Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Solution is Love

Sister Lucy Poulin, founder of HOME in Orland, ME
Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, St. Dorothy of New York, is quoted in this way, ''We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.'' Throughout the world today, houses of hospitality seek to put love in action, for the care of those in material and spiritual poverty. Such poverty exists in all walks of life. In community, there is the opportunity for diverse people to come together, learn and live. Here is the story of a rural community in Maine- Homeworkers Organized for More Employment, a nonprofit founded in 1970 dedicated to keeping and enhancing the quality of life for low-income and homeless families. HOME in Orland ME

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Familiar and The New

Fall arrives, and the walking, bringing awareness that winter is not long behind. Knowing the cold is coming inspires some to prepare for the dipping temperatures and harsh elements of winter weather. Those who are housed begin to batten down the hatches, tightening up the places where cold air may seep in between the cracks of leaky windows and door frames. For the homeless in Cincinnati, there are some new shelters available for men and women having no place to stay, with greater focus on sheltering as a point of entry to permanent and long term housing. The development of mental health, addiction recovery, and affordable housing will be crucial to these efforts.The intentional cultivation and commitment to relational communities integrating economically and culturally diverse people is the glue needed for these efforts to bear fruit early, and then into the future. A necessary commitment, if these important and needed goals are to realized. For people on the street, life is in a daily survival mode, and making winter plans stays on the back burner.
 These realities came home again this past week, as I took a walk in friendship and hospitality to meet people who are experiencing homelessness, where they are. This begins the sixth winter season of the street ministry. It is a ministry that has adapted through the changes in Over the Rhine, hoping always to offer grace and welcome to people experiencing homelessness and poverty where they are. This season begins observantly, needing to learn what may be needed and where those without housing will spend the day, now that the shelters have moved to other neighborhoods outside the city core.
Traveling through the familiar corners and greenspaces in Over the Rhine, I quickly notice the newly painted facades where boarded up buildings had been before.
Things are bustling in the business district running along Vine St. and Washington Park is alive with the sounds of children at play. Good to see everyone at Venice on Vine, and the lunch was great, too! A bit further into the neighborhood, past the park is the now abandoned Drop Inn Center, a shelter for homeless men and women. Just weeks ago, this corner at 12th and Elm was a place where homeless people gathered, belongings bagged and close at hand. Nearby doorways provided shelter from the elements for those with no place to go during the day and those who are unable or unwilling to come inside, for reasons of their own. Life's traumas can limit one's capacity of being inside with others. Being alone can feel less stressful. Some people seem to prefer or need the outdoors, in a kind of survivalist lifestyle. Moving along the route, I felt nostalgic and a little sad, remembering the people I had come to know at this spot in the neighborhood. I hope the new place serves well, though I wish it was closer- the guests and staff at the Drop were our neighbors and will be missed.
Drop Inn Center
Like any neighborhood, when the old neighbors move, new neighbors will follow.  Cincinnati Shakespeare Company will be the new neighbor on this corner, bringing live theater to a corner of the city very familiar with the gritty drama, abundant blessing, and everything in between that make up life in the beloved community life. The local joke around the neighborhood- there may be a ghost or two rattling around the new theater. As the new stories emerge, may we always remember the people and treasure the relationships knitted together in this place at 12th and Elm.
Moving up to Odeon St. a stop at Jimmy Heath House is like coming home. Months can go by, and the welcome is always warm and accepting. I am grateful to be part of this community, now five years old. Catching up on the news has its joys, as men who have been chronically homeless find a niche here, or perhaps move on to an apartment in a new neighborhood. There is some sadness in learning of friends who have passed away. Remembering these brothers and sisters can bring on extremes in feeling for each one has a story of hardship and resilience, sometimes brought on by unfortunate life choices, and situations beyond their control. There is not one that I can recall without also remembering moments of kindness. I will miss them. 
Also on this day, I learned that I had been missed, too, and this was a funny story. Walking into another community residence, I heard my name called out- It is Miss Anna. "Bea, I thought you were dead!" This is my cue that I'd let too much time pass since my last visit. Thankfully, this visit was welcomed and blessed with understanding as I made amends and caught up on the news. Sadly, Mr. Joe passed away over the summer. I will miss him, and the way he handled his physical suffering while always taking a moment to ask me about my family. Moving down the hallway, I checked in with Miss Marianna. She asked, "How do you like the Italian priest?" "Who? Oh, do you mean Pope Francis?" Ah, she has been watching Pope Francis on tv. Marianna shares, "I love him. Now, I have someone who cares." She is homebound here in the US, poor and without her family, who remain in her native Puerto Rico. Then a few more minutes with Anna. " I am so glad to see you. I quit smoking for two months and I started again. Time to smoke." These times for smoke breaks are scheduled- I understand. So it goes. Grateful.

Sunday, March 8, 2015


Many would say a person would be brave or foolish to walk on Republic Street. 14 years ago, tensions gave way to violence when a deadly encounter on Republic Street became a tipping point. In the week of violence that followed, no one could have imagined the changes that are happening in OTR today., As is often the case, it looks to be the children who will lead us in the knitting of the beloved community in an unexpected place.
The Cincinnati Enquirer breaks open the story of today's Republic Street, and the potential for relationship unfolding in the brick and mortar of Over the Rhine.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Center for Respite Care Provides a Place for the Homeless Recovering from Illness

