What do you do when distancing is the healthiest practice of the day and your whole life has been about connectedness?
What do you do when you serve and feed the poorest of the poor, your neighbors who are homeless, and the gathering hall is now closed, the doors now shut?
Who are you when your life has been about community and you are now called to isolate?
On the extreme other side of it, what say you when you bought into the belief that each person can “pull him/herself by their own bootstraps” when our dependence on each other is made undeniably clear even a matter of life and death?
At Trinity Center we operate a day center for people who are homeless in downtown Austin. At 9:00AM we open the doors and serve breakfast, light lunch, individual case management, mail delivery, access to free phones and computers, a navigation center for all that is available in town for our brothers and sisters.
Our main value is beyond the particular services that we offer, many of which I did not count here. Our main value is in offering a sense of belonging, community of respect, dignity and deep compassion. We offer simple, deep care to people who are cut off from family and from society at large. We accept people who are harshly judged and little understood, and we walk with them in making progress.
We, as the prophet Micah suggested to us, do justly, love mercy and walk humbly, to the best of our human ability.
Our main hall has tables and chairs for up to 60 people at any given time, plus a dozen volunteers and staff. No “six foot distance” is possible whatsoever. No amount of disinfecting solution can keep the center from being a perfect incubation for nasty viruses.
So this last Friday the Board of Directors, in an emergency meeting with staff, made the decision to completely alter our operation.
We are shutting down much of our operation but keeping only a core. We will prepare breakfast, pack it in take-away boxes and serve it outside. We are the mailing address for over 1,800 people, many of whom live on the streets, and that includes receiving monthly benefits checks. We can’t stop that service. So folks are welcome to knock on the door and receive their mail. Some limited case management will continue by phone when/if possible.
In the center and from home, we will catch up on any and all unattended administrative work – that’s a weird silver lining indeed.
We will pray and love and care as deeply as we were able to do before this crisis. We will be deeply grateful for our plenty, more so than before. Our commitment to serve will grow deeper, even as we experience frustration for our current inability to serve the way we have done for more than 20 years.
We will actively call on our city and state decision makers to include the community of people who are homeless in their emergency plans.
And when this crisis is over, our resolve to shed light in places of darkness, to serve well, to love deeply will be stronger and our understanding of the global inner-connectedness of all will never be as clearly proven.