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Building Relationships and Practicing Solidarity

Life with Mercy Volunteer Corps has been full of love, growth, adventure, challenges, and learning. When I came to San Francisco to work with the poor and marginalized, I had no idea what to expect or even what exactly I would be doing. I also came in with doubts about my ability to help anyone. After all, what do I know about being homeless or living with an addiction? In my time here, I have discovered that it is not about knowing the answer, or even what to do at times. It is about individual people, being present for them, and allowing that relationship to teach me how to be of service.

The neighborhood where I work has a reputation for being a place to avoid because of the density of homelessness as well as outdoor drug use. What I have found here, amidst the suffering, is a vibrant community full of character, strength, love, and creativity. People often come to the Tenderloin because they have nowhere else to go, but end up finding a community that welcomes them and accepts them. That’s exactly what I found here. I was welcomed into relationship by those I encountered. While I came in expecting to “help” others, what I found instead was that sometimes a deeper level of service isn’t service at all. What I can do is to enter into relationship with the people I encounter, and love them for who they are.

Working in this neighborhood has taught me that the causes and factors of homelessness and poverty are very complex. Our institutions and systems too often take advantage of those who are most vulnerable, leaving many stuck in a cycle of poverty. There is no easy solution. What we can do as Faithful Fools is learn from the people who know best – those experiencing injustices themselves – build relationships with them, and practice solidarity. I am learning what my place is and how I can better walk with those on the margins. It is through learning about the causes of poverty that I can begin to discover what people actually need and from there I can begin to help.

Maggie Brennan: San Francisco, California

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