About three weeks ago, I sat down with two other Saint Andrew parishioners over coffee and iced tea at the Biggby’s just up the street on Wealthy. The focus of our conversation was Vivian, her journey over the last few years that led her to her Catholic life today and to where she lives now and makes community.
Filed Under: All, Homeless
I have known Vivian for about three years now, since she first came to Inquire about the Catholic faith through Father John Kenny’s classes. I have learned quite a few things about Vivian in this time that I’ve known her. I have learned that she loves the University of Michigan; Vivian often sports the Maize and Blue! I have learned that she very much values her family. During RCIA, Vivian spent a good amount of time with one of her aunts who is Catholic. She had also traveled back South for a family funeral, though that created several challenges for her. On occasion, when she missed an appointment or class, it was because she was with a cousin, and that took precedence for that moment. I have also learned that Vivian has a depth of resilience and a hunger for joy.
Vivian was homeless when God led her to take that important step towards life in the Church, and begin the RCIA process. A series of traumatic events had left her with a disability, and without any income or any financial support. She was sleeping at the Degage` women’s shelter on the corner of Cherry and Division (www.degageministries.org ). It was one of many resources in the Heartside neighborhood that allowed her to have hope for her future and continue her spiritual learning. She had actually left Degage` for a while initially, fed up and frustrated with life and with the whole process. She was not impressed with the services or the people then. She did not like dealing with men who seemed like “gluttons”, pushing the women out of the food lines and touching them inappropriately. She describes herself at that time as one of “the walkin’ dead”. Vivian eventually did, however, come back in from the streets. She began to create a community of friends with others who also were struggling to get off the streets and find better purpose and direction in their lives. One turning point was when someone at the Saint Andrew Outreach Clothing Center remembered her. Another was the death of her uncle.
When she came back to Degage` the second time, she began to have hope. She worked with the advisors and social workers there. At Heartside Ministry ( http://www.heartside.org ) she connected with local neighbors through the art programming and was encouraged to nurture her passions and interests well as her immediate needs. She also became involved with the Well House housing program ( http://www.wellhousegr.org/ ) and started the process for housing, which was a difficult procedure because of her disability needs and past record issues. She stuck with the Cathedral’s RCIA program, and when Vivian was received into the Church at Easter of 2014, she was also living in a Wellhouse home! God had given her “a new sense of life and purpose” and a new home and community to live that life in.
I asked Vivian how her experience of God in her journey had affected her:
“It built me up, and made me stronger. Saint Andrews has inspired me. Once you start making a change with yourself, then you want to help to make that change for others.”
I also asked her how churches might do better in their outreach in the Heartside area. Some of her ideas included new means of advertising, reaching out to newcomers in town with a resource guide (she was not from this area initially), a resource at the bus station that helps those unfamiliar with the area get more information on locations (like a flier or map), and even hold a little block party. She truly believes that churches should more often employ social workers to help bridge the gap of understanding for their outreach. Vivian herself gave up her mat at Degage` for a few nights at one point so someone else could have it, when she thought that woman needed it more than she did.
Vivian continues to be very active in the community, volunteering numerous hours of her time, talent and support to various needs within the area, especially within the Wellhouse community: within her Well House governance body, as well as the Wellhouse community garden, and their Tenant Advisory Board. She keeps in touch with fellow friends from the street, many of them now neighbors themselves at Ferguson and Herkimer apartments. She also stops into the current RCIA group just to keep learning, and to encourage the others going through the current classes.
Vivian has been a blessing, a means of inspiration to have in my life , and also in many others within our church and in the neighborhood. Her story proves that community, perseverance and the idea of hope can bring you to where you desire to be.