Being Homeless: The American Dream?

With every face, and every conversation at the Franciscan Center a story is told. Many of the people who come to us for one need, often find a willing ear, which meets a deeper need.

On January 11th of this year Frank came to the Center for the first time. Referred by DSS for emergency food from our pantry, out intake volunteer took the time and made an effort to listen to Frank’s story. It was her intention and hope that she could make Frank, even for those few moments, know that he is cared for.

It was during that moment that our volunteer learned that Frank was living in an abandoned building on North Avenue, just a few blocks from the Center.  No heat, no lights, no bed…just a blanket or two and rats running throughout the building. 

Frank was born in Nigeria, and came to the United States about 20 years ago. For 19 of those years he lived what he describes as ‘the American dream’. Hard work, saving, and following his goals Frank lived in a nice 3-bedroom home, with a “big car” and a “big TV”. He says that he loved his work as an in-home caregiver for elderly people with health problems. But then he developed a serious health problem of his own. Frank explains that he underwent bypass surgery and suffered complications that ultimately forced him to stop taking care of others.

Like so many, he ran out of money, and was evicted. Without a home, he lost his car and every belonging that defined his ‘American dream’.  The volunteer listening to Frank’s story could clearly see his heart break, and felt hers crack with empathy. She encouraged him to go to Baltimore City’s Code Blue Shelter but he preferred returning to his abandoned building. So we gave him some blankets and warm clothing in addition to the groceries. Our volunteer told him to come back soon and let us try to help him.

After Frank left, our volunteer did her homework, made phone calls, and took notes. When Frank did return she was ready, and contacted Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) where she made arrangements for him to be evaluated the next day. His blood pressure was so high physician gave him an EKG, called an ambulance and had him taken to Mercy Hospital. From there Mercy quickly transported Frank to Union Memorial where he had cardiac stents implanted. Frank would later share that the HCH physician called him a ‘dead man walking’ upon looking at his EKG results.

Health Care for the Homeless placed Frank in its “Convalescence Unit” which, at that time, was located at the American Rescue Workers’ Shelter in South Baltimore.  While living in the shelter, Frank traveled to the Center once a week and our social workers went to the shelter once a week to visit him, keep his spirits up, offer a listening ear, and make sure he knew that he is supported and cared about.

When Frank’s medical condition stabilized it was time to help him find hope, and pursue a new-revised ‘American Dream’. A home, and his citizenship.  Our volunteer took him to St. Matthew’s Immigration and Outreach Service Center (IOSC) where an immigration attorney completed the application for Frank to apply for citizenship.  Frank has passed his citizenship test and his swearing-in ceremony was in July!

While Frank was in the HCH Convalescent Unit, the HCH social worker worked with him  to locate permanent housing.  She helped him apply for public housing and senior citizen housing operated by Catholic Charities.  Given the projected waiting times to get in, the Franciscan Center’s volunteer took Frank to apply for senior housing at Gallagher Mansion and to check out a private apartment.  He was planning to move into another apartment when Catholic Charities called to interview him for an opening at Trinity House in Towson. What a miracle that he was able to get in there so quickly!

So what difference, because of taking a moment to listen and care, has the Franciscan Center been able to make in Frank’s life?

  • When he was hungry, we fed him.
  • When he was cold, we gave him warm clothes and blankets.
  • When he was sick, we helped him get medical care.
  • When he was homeless, we helped him find shelter.
  • When he was in despair, we gave him hope.  (Frank often says hope is the most important thing we’ve give him.)
  • When he was a stranger, we welcomed him and made him part of our family.

As far as concrete services go,

  • We provided bus tokens and rides to certain appointments so he could apply for citizenship and explore housing options.
  • We also provided pastoral counseling (Everett Jefferson) and support to keep Frank’s spirits up.
  • We advocated for him, reaching out to other agencies to help him obtain medical treatment and housing and apply for citizenship.
  • We gave him sheets, towels, dishes, pots and pans and a few other items for his new apartment.
  • We also contacted the Assistance Center of Towson Churches to help him get furniture.  The Assistance Center delivered a bed, a nightstand and a table with 4 chairs to his new apartment.

At the end of the day, when we all go our homes, do we think about those who live in our communities who find themselves with broken dreams, and rats? At first glance it looks like the Franciscan Center has given Frank a lot. But in reality, we have only given him two things: a listening ear with a caring heart, and the desire to show him the dignity that he deserves as a human, and as a neighbor.

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If you would like to do more, please consider supporting the Franciscan Center or one of the partners that we mentioned. We also need donations of clothing, food, house hold items, money, and time.

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