list, and Bill was refusing to go because he knew that if he was dropped off at the shelter, they just would turn him away. We also heard Bill, on the phone line, tell his nurses that he didn’t want to go to the shelter BECAUSE the shelter would turn him away. Shirley said we were wrong, he could get into the shelter, but was refusing to go. We told Shirley that if Bill could in fact get into the shelter, we could likely persuade him to go there and would return to the hospital to do so.
Coincidentally, Caleb and I by that time were near the shelter, so we stopped in to speak with shelter staff in person about Bill. The only person then staffing the shelter told us Delonis is continually getting all sort of organizations — hospitals, jails, the police, etc. — dropping people off. These people will NOT get into the shelter. At minimum, it takes weeks to get in. They have a lengthy admission process and a waiting list. And, Bill’s physical condition would probably preclude his admission in any event, since they have no one to provide the medical care he needs.
This was what we expected to hear, since we’d heard it before from many people. We called Shirley back, put her on speakerphone, and the Delonis employee made very clear to Shirley that Bill would not be allowed into Delonis from the hospital. Shirley then said the social worker told her he could get into the shelter, but that he would still be discharged.
We then called Dr. Akaah, who also said Bill “refused” to go to the shelter. We told her that not five minutes prior, we had been AT the shelter with the charge nurse on the line and the shelter staff said Bill could not stay at the shelter. Caleb also pointed out that discharging Bill to the street would mean he’d likely quickly return to the ER with the very same life threatening condition. Dr. Akaah said she knew that. Nothing, absolutely nothing we could say or do after an entire day of effort, could keep St. Joe’s Mercy Hospital from discharging Willie on to the street.
We quickly called Bill and asked him where he was. He was sitting in a wheelchair outside of the hospital, all by himself, unable to get himself anywhere, without so much as a bus token. Caleb had to physically pick him up out of the chair and tuck him into the car. If we had not returned for him, I don’t have any idea what would have happened, since Bill did not even have the capacity to stand up, much less move himself in his wheelchair.
Because none of us had eaten lunch and it was now about 4:30, we stopped on the way home for Bill’s favorite meal, ribs. While Bill could walk the few steps with Caleb’s support into the restaurant, afterwards, Bill was too weak to even do that. Caleb literally had to pick him up and carry him to the car, then carry him from the car inside the house, where he is still sleeping on the couch.
I’m sorry if I sound angry, but I am. We will of course follow up with
Billie’s overworked social worker Monday, when she returns to the office, but in the meantime, he’s either on the street or at our house, with all of its steps and accessibility barriers. While we have no medical professionals and lots of stairs, we at least have people here who care enough to let him sleep inside. This old man nearly died on his second night with us. He can’t walk, shower or go to the bathroom by himself. I just cannot believe this is the best our society can do.
Aug. 21, 2013
This letter is both an apology and a shameless plea for your help and support. First, the apology. I know, for many of you I have dropped off the face of the planet this year. Please know that my inability to keep in touch does not mean I don’t think of each of you often. I start letters and email messages that never get sent, begin to dial your number only to realize it is some insanely early hour of the AM or far far to late at night for a reasonable person to be making calls. “I’ll call tomorrow” I think, and then a week goes by. Such is life in a house of hospitality…..
Which leads me to my shameless plea for help. As most of you know a little over a year ago I got involved with a wonderful community, Camp Take Notice (CTN). A democratically self governed tent community of homeless men and women, CTN contacted me for nonviolence training when they were about to be evicted from their 2 year home in Ann Arbor. My plan was to show up, facilitate some nonviolence training, maybe offer some support or take part in some solidarity actions and move on. HA! Life had other plans. I quickly fell in love with the community and tied up with the struggles of it’s residents.
Fast forward a year and the community, while physically scattered since the eviction, remains very much a community – coming together for a weekly meal and meetings, looking to establish a new tent community and doing service projects.
In the wake of the eviction some of us have also started a catholic worker here in Ann Arbor. Most of you know I moved in to Mercy House in January and since then life has been a wonderful, nonstop, whirl wind of chaos, craziness, love, and hospitality.
Living in community, we house otherwise homeless people (we have 4-5 long term guests plus the 3 of us who live here permanently and 3-4 short term guests) whose responsibility it is to help us provide hospitality to the larger homeless community.
