By John Cartwright
The first time that I heard about St. Herman’s House of Hospitality, I didn’t know what to expect. The expectations that I had of the place were the same as I had when I visited the Abby of Gesthemene in Trappist, Kentucky. I thought that it would be a place where I could talk to someone about the things that were going on in my life. I further thought that it would be a place where I could talk to someone about the things that there would be a little stimulation of both the body and the body and the spirit there. I did not expect to find it to be just another religious organization without any enlightenment or understanding of anything that was different from the platitudes that were offered to me by other Christian organizations.
I was disappointed to find that it was just another pray for stay church with a message the same as any other place. I found that this was only a place of help if you were willing to buy into the Christian aspect of the place, which since I am a Buddhist I was not able to enter into without any reservations.
One incident in particular still sticks in my mind and has left me with a bad taste for the place, I asked “Father Abbott” one day if I could have a conversation with him about some things that were bothering me about the place. I am still waiting to talk to him.
I wonder how the Good Father there would have felt if, when he wanted someone to talk to, he were ignored? I wonder if he would have come away from that non-conversation with a good feeling about the place? I further wonder if he would even want to be there if he were forced to listen to a religious service that he had no idea as to what it was about?
It also might just be that I had a feeling in this place that there was little freedom to associate with the people who I wished to associate with.
I may also be that I possibly might like to be free to do what I want to do without having to be back to a certain place or lose my place to stay that night.
Or, it might just be that I am used to being my own person. I am free to practice my own beliefs in a much freer style within the discipline of the beliefs and norms of the faith with which I adhere. Or if might be all of the above. In short, the reasons that I have given may or may not be the real reasons for the way that I react to things in general.
I find it objectionable to have to tell someone else what I am going to do on such and such a day. I also find it objectionable to have to sign and carry a pass written out previous to my leaving somewhere that has to be signed by someone at the place where I visit.
I also find it objectionable to have to sit through a religious ceremony that I have but little interest in, nor any desire with which to learn anything about. I feel that such things are personal and should be left up to the individual as to whether he/she is going to or not do anything about his or her personal life or belief system.
I object to being told that the faith that I practice is worthless and that I am following something that, due to the ignorance of the person telling me this, they do not want to explore themselves. I think that it is up to the individual to seek out that which he or she finds to be their own truth. I was not able to do that at the Saint Herman of Alaska Monastery.
I particularly did not enjoy the sanctimonious little outburst from a staff member there. I remember, rather un-fondly, one day when I was in the middle of doing some research at the library, and the staff person went absolutely ballistic about my “wasting my time” at the library all day long.
The verbal abuse from that person I shall never forget. I thought that it was one of the more stupid and ignorantly passing parts of the stay that I had there at the monastery. A shelter stay that I will look upon as ignominious in both aspect and content indeed.
Not only did this staff member gripe to me about my having the audacity to request something like that, but he ranted and raved about me to other who were trying to sleep for the better part of 90 minutes.
The total raison d’êtres for my being in a homeless shelter is that I am looking to get out the homeless system by getting a job. I am also looking for continuing education and/or being around sensible people who are really trying to accomplish something with their lives. I want to change things for myself for the better and for the people around me who really count.
At bottom, there is no one box wherein all of humanity neatly fits. Each philosophy or religion has its individual adherents. It is not possible in all circumstances to come to a Christian solution to a problem. The reason for this is that everybody is not Christian nor will they ever be in the world of reality ever be so. This is probably for the better in the long run. A particular set of solutions is not the best of answers to all problems.
Please, those of you who are a position of responsibility in such matters understand this: Not all people who are in homeless shelters need to be converted. Not all people in homeless shelters have alcohol problems. Not all people in homeless shelters have criminal records or convictions. Not all people in homeless shelters have mental issues unless you count those who have the mentality to question the way that things are going in shelters. And finally not all of us are the liars that you think we are.
Granted, there is always a reason for a person being homeless, but the reason or reasons may not be related to anything that is pat and set in someone’s mind as all the good reasons for being in the state of homelessness. And, finally, the day does not end for some of us homeless persons at the time of the day you or your organizations delair that it does.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #43, July-August 2000