Center for Respite Care
Respite care for the homeless offers a place to recover from a period of illness to those who would otherwise return to the street from a hospitalization. In an editorial to the Cincinnati Enquirer, UC President Santa Ono lays out why our Cincinnati Center for Respite Care is so important to those who have no place to recover and get well. He is right, the Center expresses the heart of our community and our value for the dignity and worth of every human being.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Friends gather to remember.
On the shortest night of the year, there are gatherings all over the country to remember the homeless who have lived and died among us. Today's Cincinnati Enquirer shares their visit to the Homeless Memorial gathering, with some stories here of the homeless, and those who remember them.The Cincinnati Enquirer
We remember all- some unknown by name.
On a cold day like today, it is easier perhaps to imagine what it is like to be outside, or sheltering in a car or public space.Turning our compassion into public policy and human resources requires our thinking to stay focused on the thought that the realities of poverty are challenging to overcome everyday.  Such an effort requires a shared tenacity not unlike the grit for survival and triumph in the life stories of people living in poverty.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Time Will Tell and So It Has

Washington Park at Night
The walking ministry has been on hiatus for about a year now,taking time to discern and learn what the needs are in this new environment in Over the Rhine Last night, I made a visit to Washington Park for a concert and the fireworks celebrating the fourth of July. It was hard to believe this was the same park where the ministry made visits to the homeless not so long ago. It was hard to believe that this was the same park where drug and  human trafficking were so commonly observed.Over the past four years, a great renovation has been taking place, with old abandoned buildings created by German artisans undergoing restoration for new purpose. This neighborhood is teaming with new life, new neighbors, new restaurants and stores, new activities-it is a renaissance, rebirth, at great cost and reward. As renewal has taken root, I've wondered about our old neighbors, the people who slept in this park and those who lived nearby in what had been affordable housing. Many have moved on; some have died. Some don't feel at home in the new Over the Rhine.There were a few of the old timers seen making their way through the crowd at Washington Park, enjoying the music and the gardens-though they were unlikely able to access the food or the microbrewery offerings at 5 dollars apiece. There is no BYOB allowed here any longer. There are so many different markings that speak to all that has changed.
     It's true, so much going on here is life giving, brought about through intentional change both wanted and resisted. Many people have had to relocate to more affordable neighborhoods and many have been relocated in this process of "balancing" commercial growth, public access and social services. Five years into the ministry, I miss them, and the community that once was here. There can be no doubt though that something major is emerging in the beloved community.The green spaces, backyard gardens, and flower beds nourish the spirit as powerfully as the burned out buildings and  broken sidewalks fueled discouragement and waste. These bring to memory the faces of those that renewal left behind or moved out. Though this ministry is unable to follow them to the multiple neighborhoods where relocation has led them, meeting people where they are remains the core of all this is about. There are still people to meet along the way, many of them now inside the few residential programs remaining in this neighborhood. We will stay with them, as invited, and watch for new opportunities for connection with the newcomers who are neighbors as well.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Spirituality Geeks and Seekers, this weekend is for you-----Great City-----Great Conversation-----Great Lakes!

Come be inspired, and enjoy the company and conversation with others doing ministry on the new frontiers of these times.
Points of Connection is honored to be part of the assembly
during the Saturday morning panel 
Serving Up Ministry with a Twist

Registration materials available at Federation of Christian Ministries

Monday, July 29, 2013


Just over four years ago, I found myself sitting in a McDonald's in West Chester after an early trip to the Dayton airport. The quiet reading was welcome after the 3 am travel. My heart was uneasy knowing that my friend might not return from his journey, his body so weakened from cancer. I wasn't sure what kind of good bye has just been said. This quiet corner table, coffee,
and a paper copy of the Sunday Enquirer provided some needed calm. Turning to section B, I came upon a story that would change the course of my life. I will never be the same.
There in Section B was a photograph of someone I knew, Dr. Bob Donovan, aka Brother Doctor Bob, physician at Center for Respite Care in Cincinnati. The Center is a home where people can recover, when they themselves are homeless. Modeled on The Barbara McInnis House in Boston, the center uses the resource of this recovery time to intensively care for other needs as well-needs like housing, counseling, finding income and identification, addiction recovery, clothing and the list goes on. As a young woman, I'd worked in some of the shelters in Boston, with Barbara. Memories from those years flooded, and I took this article as a signpost offering direction as I looked for "what next" in life. I made an appointment at Respite Care and began volunteering there as a chaplain. Later that year, I put on my big black coat and filled a bag with candy, planned a route and went out to see if a presence on the street would be of value to those who call the streets home. The people I met along the way would
Homeless Memorial
challenge, enliven and enrich my life in ways I could never have imagined.
The streets in Over the Rhine in 2009 were very different than they are today. Block by block, there has been a renaissance, a renewal which has both displaced many people of low or no income and engaged new urban pioneers, who have come to reside and imbibe in community resources now available here. Among those resources is an exciting infusion of spiritual care folks, with a heart for the poor among us and the understanding that the new city being built here in Cincinnati must be a knitting together of the diversity and variety now sharing sidewalks and cityscapes. More and more, I see examples of this knitting in the sharing of community meals and festivals, and within inclusive opportunities for residents of all economies to serve each other in our beloved community, Over the Rhine. Walking in this emerging neighborhood, I sense a new
signpost inviting  discernment around the form of the street ministry, in a changed neighborhood. It time once again to watch, walk, wait, wonder, and wade into the neighborhood, to listen and learn what we may be stirring us, together, in the future. As the blog goes on sabbatical, I want to thank everyone for your interest and your support. Epi-blog.....I wonder what the next stories will be. Until next time, I wish you peace.

