What does compassion look like at mercy house?
My name is Jacob, and I’m the Development Director at Mercy House a non-profit organization that serves homeless individuals and families here in California and Arizona. Mercy House is involved in outreach to homeless communities and homeless encampments. We provide services to high-density areas of homeless populations to connect them to our navigation center for local resources and shelter.
When you consider the vast amount of resources and wealth we see, it is hard to understand why there is homelessness. After hearing the stories of families and individuals living on the streets, I know we can do better! I know with the right partnerships and the right priorities we can end homelessness.
The biggest misconception about homelessness is that everyone just needs to get a job and that will solve everything. There’s a misunderstanding that people can just wake up one morning and say, all right, I’m going to get a job. For example, many have been laid off from their jobs and overstayed their welcome with friends or family. Most of our clients would like a job, but the truth is, that may not be what they need most. The reality is that substance abuse, a criminal record, domestic violence, mental health challenges, or physical illness can all be obstacles to gaining independence.
Mental illness can cause broken relationships, loss of employment, eviction, and homelessness. But it can also work in the reverse in that homeless can exacerbate mental illness. Things like lack of sleep, substance abuse, and trauma will impact someone’s mental wellness. There is such a broad spectrum of what makes up mental illness, and there is a lot of stigma around these types of diagnosis. Unlike a broken leg or health condition that you can test for, it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint exactly what is causing the person’s erratic behavior.
Unfortunately, there’s this idea that, if someone needs help for anxiety or depression they are weak, and this is simply not the case. This is why it is important to have a broad approach with a holistic view toward helping people become self-sufficient. Although not everyone is going to get a job tomorrow, ultimately everyone can be self-sufficient in their own way.
Building relationships is the foundation of how Mercy House helps people move from living on the streets to being in housing. A history of broken relationships, domestic violence, or some kind of abuse can prevent them from trusting others. At Mercy House, the focus is on regaining a homeless person’s trust and working with them. For example, taking the time to help them repair past relationships or reconnect with their own family. To have the courage to make these changes first they need to trust that we have their best interest at heart.
We also want to focus on education and advocacy by going to city council meetings, supporting affordable housing initiatives, and speaking at community events. Our goal is to help provide resources for the homeless population as well as prevention. We provide transitional shelter, create move-in baskets, and provide hygiene kits for our outreach workers to take out when they’re meeting someone who’s on the street.
Unleashing compassion in our local community is about seeing the needs and loving people where they are. Ultimately love is what is pushing us to do better for both ourselves and for our community. One way to show love is by having a better understanding of where someone is coming from and the challenges they are facing. I think that we can all meet the needs of our homeless neighbors better if we understand where they’re coming from and what they’re going through.
About six months ago I was out in the field with Erica (Eastside’s Director of Local Compassion) and discovered our food vendor never showed up. Erica overheard me and said, “Don’t worry. Eastside would love to cover this! Don’t even worry about it!” She picked up the phone and had pizza delivered. It might not seem like that big of a deal, but it absolutely changes people’s lives. Building trust matters, so when we say we’re delivering food, we need to keep our commitments.
Another way Eastside has donated generously to Mercy House was recently through a Bike Clinic. The orchard is a permanent part of the housing complex. With folks transitioning from living on the streets, one of their big needs is typically bike repairs. Typically they don’t have cars, so most ride bikes. Eastside organized and hosted a bike repair clinic for about 70+ people who received new tires, new chains, brakes, and other necessary repairs.
Some of the greatest joy I have experienced is seeing people get the keys to their place for the very first time. I really think there’s nothing like it. And I’ve been so fortunate to be there when people have slowly had the realization that they’re no longer homeless and comprehend they are home. That they don’t have to sleep on the street anymore. They don’t have to worry about what’s gonna happen in the middle of the night. They don’t have to worry about any of those things anymore because they’re home.
Today, as I am standing in someone’s home I am realizing again what a miracle this is! This three-bedroom apartment, within a few weeks, will be welcoming a family of five who will get to experience the warmth, safety, and sense of belonging that comes from having a home. So that is why we work year-round to make this a reality for families! This is why we ask for donations of welcome home baskets to help support and encourage these families! We want them to feel loved and welcomed and to be reminded they have value and belong!
There are so many different ways to use your skills and talents to help support others who are struggling in the community. We are committed to finding unique ways to serve our local communities. If you want to learn more about ways to make a difference in your community, visit eastside.com/local.
If you were inspired by this story, we would love to tell you more about Eastside. We volunteer in local and global communities, and we also meet together every weekend if you would like to join us in person or online. We believe that this is a place for everyone, wherever you are on your journey. If you would like to find out more about Eastside, please visit eastside.com.