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The Most Dangerous Prayer

By Sarah Partee, 2016 OTN Intern

 

“I wish I had your life,” he turned and said to me. He was laying in a hospital bed with the murmur of the  television in the background. It had been a long night. The small room smelled of untended wounds and unwashed clothes. It was early and I do not like getting up early but I had to see him: I needed to know he was okay.

“Why do you say that?” I asked. I had met Eli only two days ago at the “Outreach Wednesday” foot clinic in the park across from the downtown library. I had no idea how much of an impact he was going to have on me. I took him to the emergency room no more than one hour after taking a look at his feet. He had a nasty cut and infection on his left foot. It was so swollen I didn’t understand how he had been walking on it as much as he was. But he didn’t have a choice. He didn’t have a stable home.

Eli turned and looked at me sitting in the cushioned, guest chair beside his bed. “You have two parents who love you and who are still alive. My mom was murdered when I was a baby and my dad has been in prison my whole life.”

My face became warm and I tried my best to hide the tears that welled in my eyes. That was not the response I was expecting. I thought he was going to tease me about how spoiled and privileged I was—as he had done a few times the night before. He went on to tell me how he grew up with his sister in foster care, suffered abuse, and started doing drugs and drinking at too early an age.

The night before I had stayed for a few hours in the waiting room with him until his name was called and he was put in a hospital bed in the hallway. After receiving an ultrasound, they discovered he had a blood clot in his leg.

It was getting late and I decided to leave him that night, hoping that the doctors would keep him overnight. If he was released, where was he to go? He told me he’d sleep in the park that night if he had to. His aunt’s place was too far away.

I went home that night to my parents house in Brentwood feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. The heavy weight of guilt overtook me. I have everything. A big family whose love I have never questioned, a nice car I didn’t have to pay for, a private school education, a closet bursting with clothes for every event and season, a perfect childhood, an incredible church home and foundation. Eli has none of these things. And he is just one story, just one person broken from the world’s injustices.

I went for a walk to clear my head. I prayed for Eli and for everyone who does not feel loved, who does not have a supportive community. I physically felt my heart breaking in half. I began sobbing for the people I’ve met… my brothers and sisters. We don’t choose what we are born into. Why was I born into a loving and supportive family where I never had to worry about where my next meal was going to come from? Why are others born into situations like the one Eli described?

I thought back to a time when I had prayed, “Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours.” It hit me that night as I was walking: that is the most dangerous prayer I have ever prayed and it was happening right that very moment. My internship with Open Table had been one of the most eye-opening learning experiences I had ever had. I have been on a whole bunch of mission trips throughout my life—all over the country and world. But this poverty, brokenness, and injustice is in my backyard.

A part of me is thankful to God for breaking my heart for His children who are lonely, hurt, and discouraged. Another part of me is terrified to feel this way. I want to have this fire lit every second of every day so that I never forget. At the same time, I also want to gently put these feelings into a nice box so I can comfortably watch Friends tonight with a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.

I will never be the same after this internship. I am thankful for a whole lot in my life but that is at the top of my list right now. I felt God planting a purpose in my heart, a calling to love His children from all different walks of life. I don’t know how that will look for the rest of my life but there is nothing I am more excited to do. I keep praying “Lord, continue to break my heart for what breaks yours. Disrupt my contentedness and make me uncomfortable.” I know now that those are dangerous words—and I repeat them over and over again so that progress will march on.

 

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Family Homelessness in the “It City”

By Becca Dryden

 

As the Resource Coordinator for Open Table, I talk on the phone often with people trying to navigate the complicated web of social services in Nashville. I talk to folks with all sorts of different experiences and life stories, but lately I’ve been noticing a recurring theme in my work: family homelessness. It seems like every day, I receive a call from another family who has lost their housing because the landlord decided to sell, new management raised the rent, or a vague eviction notice simply provided an “out-by” date. Families who had a home within their budget have been forced out with little opportunity to find a comparable rental property to accommodate both their budgets and the size of their families. In these situations, the only immediate option, the local rescue mission, isn’t even an option for many families. The mission provides a very important service for unhoused folks in our community, but for some families—such as single fathers, families with teenage boys, families with parents who need to be together for emotional or other needs—it isn’t a viable option. In these cases, parents are left without a safe place to take themselves and their children.

Full disclosure, I am a mother of a toddler. This colors my view of the world, and I hope it can be an asset in some situations. A lot of parents joke (though with some truth) about “surviving” parenthood. I certainly have days where survival feels like an accomplishment. For families experiencing unstable housing, displacement, and homelessness, survival takes on a whole new meaning. Survival means not just getting through toddler meltdowns and sleepless nights; it means finding enough to eat, doing whatever it takes to have a safe place for your children to sleep at night, fighting to keep your family together, hoping to avoid illness, and praying that somehow this broken system won’t overlook you and your family.

The reality is that this broken system is overlooking so many families. Our city is growing and flourishing at the expense of families who already live here. They are our neighbors and we, the “It City,” have a responsibility to make sure they aren’t pushed out of their homes. For those who are unhoused, we must ensure there are ample options and resources. Until that happens, my job as the Resource Coordinator for Open Table will continue to be complicated by the lack of actual options to offer to families experiencing homelessness.
I could end on some sort of hopeful note with a story of the resilience and strength of these families, some silver lining so that we can step away without feeling the burden of this reality.  To do so would be a disservice to the seriousness of this issue. When I talk to parents dealing with displacement and trying to find the help to merely scrape by, I can’t help but be outraged. Discomfort and anger seems to me an appropriate response to the reality of family homelessness. I hope we can take that anger and make the necessary changes in our city for the parents and children just trying to survive.
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Happy Birthday, Mr. Whiskey

By Lauren Plummer, Outreach and Program Coordinator

Friday night at the Barth Vernon UMC Resource Shelter we got to celebrate our dear friend’s 59th birthday.