"Some people come into our lives and leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same." Franz Schubert

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Shifting Tide for Anna Louise Inn

The women of Anna Louise Inn have been part of the Lytle neighborhood for many years. I first met the women at dinner in the under croft of Christ Church Cathedral. Walking distance from the Inn, the cathedral dinner on Tuesday nights brought the church community with housed and unhoused neighbors  in the downtown area. The women have been part of this weekly dinner club for years. Walking connections like these are what city life is about-and this is one of the losses sure to come from the sale of Anna Louise Inn. It's understandable that the Inn would finally agree to sell their building to Western and Southern. When a strong basketball team has a large lead in a game, they can come to their victory in keeping the other team at bay while they run out the clock. Anna Louise Inn was not for sale. Like the people of Norwood, OH, litigation drained energies away from the reasonable security and enjoyment of owning private property. And so, in the face of community opposition and admonishment, Western and Southern has run out the clock, as litigation after litigation built pressure toward the sale of this privately owned property. The women will relocate, and there will be positive outcomes in the change. The Inn will become a boutique hotel, with a park renovation modeled on Paris, France. It will be lovely, and convenient for the business travelers engaged in that part of the city- in the same way the women who live there now enjoyed the convenience of walking to their neighborhood pharmacy or to dinner at their church down the street. None of this changes the goodness at work at theAnna Louise Inn. When they pack to go to their new location, their legacy of service and community will be the seeds of a new community, in a new place and time. I am thankful for the witness of the community standing with the women of Anna Louise Inn over the past two years. We stand together, and when the time comes, we will walk together from Lytle Park to Reading Road.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Pastor Violet and The Welcome Church

Pastor Violet Little
Pastor Violet Little shepherds an outdoor congregation in Philadelphia called the Welcome Church. Violet weaves people together, bringing community forth from those who wander the streets, making a go of life on their own. Welcome Church is a congregation of the ELCA, also affiliated with Ecclesia Ministries Mission, the church outside the walls.Check out this remarkable story of identity and community by clicking the Welcome Church link. We share these same crosses in the Cincinnati street ministry.

Friday, March 22, 2013

  Reminds me of a certain story of a young couple with child, searching for a room.......               
Harder and Harder to Find Affordable Housing in Over the Rhine

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tamar's Place Offers Safe Haven and Dignity

Siser Grace provides hospitality and safety to women working in prostitution. They are always in need of clean clothing, snacks, and financial help. Sister Grace can be reached through Centennial Barn, a ministry of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor in Cincinnati.
Local Nun Helps Over-the-Rhine Prostitutes

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Chaplain Bea
Vine Street Eatery
It seems that winter is coming to an end in Cincinnati. Walking along Vine Street on Saturday evening, I was amazed at temperatures comfortable enough for restaurants to prop open their doors as sidewalks teamed with people in sweaters and shirtsleeves. An evening in the neighborhood is unusual for me, and I took full advantage of the opportunity to pay attention to what was going on along city sidewalks and streets. Parking places filled along the sidewalks where walkers formed informal lanes as they entered and exited shops along Vine Street. New restaurants are opening along Washington Park, where homeless people congregate along 13th St and Washington Park, waiting for the Drop Inn Shelter to open for the night. From my own dinner table at a Vine St. eatery, I can see some familiar faces of neighborhood residents mixing with those enjoying a night on the town. Central Parkway is heavy with opening weekend traffic for the new Horseshoe Casino,
Horseshoe Casino
a towering palace at the east edge of Over the Rhine. The neighborhood has changed. The city has changed. Over the Rhine remains our beloved neighborhood, a residential neighborhood, while becoming, more and more, a destination neighborhood for the arts, for education, and for dining. As this winter gives way to spring, the main thoroughfares seem more peaceful and less contentious than in past years-not at all quiet, for weekend theater and dining draw people to the corners where trouble had been hanging out for a long time. And so, spring is breaking through, bringing our annual sabbath-the time when the street ministry winds down  for a period of reevaluation, retooling and resourcing.
Blessings to you
 As this Sabbath begins, I am mindful of the people and places that are part of Points of Connection and Grace Chapel ministries. Thank you to all who have been part of the pilgrimage, our journey together this past year, inside and outdoors.


Friday, February 15, 2013

In the Ordinary

Snowy Washington Park
As Ash Wednesday approached, some things nagged at me about offering ashes in a more formal way in the neighborhood, and some things nagged at me to stick with a walking ministry of meeting people where they are and trusting in what comes. Both happened. It turned out to be a typical morning of walking ministry, letting go of plans, allowing space for unfolding. The snow came down unexpectedly, and I noticed the streets quieting as I approached Over the Rhine through the downtown. A walking partner was unable to come; one indoor place had cancelled a few days earlier. Hmmm….I wondered what the day would bring, as I got out of my car to begin the walk near Washington Park.

Pastor Violet Little in a Philly train station
on Ash Wednesday
One man of the street gave me a tip about ashes -“they are doing that at St. Xavier Church at noontime. He might go there, he said.” Joe was out of food at his apartment. Mary lost all her identification. At a nearby housing complex, Anna was finishing her laundry, excited about being invited to Valentine’s Day-she might go- not feeling the usual suspicion of people that keeps her isolated at home. At the nursing home, people were sleeping in, or out at treatment. There was a blessing on the way to the shower room with Maria, once homeless now housed. There was an unintelligible update about a new oxygen tank with Margaret-was it helping? Yes, only the head nodding told me. To another-“Ashes today?” “Baptist.”  There was a confession that gave way to recalling Ash Wednesday then a quick mind switch flipping focus to Valentine’s Day, then the Our Father- most of it anyway.  It was a spiritual morning, with God's stirring in the change and in the routine, a time for regrets, gratitude, forgiveness and love-and life’s practicalities, without an outward sign of ash for Lent.
Later that day, in a chapel space outside a hospital cafeteria and in a community gathered within church walls, the same stirrings would be marked with ashes as other seekers began their Lenten time with the words and symbols of their tradition and experience.