Our Mercy House community welcomes homeless people 5 days a week for showering, laundry, to get a meal or a bag of non-perishable groceries, clothing, sleeping bags, blankets, and other humanitarian aid items.
People are also welcome on our “open” days to take naps on one of our couches (since homelessness can be utterly exhausting), play games, visit with friends, cook a meal or just be inside during bad weather. Just to give you a sense, last week we had 84 guests here last week for day time visiting along with out longer term and overnight guests.
We also host various meetings including board meetings for MISSION, the nonprofit that supports the earlier mentioned CTN, a peer support group called Encouragement and committee meetings for those working on political issues that impact our community. For more information about Mercy House go to MISSION’s websitewww.M.I.S.S.I.O.N.a2.org Click on the “outreach” tab and you’ll find us.
Additionally, much of the work I do happens outside the walls of our home: delivering hot meals and snacks to those living in tents or literally on the streets and sidewalks as well as blankets, socks, endless rides to appointments with medical or social service providers and the ever needed listening ear.
One of the challenges of living on the streets is the sense of invisibility and isolation that many experience. I think some of the best work I do is taking folks for a decedent cup of coffee at one of the local coffee shops and listening as they share their hopes, fears, goals and day to day crisis and traumas. In fact, some of my friends have even come up with their own word for this. They will say to me “we need to set a time for ‘Sherapy.’ ” Of course, this is way outside my budget, but feels important in so many ways.
Housemates and friends often joke about my “adopted children” a group of “street kids” ; young people ages 18- 23 who have adopted me as a surrogate mom. From the 23 year old recovering heroin addict with severe asperger syndrome to the pregnant 18 year old currently living in tent, and a host of others. I’ve found I have a soft spot for these young people and am offering thoughts on safer sex, healthy eating, and constant “sherapy”. (Not to mention condoms, pregnancy tests, prenatal vitamins, phone cards etc. )
I also do a lot of nonviolence training with folks. Of course, I don’t call it that. But we talk while hanging in the park and on the streets about how to intervene in fights, how to monitor and observe interactions with the police, and ways to prevent violence or at least stop it’s escalation. We talk, and we laugh, and we practice. One of my favorite examples was when a woman’s boyfriend beat her up, and later came to the local downtown park hangout threatening her and others with a knife. Several of the folks who I know well stepped between them and creating a barrier wall of 7-8 people, called the police, and “walked him” away and into a corner where they they waited for the police to arrive. “Sheri, you would have been proud, “ one of them told me later “we herded him instead of hurting him.”
So, that is my life these days. I love it! And we are always looking for help and support!!! Might you be willing? Here is what we need:
- If you live locally we need folks to come and “watch the house” – just be here for a few hours a week to show new people around, help them if the need help with laundry or food or whatever.
- Donations of gift cards: gas cards, Kroger cards, and Meijer cards are especially helpful! We spend crazy amounts of money on food even with the guests donating food from their bridge cards (food stamps) and our trips to local pantries. And as I mentioned, I (and others) spend tons of time (and gas!) driving folks to appointments and such.
- Donations of toiletries (especially toilet paper) , laundry soap for a high efficiency washer, and grocery “staples” such as eggs (we went through 5 dozen plus last Wednesday, milk and coffee)
- Money donations. There are so many unexpected needs. Our home is simply single family home where Peggy raised her kids and had a “normal life”. Now there are 84 people a week in and out doing laundry, showering, using the kitchen etc etc minor (and sometimes not so minor )repairs are needed all the time. Plus, there are the routine” and “daily living” expenses for the community and the occasional random purchase. (For example this week 2 of our homeless friends got jobs. One needed a chef’s jacket to start which I bought for him at $22, and the other needed steal toe boots, which we were unable to find used in his size and I purchased for $55, a 3rd friend with minimal health insurance needed to fill a Rx and even the $10 co-pay would have made it prohibitive.)
Because, like most Catholic Worker communities, Mercy House does not have our own 5o1c3, the easiest/fastest way to donate is simply to write a check to either myself (Sheri Wander) or Peggy Lynch and note “Mercy House” in the memo line. However, if you feel uneasy about writing the check to an individual, prefer more detailed accountability of money spent, or just want it to be tax deductible you can also make checks payable to MISSION. Just be sure to note “Mercy House” in the memo line! Thanks again!
Much love and peace, Sheri
PS — if you know anyone who might be interested in our work please pass this along!