Serving Erie's homeless opens student's eyes

I have never been one to participate in any of the Mercyhurst Campus Ministry sponsored activities or even read the Mercyhurst Campus Ministry Bulletin.

Last week, however, I realized that I needed to get 10 service hours completed in the next two weeks and decided to take a look at what last minute service opportunities I could find.

There was an announcement about working the night shifts at a local overflow shelter. Since I needed to find something that I could fit into my work and class schedules, I was very intrigued, but skeptical.

I was not sure what working at a homeless shelter would be like; I had never actually done anything with the homeless. I was not sure what to wear, what to expect, or what to think. I had the Hollywood “drunk and sitting in an alley” stereotype and I was incredibly nervous.

But I went to the Local Overflow Homeless Shelter, Our Neighbor’s Place, and while this may sound cliché, it changed my life.

In the ten hours that I spent there, I learned that in Erie there are an estimated 1,500 homeless and only about 300 beds available in shelters.

Aside from the amount of homelessness in our area, I never considered the fact that these individuals were just like us. They have families, they have relationships and they are just like us but found struggle.

Like one of the guests said, “Struggle and strife make us who we are. It doesn’t define us and we certainly grow from it. This is temporary.”

What we don’t realize is that we could all lose a job or fall into financial struggle and could face the same issues. Many people do not think about it like that. I believe that we would be pretty hard-pressed to find someone that would admit that they could end up just like them.

I think that our country needs a reality check.

Not everyone can go to mom and dad for money, not everyone has a friend or relative that would be willing to allow someone to indefinitely live in their home.

We live in a world, in a nation, in an economy, where money is everything. Nobody wants to think about the “what-ifs” and would rather say “that would never happen to me.”

I’m not saying that everyone is doomed to poverty, however, it does need to be noted that everyone could really use an honest reality check.

Even if you only have a few hours, take the time to do something wonderful.

Campus Ministry plans on going again on Friday, Feb. 8; Sunday, Feb. 10 and Friday, Feb. 15. We are going in two shift each night: 7 p.m. – 11 p.m. and 11 p.m. – 3 a.m.

If you are interested, contact Campus Ministry Graduate Assistant David Parker or Director of Campus Ministry Greg Baker.