Monday, January 21, 2013

An In Between Time

Sometimes, it can be hard to tell the story of the snippets and slices of life on the street.Maybe it is a writer's block....maybe it is the intermittent grey, sun and snow of a January with daffodils poking through yesterday only to be nipped by frost today. It is that time of January sitting between Christmastime and Valentine when a yearning for hibernation meets the real life demands of making it through the wintertime. It's a time when many conversations seem to start with " I know I should be.......but, I just don't have the energy. Wintertime.....

Not all winter's are equal. Some are notable in the lion or lamb quality of the weather. Others are remembered for big life events, like a birth or a passing, a relocation,or even a particular Super Bowl. While recent weather has been notable for its' mix of bitter cold sprinkled with summer patio dining, there have been other kinds of storms impacting our spirits and energies.  These past weeks have seemed harsh, with increasing numbers of homeless, job loss,violence crossing into new neighborhoods and in violation of sacred spaces. Some familiar faces in the neighborhood have moved on to new oportunities or perhaps been displaced by the lack of affordable housing. Some have died. Finding the light in it all takes a certain dedication and vigilance.

"Peace on Earth" in the windows
of St. Francis Seraph Elementary
Although a writer's block may delay the weaving of a hopeful story, there is light to be seen, to be heard, to be enjoyed-and honored practices of mindfulness and gratitude can help bring these signs of hope into our awareness in this time in between, when even the weather does not seem to be in sync with the season. Along the way, there are these snippets of life in the neighborhood. Whether hardship or help, there is a strong grittiness on the street that speaks of life. Some glimmer, some floodlight-some shadow, some display these scenes from life in this in between time of winter. In the windows of my mind, I revisit the scenes of the day, feeling wondering about and feeling grateful for........

The Cold Shelter at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church-accepting men, women, and children who need a place out of the weather overnight, for any reason

A community working together to provide safe and secure housing for a homeless man in need of hospice support

The same community offering the dignity of remembrance when he passed away

The neighborhood residents who prepared a memorial lunch for the community in a church basement where they once took shelter when they were homeless

My neighborhood Kroger, pausing all business for a moment of silence honoring those who died when violence violated the sacred space of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Ct.

The peace and beauty of holiday lights in Washington Park and along the alleyways in Over the Rhine on the longest winter nights

For the experience of limitation, for the experience of possibility, for crutches, for canes

The ringing of the bell at First Lutheran Church, in memory of the 33 homeless neigbors who died in 2012.

For the memories of Elizabeth K, Bobby, Tommy, for Marvin, for Will

The resilience of those who have come back to life in the face of extraordinary odds-due to illness, accident, violence, and addiction and for those who help them

For the welcome of street friends who befriend,and for the witness of those who look out for each other.

For Respite Care for the Homeless, providing a place to rest and recover when there is no home to go to

For Wendy's restaurant, providing low cost coffee and a warm space that fogs eyeglasses

For the man who slipped me 20 bucks to use to help others 

For the affordable housing at the Anna Louise Inn, and for those who are working so hard to preserve her presence on Lytle Park

For people who step up, fill in, do what's needed when extraordinary circumstances happen, when it is not their turn or their job

For the in between places welcoming in those walking the streets in the cold weather, carrying their belongings in plastic grocery bags, and knapsacks, and suitcases

For the workers who helped me navigate the Justice Center

For Sister Grace and Tamar's Place, providing refuge for women working the streets

For Jim, a veteran who shelters people in his own living space

For a homeless couple giving witness to faith through their need and their story

For stories and smiles offered with grace and hope, for those who can find something to be grateful for in the face of loss and disappointment

For this sunny, frozen Martin Luther King Day, and the inauguration of a President

For the serenity to accept the challenges of these in between days, and the trust to live into an uncertain future

For the luminarias of life, that break into the in between times and spaces to show us the way.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Longest Night: Homeless Memorial

On the longest night, we gather to remember homeless people who have died this past year. 
In Cincinnati, there are two memorials planned. 
Friday morning from 9-11, people will gather at Our Daily Bread, across from Findlay Market on Race St. 
Friday evening at 5:30, people will gather in Washington Park in Over the Rhine.
All are welcome.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

St. Dorothy of New York and the Fiscal Cliff

Lately, there have been some evening drives along the length of the Liberty Street corridor, running from the rising construction of the Horseshoe Casino to the Post Office at Dalton Street. In between are boarded up buildings, renewed facades, upscale storefronts and churches, social services and schools and people engaged in all kinds of living. Tarps, blankets and plastic bags form sleeping spaces as more people seem to be bedding down outside in the lighted doorways of churches and under the highway ramps that frame East and West Liberty Street. For these, the impact of the fiscal cliff will be dealt with when it comes-there are other cliffs closer at hand-physical cliffs, emotional cliffs, and spiritual cliffs that come and go like breath. It can feel overwhelming. Whether a community cliff like the fiscal cliff or a cliff all our own, like an addiction cliff or a poverty cliff, or an illness cliff--- an extended hand offering company for the journey is something we all can do. Cliffs offer opportunities to reach for a hand to share our journey and to offer a hand to others navigating the cliffs of life. In the face of cliffs of all kinds, we all can do something. And that brings me to St. Dorothy of New York. These days, there is lots of chatter about the official sainting of Dorothy Day, an American writer and activist known particularly for her confrontation of the connection of poverty and militarism.She did not wish to be dismissed so easily.Today, we see the fruit of her work with Peter Maurin and so many others who followed, in the Catholic Worker newspaper, houses of hospitality and farms that enrich communities all over the world. The Depression breadlines of jobless men in New York stirred the heart of this woman, bringing her a spiritual cliff of her own. She extended one hand in hospitality and used the other to write for justice.  Rev. Karen Brau of Luther Place Memorial Church, has written a poetic tribute For Dorothy Day: Don't Call Me a Saint and has graciously given permission for sharing it here.