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“Mr. Whiskey,” as we affectionately know him, was recently freed back into the care of his friends and community from the walls of a CCA prison. When I met him a little over three years ago, he was sleeping in a parking lot in Madison, had recently had a few heart attacks and triple bypass surgery. He was drinking a lot to console himself about hard times and all the loved ones he had lost, but he’s always had a tender heart and prides himself in looking out for his friends. We partnered with a SOAR outreach worker who helped him get approved for disability benefits. Somehow, despite his terrible health, he had been previously denied, so when his back payment came, he had enough money to purchase a small mobile home. He finally had his own place after eight years on the streets, and it seemed like a dream come true.

Less than two months later, it all came crashing down. A misdemeanor for public intoxication put him in violation of his probation, and he was sent to a private, for-profit prison for two years. In that time, his home was confiscated by the trailer park, and his health continued to disintegrate. He was released from prison to the streets late this summer, with a failing heart and without a penny to his name. While we are so glad to have him back in our arms, his mischievous storytelling back in our lives, and hilarious voicemails back in our inboxes, he has come back to us weaker and more vulnerable than before.

What kind of society locks a person in a cage and calls it treatment? Takes away someone’s home and community and calls it rehabilitation? Turns him out on the street with nothing and calls it justice served? Mr. Whiskey, and everyone suffering under the weight of systemic poverty, racism, and injustice—of predatory policing, substance abuse, mandatory minimums, for-profit prisons—we see you and will fight alongside you for as long as it takes. May we all surround you with love and the divine power of community. Let this be the year we manifest housing, healing, and hope together, with all of our neighbors.

Happy birthday, friend. There are better days ahead.

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Harvesting Hope Was a Smashing Success!

On Tuesday, October 11, Open Table hosted our annual fall fundraiser Harvesting Hope: A Night to Celebrate Open Table Nashville. The event was everything we dreamed it would be and so much more. Special thanks to our many sponsors, as well as our host location City Winery Nashville. In addition to delicious food and drink, we had a silent auction with items and services donated from local restaurants, artists, legal firms, fitness studios and many of our community partners. Barrett Klausman of Farmdog Productions also debuted the gorgeous film he has been creating for Open Table featuring several of our recently housed friends and their stories.

All in all, early figures show that 200 people attended the event and that Open Table raised $30,000 for the coming year of disrupting cycles of poverty, journeying with the marginalized and providing education about issues of homelessness. Thank you all for your unending support—we are looking forward to meeting our goal of housing 110 friends in 2016!

– The Open Table Nashville Team

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Community Partner Spotlight: FYK Realty Group

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Tiffany Fykes, Real Estate Consultant

This month OTN would like to highlight one of our community partners, FYK Realty, and thank them for their committed hours of service at our Resource Shelters and their generous financial contributions. Lauren recently sat down with real estate consultant, Tiffany Fykes, to hear about their experience as OTN partners and volunteers.

LHow did you first hear about Open Table?

T: We were actively looking for an organization to partner with. We work with a lot of real estate in the Crieve Hall community, so we reached out to neighborhood leaders about non-profits in South Nashville, and a friend pointed us to Open Table.

L: How are you currently involved with OTN?

T: Our staff volunteers every month to do set-up at OTN’s housing Resource Shelters. We also contribute a welcome home kits every time we close on a house. So far this year we’ve had 80 closings, which means we’ve provided the funds for 80 welcome home kits for new residents and friends of OTN. Our goal this year is to provide one of those kits for everyone that OTN gets into permanent housing.

L: What have you enjoyed about partnering with OTN?

T: We’re passionate about helping people make good housing decisions for themselves. For us it’s not about the commission, but about helping people find a home that suits their needs and is sustainable. There is such a strong connection between our mission and yours at OTN. It just so happens that your clients or friends at OTN can’t afford a mortgage, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve housing options.

L: Have you had any experiences that stand out in your time volunteering with us?

T: We don’t get to spend as much time with OTN friends since we do the set-up at the beginning of shelter nights, but the most meaningful thing to me has been that most of us can bring our kids to help make up the beds. It’s great that 1. they love doing it, and 2. they’ll grow up with this being a normal experience. It takes away the fear built into stereotypes of people who are homeless, so now our kids can grow up without that. One night we went and OTN was celebrating someone’s birthday, so our boys got to be part of wishing her a happy birthday –– that was fun to see.

L: Is there anything you’ve learned about homelessness that you might like to share with the broader community?Fyk

T: I think it’s a mindset that has to change about our understanding of homelessness. Everybody should have a safe place; everybody should be able to stay warm in the winter. Just because there may be events from people’s past that have contributed to their loss of housing, we have no idea what those things are, and that shouldn’t keep them from having a better future. Housing shouldn’t be a consequence that gets held over someone’s head.

 

Thanks, FYK Group! For anyone else interested in volunteering at our Resource Shelters or assembling welcome home kits, contact liz@opentablenashville.org.