It is Friday morning after the long Labor Day weekend. The office is very busy. The morning street ministry has just ended and the work at our Warehouse for the Poor is just beginning. I just have to grab a cup of coffee and sit in the chair and take a deep breath.
The door buzzer sounds, and I see at the door one of our seniors, Steve. We (Steve and I) have had many conversations about the neighborhood and those in need. This was our first conversation about his own personal needs. Steve like so many others in the neighborhood has never asked for help. His struggles are similar, but he has done his best to take care of himself. Two years ago he entered a college program and has been working very hard. He applied for student loans and has acquired a fair amount of student loan debt. “Only two more classes to go and it will all be completed,” he proudly told me earlier this summer. Then it’s back to work.
As fall was approaching he was preparing not only to complete his studies and receive his degree, he was very excited about the prospects of returning to the work force. This morning though he was depressed and carrying a burden. You see the college he was attending was ITT-Tech. This past week, ITT-Tech closed their doors nationwide. He had been calling the college ever since he heard the news. Two classes to go and now nobody answers the phone. He cannot receive his degree. He cannot get his credits transferred. He appears to have lost it all. All this time and effort; all his personal money spent. He now has a load of debt for student loans with nothing to show for it.
Steve is the third person this week that I have spent time with talking about their despair and desperation regarding the closing of this institution. Depression is just too easy a description to place on these good people. In our surrounding neighborhoods this story is replicated over and over.
On September 8, “Taking Back the Night” a prayer group started by the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Office of Black Catholic Ministries held a prayer vigil on the corner of McClellan and Gratiot, asking God for peace on the streets of the city they love. Detroit has the second highest murder rate and the highest violent crime rate in the country. Yet as bad as these two statements are, they do not offer a complete picture of the struggle experienced as many of the city’s citizens fight to maintain their dignity.
The struggle for an education, the lack of work, clean water, affordable housing, safe and successful schools, viable transportation systems, the struggle against human trafficking, yes even human trafficking, and the lack of any kind of response to the issues of mental illness—all are challenges that underlie the violence that works to crush the spirit of these wonderful people.
It is in this setting that we immerse ourselves, where together with our benefactors and volunteers we seek to encounter Christ, welcoming Steve as he struggles with his current setback. Together we work to “create worthy conditions of life” for all that live in or pass through our community.