For Dorothy Day
November 8, 1897-November 29, 1980.
“Don’t call me a saint, I don't want to be dismissed so easily.”
reprinted from Saints and Sunflowers

Don’t call me a Saint
Don’t call me a saint
said a feisty catholic worker
her eyes set on Christ
her constituency
the poor
Jesus’ “least,” of these,
her enemy
the war machines
unbalancing possibilities
of peace and equity.

God got into her bones
long solitary walks
by the sea in Staten Island
brought the rhythm
of holy life
into her feet and hands
her heart
pulsed with prayer
as she set tables
served food
moved mountain after mountain
hospitality (guest love)
her everyday breath.

Dismissal is easy
only crazy saints
give their all
expecting nothing in return
they are too much like Christ
the forever giver of grace.
So now 32 years after death
The Catholics call you
St. Dorothy of New York,
and not dismissing you
means calling on your spirit
to visit a Staten Island smashed
by hurricane Sandy,
and in place after place
we plead for your fortitude
where people are pressed
up against the wall
asking your saint spirit
to commune with us
animating walkers and workers
who are breathing hard on pilgrimage
trudging up the steep mountain
of God’s justice.
PKBrau Nov 28, 2012

Thursday, November 29, 2012


The Emanuel Center has been part of the life fabric in Over the Rhine for  141 years. The companioning of financial resources with educational goals for the community is a wonderful goal. This morning though, I am wondering what is happening with the current residents and how the larger community will provide space for housing and recreation for all members of the community. Emanuel Center Sold

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanks and Giving

I love this phrase, used each year by in the annual appeal for St. Jude's Children's Hospital. In the appeal, spokeswoman Marlo Thomas invites, "Give thanks for the healthy children in your life and Give to those who are not." Thanksgiving Day invites reflection on where gratitude lies in our lives, as we celebrate the good gifts, big and small. There is something wise and holy about gratitude, and in the graciousness of generosity shared with others. While the stresses of the economy and everyday living can create worry and stress, mindfulness can bring awareness to the goodness at work in the world. Lately, I have been watching for goodness at work in the world. I need to-for there can be no doubt that so many of our brothers and sisters are struggling with the effects of growing poverty. For some, it is a new reality as paychecks disappear or simply can't keep the pace with expenses. Others are familiar with poverty and its' limitations. American holy woman Dorothy Day and anthropologist Margaret Mead saw the answer to life's challenges as community. These past few weeks I have seen community at work in the hands of two homeless boys, passing out batteries at street church so tent dwellers would have light at night. I have seen community at work as nursing home staff, after hours, prepare and serve a Thanksgiving meal to residents, family style. There are the homeless people offering extra food from their own plates, to strangers amongst them. A party to welcome a neighbor back to the community after time in jail- fresh collard greens trucked to an inner city neighborhood for Thanksgiving meals-people opening their wallets to cover rent for a stranger in need-a bag of groceries left for a neighbor recently unemployed. These are the joys of community, the threads which bind us together and carry us through. Thanks and Giving.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Keeping the Rooms at the Inn

Anna Louise Inn has been caring for women in poverty for over 100 years, and intends to go forward with this mission, into the future. The case has been to court, and now it comes before the community through editorials on behalf of the Western Southern Insurance Company and The Anna Louise Inn.

The View from Western Southern       Anna Louise Inn A Win-Win

The View from the Inn                        Anna Louise Inn: Leave Us Alone

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hidden in Plain Sight

When the summer turns to fall in Cincinnati, there is an observable shift as school resumes, long sleeves replace the short and everyone hopes that this will be the World Series season for the Cincinnati Reds. It is looking pretty good for the Reds this fall. There is a lot of excitement in the city as new entertainment and restaurants open in tandem with some amazing green spaces along the riverfront and in Over the Rhine. Washington Park has changed the urban experience profoundly. It's quite like a miniature Central Park, a place for refreshment and renewal, a true green space in the heart of the city. For some of our neighbors, the renewal only increases the feelings of disenfranchisement that they feel. A new casino rises on Broadway Commons. Nearby, homeless people roll out of their camps, pushing carts of belongings through the morning fog. When Washington Park opens each morning, housed neighbors walk briskly across the green where homeless neighbors may be seen arranging bags of belongings under large elm trees. In a vacant lot on Race Street sits a pile of plastic and bags filled and tied. A closer look reveals the shape of a man beneath the plastic, sheltering himself and his belongings. A downtown bench provides a resting spot for a homeless woman, who parks a shopping cart alongside. At the corners and intersections, and in between the stoops on particular streets are people " flying a sign" asking for help, seeking some money for what need they have on that day, for what reason they share on that day. A man fallen down or laying down in an alleyway is run over by a car behind new condos in Over the Rhine. Children run in between these scenes on their way to school or day care. Art Academy students fill the seats at Coffee Emporium like a late night perch, while a homeless man protects his back for the night, sheltering in the lighted doorway at the nearby Salvation Army. This is a slice of life on city streets, under the highways, along the riverbanks-it's all here, sometimes hidden in plain sight.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Street Chapel

