Sunday, November 2, 2014

Connecting Home Parish to my Year of Service

I recently was interviewed by the priest and youth minister at my home Parish of St. Columba's about my journey through the church and how I came to be in the Episcopal Service Corps. He, Jason Cox, was the one who first introduced me to the program, so I consider him a mentor throughout this year of service, discernment and living in intentional community.  Below is the link to the interview which is on page 6! Enjoy!

-Kelly Crabtree

St. Columba's Newsletter October 2014

The face of homelessness

    If you Google search the best way to know a city you’ll come up with a variety of answers. Most of the answers are probably things such as guided Segway tours and double-decker buses around the city to major tourist sites. I'm sure those tours are the greatest and you'll get to see all of the fun and exciting things like Edgar Allan Poe's house and Oriole Park. Yeah, you’ll pass people begging for spare change but you go on with having an awesome experience. That’s the kind the Baltimore I knew growing up. I only knew it on the surface.
    I grew up 20 minutes outside of the city in Reisterstown. I was in and out of the city for various events and outings. Going to the Inner Harbor on cool summer days was and is still one of my favorite things. I just despised the trek from the metro to the Inner Harbor. I’d always pass the same homeless man who had the stereotypical “Please Help, Godbless” cardboard signs. He would rattle his empty McDonald’s cup at people who would pass by. You could hear a few nickels and quarters jingle at the bottom of his empty cup. I always felt wildly uncomfortable walking by him. Because 1) I was a broke high school student, 2) I didn’t want to be bothered, and 3) I had the assumption that he’ll turn around and spend the money on drugs or booze. At this point, a high school student, I would treat every homeless person like this. It’s what’s easiest, pretend that they don’t exist and continue on your way.
    Going off to college and living in the middle of downtown Pittsburgh I came to understand homelessness more. It wasn’t as much of a problem in Pittsburgh since it's a smaller city but it still existed. I met a homeless Vietnam veteran who changed my outlook completely. He called himself Kung Fu Joe, I never fully understood why since his name wasn’t actually Joe and he didn’t know Kung Fu or any type of martial arts. He slept around the South Side of Pittsburgh and would go around at night telling jokes that were so bad they were funny and war stories. I loved listening to his jokes. One in particular I remember was “what kind of tea is hard to swallow”. Kung Fu Joe hit me with the realization that theres a face to homelessness. Maybe that was his Kung Fu…
Being homeless isn't always the dude or lady with the smelly overcoat, long beard, and cardboard sign. That’s something that was confirmed moving into Baltimore city. Anyone can be homeless and they are people who have stories like anyone else. The person sitting next to you on the bus or at your job could be struggling with homelessness.
    Going back to the best way to know a city the answer is getting to know ALL of the people of the city. To use a metaphor; It’s great getting to know the gardener and looking at the plants and the trees, but you need not to forget about the soil and the dirt. The foundation. Homelessness has and still is a huge problem in Baltimore. It has affected several of the people in this city. Ignoring it is not going to solve it.
    Running has been my means to get to know Baltimore. I can encounter variety of people on my 10 mile run. I’ll start at 2015 St.Paul and run across North Ave. A block down there is a group of men who sit outside their house playing poker and jamming to Al Green. As I come to Penn Station there’s a line of taxi drivers and people rushing to catch the next train or bus. Turning down Fallsway I’ll pass people walking their dogs and even the occasional catwalker. As I continue southward I pass HealthCare for Homeless. People are usually camped out around this area and on the building’s steps. Some of them smile as I cross, others will give me a dirty look. I run past St. Vincent de Paul church, which is a powerful site. There is a community of homeless people living on the grounds. Some days you’ll see people handing out blankets and on other days bags of food. It’s nice seeing people taking the time on a Saturday morning to help others. Shortly after I reach the Inner Harbor, where I usually see all kinds of people. I usually turn around there and head back home the same way.
    Along with running, working in a homeless shelter, Project PLASE, has provided me with the chance to meet and help my neighbors in Baltimore. Each and everyday I’m always reminded of Psalm 23:5, especially the verse “You have anointed my head with oil, my cup overflows”. I believe my calling is to help those with empty McDonald’s cups and give them the tools and hope to begin to fill it. 
    This first month within the Episcopal Service Corps Maryland and Project PLASE, I have begun to learn what goes into everyone’s McDonald’s cup. Sometimes it’s just a simple “How’s life?” or giving them a blanket. Each day I hope to continue to learn and love something new about this city and about the people who make Baltimore.

-Jarred Ervin