- Hospitality House
Our home and office, come hospitality
house has been a place where we welcome people who are homeless to visit for a
day and in some cases to live for a week or several months.
who live at Hospitality House set their own goals and persue them at their own
pace. The key ingredient we offer is being present with people throughout the
journey, accompanying them from life on the street to a life of their design.
Commitment: Once you are part of the family, you are always welcome to drop
in for a visit or a re-charge. Our commitment and involvement in people's lives
is life-long. At times we are the immediate family, and later perhaps the distant
relatives you only visit once in while. But we are always here and you always
have a home to come back to.
Presence - by being
a presence in people's lives and maintaining contact with our 'extended family'...
on the streets, those living at hospitality house and former residents we are
able to maintain a connectedness with them.
- only opportunities: set your own goals and standards for yourself, persue
them at your own pace and run your own life. We present opportunities but have
No rules - just respect: there aren't
any rules at hospitality house, it's up to everyone to decide how to conduct themselves
based on their own values and respect for eachother.
- we live simply, so others may simply live... making personal sacrafices to contribute
to the lives of each member of the community. Being generous with our time, or
patience and all we can contribute.
but referrals are not welcomed as we are always full - living at Hospitality House
is through invitation only.
with our dog Jazmin
A while ago I walked out the back of our homeless shelter and found one of our residents sleeping on the ground. An hour or so prior he had headed out there with a load of washing and was half way through hanging it out to dry when he decided he needed some sleep.
So when the time came for sleep he simply lay his head down to rest where he was.
The fact that he had his own bed and room in the house didn’t make it weird that he didn’t walk the 20 feet back into the house and go to his room and sleep in his bed.
Frank is in his twenties, but was first homeless in his early teens, before that foster care, before that as an infant he experienced violent abuse. Over the course of time some time he spent a few months in child or adult prison on and off but mainly grew up living on the streets.
There are a lot of differences living in suburbia compared to living on the streets, but having grown up on the streets the adjustment is challenging on many fronts.
The habit of simply resting when you are tired wherever you find yourself is still with him from his time on the streets. From anyone else this behavior would be concerning, but for people moving out of long term homelessness it’s no big deal.
Another client Chris has one foot on the streets and one foot moving off the streets, half in half out. He visits and always smells bad, having only one set of clothes and sleeping on the streets in those clothes day after day. Even though we have a washing machine and spare clothes and a shower, when he visits he won’t shower unless I ask him to.
Knowing his history, the first time I asked him to take a shower and wash his clothes, I gave him something to change into and showed him how to lock the bathroom and laundry door from the inside so no one can get in and showed him how to use the washing machine.
Chris had been sexually abused when he was younger and it always occurred in the shower.
None else knows his past, but when he does lock himself in the bathroom / laundry he always lets me know. As if that added layer of security is there, even though the door is locked. Dominic knows no one can come in while he is in the shower.
Smelling bad doesn’t bother him, but he showers for the benefit of others in the house so they don’t have to put up with the smell. He is thinking of the people around him more and more, making an effort to be part of the household.
He also does thoughtful things like taking out the rubbish and helping with cooking without being asked. Without any prompting he is thinking about how he can contribute in a positive way to the lives of others in the house, not just his own corner of the world / of the house.
I got the lawn mower out and one of the residents was going to mow the lawn, but it wouldn’t start. It was a really old mower, so this didn’t really surprise me.
“Don’t worry,” he said “I saw a mower walking past a house a block over, I’ll just go and get it when the guy isn’t home and we can use that mower.”
Now in his twenties, Simon has lived most of his life on the streets and stealing is a default part of his problem solving process. If he doesn’t have something and needs something he just steals it. Of all the horrible childhood abuse files this kid has suffered more than most people I know, and that’s really saying something. Unforgivable stuff, the government had to enact new laws to keep his father in prison.
So I thought I’d teach him about life in suburbia after the lawnmower broke down and knocked on the next door neighbor’s door and asked them if I could borrow their mower.
Our neighbor also had an old mower, and if you are a guy you understand they need to be used a certain way gingerly, so he didn’t want to lend it to me and I understand why. So there goes my example of neighborly lending of stuff.
So I called a handyman friend and he dropped over a spare mower and said ‘keep it its spare and I don’t need it.’ So I bought him some beers as a thank you and we were off and mowing the lawn in style.
Simon’s instant problem solving fix all is steal it. Appropriate to street life but moving off the streets that’s his stumbling block to avoiding prison.
He has identified that more prison time is something he doesn’t want in his future. So daily, he faces decisions and makes choices that could land him back in prison based entirely on a common sense approach to life on the streets. But now living life in suburbia those choices have involved taking the longer route to solving a problem, the slower, lawful way of living.
Questions keep coming up and I find myself talking things through at length with him, as he explores ideas around how to live in suburbia amongst mainstream people and adapt to that world.
Few people exiting long term homelessness are any good at closing the front door behind them. Doors in squats are always open for convenient exit. So that is one of the many things to get use to, and one of my great annoyances as so many of the resident find it very difficult to remember to close the front door when we come home. Sarah is good at remembering.
Another thing to get use to after long term homelessness is sleeping in a bed. On the streets very young she would sleep on rooftops, shop awnings and so on when she was first on the streets. This afforded her safety and privacy.
Sleeping on an air-mattress is as far as she has progressed in that regard, which is fine. She doesn’t have to conform to every social norm like sleeping in a bed.
She reminds me that one size does not fit all while moving off the streets. She is better than all the others at remembering to close the front door, but sleeps on the floor because that is where she is comfortable for now.
Being flexible and allowing people to find their way is important. As is taking time with people and never assuming.
A few blocks over there is a vacant house that has berries in its garden. So a few residents decided to go on a midnight raid and help themselves to a bucket full of berries with the view to making a cake and general snack eating.
Half hour later they come back and the boys were beaten very badly and war was afoot. A backyard party was going on next to the house with the berries and the partygoers spotted our late night berry pickers and decided to teach them a lesson about trespassing on private property and decided to beat them up.
So after some first aid our residents convened a war council / house meeting as we usually do. Everything from burning the house down to blowing up their cars and so on (you don’t want to know) was discussed in detail. The partygoers were going to learn a very big lesson about violence from people who can speak every word of the language.
Amazingly, the problem solving processes they had leant with us and values based decision making was applied. After much consideration as to how many varied personal harm and property harm could be inflicted. Their decision was that because there were children in the house in question they would take the beating and let it go.
Street justice is very swift and very violent, I was very surprised and thankful that they took the time to discuss the case at hand and make a decision based on calm and values based judgment. It is very unlike them to take a beating and not exact even more violent revenge.
After the Berries decision, I felt we needed to hunt together. So we moved on to discussing tide times and planning our next fishing trip. The strategy and planning along with equipment prep and team deployment along the sea wall was executed with military precision. Hunting / fishing together has been a great way to bond and explore things like planning, problem solving, formulating tactics and strategies.
At Hospitality House we work with a small number of people who can’t move out of homelessness using the traditional shelter system but need extra time and patience and space and assistance to adjust and find their place in life beyond the streets.