And so......the summer comes to an end, and what was billed as a hiatus from the winter ministry became  a time of watching, of observing, of learning about a new time in a changing community.
In the coming months, there will be more to share about life in Over-the-Rhine and downtown. For several years now, Points of Connection Ministries has been offering care and presence among people who are homeless and homebound, outside and when invited, inside other caring institutions and residences. Later today, a street chaplain will again step off the curb and into the neighborhood to meet familiar friends where they are, as they are----and to meet new friends and neighbors, housed and unhoused along the streets and alleyways, in the parks and parking lots, at the corners an edges of Over-the-Rhine and in the downtown. Think of it as an outdoor chapel without walls, where quite simply two or three might gather for a time in the middle of the busy comings and goings of city life- A kind of street chapel, a chapel that forms and re-forms through the day. In between the walking and the visiting, there are boarded up buildings and piles of brick, newly paved boulevards, flower gardens, fountains, and children at play. All gives witness to the emerging new life in Over-the-Rhine, and the opportunity for connection and community change brings. And so, there is a time for stepping off the curb and into the busyness of life on the street. Today we begin our fourth season. May it be a time of grace and community. Amen.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Leap Year

If you have ever pulled up to the McDonald's drive through at 10:14 am, you might have seen the changing of the sign as the menu is switched out of breakfast and into their full menu. It is completely predictable, uniformly and, precisely implemented at all the restaurants. If you are in  the drive in line at 10:15, you will be having lunch. At 10:14, it's breakfast time. Things at Points of Connection aren't quite as finely tuned. As a small, itinerant ministry,we try to keep a seasonal schedule, needing some time to gather resources, energies, and learn what the outdoor community needs. As the warmer weather comes, the winter curbside ministry slows down. The warmer weather brings migration among the homeless who are truly "outdoor people" and typically, the level of violence on the street increases with the rising temperatures. These shifts come as time is needed for resource development and employment, for the refilling of spiritual well. We continue visiting where invited, in residential programs and with home bound people, remaining available for times of crisis or grief in the community.  This year, the weather has broken early, and so, the outdoor walking ministry will close for the winter on February 29. As the third season comes to a close, I'd like to thank all the people and places who have provided hospitality and connection over the past year in Over the Rhine and Downtown.
Jimmy Health House
Canticle Cafe and St. Francis Seraph Ministries
Tamar Place
Over the Rhine Pastors
First Lutheran Church and The Over-the-Rhine Learning Center
Hope Lutheran Church
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
St. Louis Catholic Church
The Public Library of Hamilton County and Cincinnati
Center for Respite Care
Garden Park Nursing Home
Christ Church Cathedral Episcopal and the 5000 Club
Venice on Vine
Tuckers Restaurant
Federation of Christian Ministries
Ecclesia Ministries Mission
Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless
and our friends on the street in Over the Rhine and Downtown

February 29 comes only every four years, and I like to make good use of this "extra" day.  This year, Leap Year seems an apt metaphor for the new and changing landscape emerging throughout Cincinnati. The Banks project is now open. Fountain Square is a beehive within the business district. Washington Park is about to reopen. Ground has been broken for the streetcar. The Core Change Summit has launched many significant initiatives intended to build a new kind of city in Cincinnati. Much like trees budding in spring, Cincinnati seems ready to take a big leap into a different kind of future.The burden on those who have fewer resources has been significant, as high end housing inventory has grown at the expense of affordable housing stock. At the same time, business growth has provided for more entry level employment, and a new kind of vitality in the urban core. How will the city integrate and balance this emerging growth and vitality for the common good of all who want to be part of life in the city? We'll have to see......but it is exciting to see new people moving into Over the Rhine. Particularly among the young, there seems to be an awareness that all the voices need to be part of the building of a new city--the voices of people who have lived here for years, the voices of the new urban pioneers, voices that cut across economic lines, voices that have experience in life's gritty places and in hardship.
Urban renewal is a tangible sign of the collective leap, but life provides all kinds of opportunities for us to take a leap-to try something new, to leave something that needs to be left behind, to just see something different and shake things up. Recently, a group of young artists took a leap and made an invitation to a group of newly housed men, men who had been chronically homeless over a lifetime. They will work together collaboratively on an art project, a project which will be shared in a public theater later this spring. What an amazing leap, with dignity of risk, an invitation into community, into new and unfamiliar activities with new and unfamiliar people, to leap willingly and together for a greater good, for the love of community. A leap of faith. Maybe this kind of invitation is good for all of us to accept every  once in awhile. So, in the coming months, I invite you to join me in being watchful for what captures your attention, what stirs your heart, for wonderings......and when you notice something new and different, something that makes you curious, consider taking a leap.

Whether you are a bold person who takes leaps big and takes a big bite out of life, or maybe someone who is more cautious and deliberate in your leaping, may these coming months give you a hunger for something that you are willing to leap for, something that shakes up your life in adventurous ways, something that stirs your heart so powerfully that you want to throw off your apron, stop whatever you are doing and take a leap. I will be leaping with you.
Thanks for following the blog this past season. We will be on hiatus for a time........take care and May God bless you on your way.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The In Between Places

This is my third winter of street ministry in Cincinnati, and it has been quite unlike the previous two. Time outside in Over the Rhine has been relatively peaceful this winter, as Over the Rhine moves into a renaissance born of redevelopment of buildings, and a shifting population of young urban pioneers coming in, and long timers moving or being moved-out. I speak anecdotally when I say that street violence seems to be relocating as well. It has been months since I've visited a local site of violence, or had a visit with mourners gathered curbside.
The trouble seems to be ebbing out of this neighborhood and flowing toward others.....there is still trouble in OTR, but it balances in  between these new starts of buildings and people. Some of it, is simply elsewhere. There are other changes, too. Sometime last summer, I began missing people. It seemed to me that "regulars" who I'd see about the neighborhood just weren't around. The closing of Washington Park was a big part of that--the gathering place fenced off was a disruption to the pattern of life, and to a variety of habits, good ones and the not so healthy ones. So, where was everybody?
There seem to be some trends.
People who can afford " affordable" housing have moved to neighborhoods with an inventory. Pockets of human and drug trafficking remain at particular corners, but some has pushed to other neighborhoods nearby. Some people spend time at a number of day shelters and hospitality centers in the neighborhood. In my walking, week by week, I've crossed the Central Parkway into the downtown-looking to see where some of my neighbors might be.
Downtown Cincinnati is a busy place during the business week. Major corporations have their home bases situated in the high rises that form the city skyline.The streets bustle with business men and women, college students, shoppers, diners, tourists----the don't bustle everyday, but many days the sidewalks are filled with the motion of people walking purposefully, quickly, seemingly intentionally. Conversation fills the air, along with people rushing along the sidewalks, and through the many buildings that form the downtown. It's like any American city, with sounds of traffic, and the rhythm of changing walk lights, blinking for the sighted and chirping for the blind. For a moment, my walking seems like it could be a shopping trip or a library visit all on its own until I see a man sitting on a cement barrier, in between a city bus shelter and a parking lot. He carries a large duffel bag, and is wearing layers of coats, the skin of his ears a bright red in the cold air. Further along Vine Street, in between two air vents are two beggars, with a third providing a sentry for any trouble coming from the south or the north. Down the hill, in between a hotel and an office is an alleyway, where a bicycle is parked. Plastic grocery bags filled with clothing are tied to the bars between the two tires. In the next doorway is a man who is newly homeless, in between the lease he had and the income he needs to raise to put his housing back together.

A few blocks to the north, a man stands in between the doors of a large church, asking for a cup of coffee but unable to eat the candy or cookies I have. His teeth are rotted.
Inside, in between the pews are four men scattered throughout the church, safe to rest and sleep out of the cold, in between the stained glass windows of the stone sanctuary. Outside, a large man stands next to the parking meter, talking loudly to someone only he can see. To the rest of us walking by, he is talking into the thin air.
Walking by him, I am hoping he has a place to stay, and wondering if another day, he might be willing to talk with me. Today, he is clearly occupied,something on his mind so important that he can "see" the other person and engage is heated dialogue. When I turn to walk back to my car, I see the conversation has ended and this man is now sitting in between the church steps and a large hand truck stacked with his belongings. I could walk closer, and maybe another day, if we were to see each other, maybe it would be comfortable to talk.He looks up as I walk by, so I decide to say something.
Saying hello, he responds in kind, and I stop to introduce myself. "I'm Michael" he says, and then he begins to ask me questions about how I spent Thanksgiving, and Christmas......sharing his own story in between my own. I learn a thing or two about the holiday spirit in Cincinnati!
It's a cold afternoon, with snow on the way, so I brooch the subject of his sheltering plans for the night, wondering aloud if he knows about the winter shelter with no questions asked, all welcome.  Michael shows me his blankets and winter gear as he explains, he is an outdoor person. He doesn't want to stay inside. He has friends near the river camps and friends who are housed. There is another friend nearby who really looks out for him.His eyes reveal his trust and connection to this friend...this is not the friend in thin air, but a man named John, who works in a high rise overlooking this place between the church stairs and the hand truck. Michael looks up at John's building, and points to the floor where John is working and shows me, in the way a shopper displays her treasures from the store---" my friend John gave me this coat, and these gloves.....and this quilt"- a lovely handmade quilt with velvets, satins and gold trim all sandwiched in between thin blankets and wooly blankets stacked on his hand truck. "I'm all set,he tells me." We say our goodbyes and I move on.
I've learned that some people are or become outdoor people. There are survivalists, nature lovers, people with PTSD. There are independents, mentally ill, and people without ID. People who cause trouble and are trouble, people who are troubled, and in trouble.There are reasons, important reasons, that people are in between places, close and also far away. This winter, I'm finding that they are hidden in plain sight, in the spaces in between all the busy-ness of an urban downtown.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Keep Hope Alive

Every year it seems this the weeks after Christmas, the weather shifts and the bills come in. It just seems like the overall stress level in the community increases. Make it an election year, and things just seem plain noisy. Add the job losses,the extreme temperatures, snow, higher living costs....really, add just about any stress big or small and the house of cards can come tumbling down. Some become homeless. Some lose the temporary set up staying with a friend or on a family couch. Some tighten their belts, try to make ends meet, stretch what they have, try to get by. Some completely understand what has happened in life to bring these circumstances, and what is needed to change course. Others may be still wondering, " what just happened? There are many, families in particular, who have always been on the giving side of the soup line. Now, they need help as well. Offering a sense of hope and company in the face of chronic and unexpected poverty......that is what forms most of my conversations these days.That is all, though maybe paired a snack or some gloves....and a few moments of company.
Keeping hope alive. Hope has the power to keep the light shining when the day is dark. Keeping hope alive is lot like keeping warm on a cold's one foot in front of the other. The more you give it, the more you get....and a little goes a long way, like yeast in a big bowl of bread dough. As I walk along the street trying to keep myself warm, my own sense of hope has been brought to life by some new friends in unexpected places.
Charley was rummaging through a trash can along Walnut Street, discreetly reaching in just after someone passed by. I had stepped by him  myself, then heard the rustling......not wanting to startle or embarrass him, I kept on my way to find a bathroom and to warm my hands. Coming out of a downtown church, I wondered if he might still be at the corner....there he was, holding two fast food bags in his hands. Both were rolled own tightly at the top. After introductions, Charley explained he wasn't homeless but lived on the other side of the river. I've been spending time on the Kentucky side of the river lately and was very glad to hear his experience of the lay of the land over there. Charley began to connect me with what it's like on the south bank of the river. As his bus pulled up, he said goodbye as he put a few peppermint candies in his pockets to go with his bags. Maybe I'll see him again, maybe not. Chance meetings, or maybe something more. Yes, something more, not all chance. Intention and grace. Hope, alive.

Super Mario
 Down the street from Charley were two men flying signs. They were covering both sides of the sidewalk, almost directly across from one another. Super Mario was on the sunny side. I stopped there first.
 His sign was a blessing- "God bless you, and thanks."  He held it right above a large coffee can. A worn aviator jacket smudged with dirt, gloves stuffed into side pockets.....deep lines marked his weathered brown face.Super Mario was very friendly, and explained, " I'm a lucky man. That's why I have this name, it's a game." I wondered about the game....what was his game? Pointing to the sky, he found a sliver of sunlight. "That is God's smile, smiling down on me. I am blessed.....Whatever else, I am blessed."

And so, I found some hope of my own through Super Mario, who cut through my own weighty thinking about the hardships hiding in plain sight in the downtown. Then he witness about his ministry.
Super Mario says he can't do much...and he doesn't have much, but he can tell this story about God's smile coming down on him in the sunshine. He is awake. He is alive. He has another chance to keep on going. So, he does that, he does what he can do and he feels the blessing in that "kiss of sunshine."

Super Mario liked the cross I was wearing that day. It is the Ecclesia Ministries cross, given to members of the church outside the walls. Many street people and those in ministry among them wear this cross as a sign of belonging to God and to the community.

Ecclesia Cross
 As so, we prayed together the Our Father and blessed each other on our way, with the cross now hanging over his heart, as a sign of his ministry blessed by God's kiss of sunshine. Hope, alive.

Across the street, John knew he wouldn't be able to spend the day outside in the cold temperatures. "What will you do?" I asked him. The library was a hike from there, but it would be open. He would go there, and hoped to get into he cold shelter later. About 40 minutes later, John raced past me on Vine Street. "I told you I couldn't stay out much longer." He kept moving.

Around the corner, a man stood in the doorway out of the wind. Michael was in his second day of homelessness. A vet, he had some medical issues and ran out of money. Late on his rent, this time, he was evicted. This would be his second night without a home, first time homeless.  "Thank God for the shelter at the church up the street." He explained that he didn't have the identification papers needed to stay at the Drop Inn Center. It would take some time to get all new ID. At the cold shelter, all could come inside, but not until 9 pm. He would keep walking, too cold to ride his bicycle. It was parked inside the adjacent parking garage, with his belongings tied onto the frame, all in plastic bags. Michael seemed to have a handle on his situation, and I was able to offer him some names and places that could help him with  next steps.
With a hand up, maybe he will be able to get back on track. Hope and possibility.
Soon, it will be time for dinner at the church down the street. Approaching the church doors is a mother with two young children sitting in a stroller. One of the children is fussy and the mom offers him a marshmallow until dinner. I wonder what life is like for them, hoping for more than this, especially for the children. Better they are here for food and community....better still would be the meeting of their most basic human needs for food, shelter, clothing and security. Hope flickers.....
Heading back toward the library, I cross paths with Peter. He looks so cold as he moves down the street, no hat, no gloves.  He is carrying a large dufflebag that looks like it is ready to burst at the seams. Last week, Peter didn't want to talk but this week, he stops and sets his bag on the ground. He is staying warm and has a place for the night, he tells me.
No, he doesn't need gloves-just isn't wearing them right now. He pulls them out of his coat pocket to show me he is all set. "Room for some candy for later?", I ask him. He puts some peppermints in his pockets along with his gloves. "God bless you," he says to me. And you, too Peter.
And we are both on our way......a Christmas song is playing in my mind's eye as I hustle quickly back to my car before the meter runs out. I Wonder As I Wander
Yes, yes, I do.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Peace and Good in the New Year

St. Jude' Children's Hospital is well known for its incredible mission of providing care for children who are seriously ill with the most challenging of cancers. Spokesperson Marlo Thomas invites, " Give thanks for the healthy children in your life, and give to those who are not."  Some say that a child is God's ultimate expression of hope, for the birth of a child is the living proof that life will go on. War or peace, calm or storm, rich or poor, ready or ebbs, flows, and goes on. This time of year, there in a particular poignancy in the mystery of life going on, in diverse circumstances like those that shape the faces of homeless people-men, women and children living in deep poverty surrounded by abundance. A few weeks ago, this came home to me when I took local routes to travel from Fairfield, Ohio into Downtown Cincinnati. The main thoroughfares seem like a ct scan of urban life, with streets of  needs met, mansioned with esplanades so neat and clean, then transitioning at the city limits into areas of substandard housing, leading into boarded up buildings, abandoned cars, and groups of young people hanging around street corners....then into the downtown where poor and resourced people mix in between "urban lifestyle venues". Like a bee hive, everyone has a part, everyone has a story. Hardship comes in various portions but is not reserved for any one particular group of people. Sometimes, those called the least among us have a greater handle on celebration and joy in the blessings of a day. Resourced people have their own sufferings, addictions, illnesses and difficult circumstances. These are human conditions, no immunity granted. Within our life stories can be places for breaking barriers and finding common ground, where labels describe a life circumstance and human dignity models the truer landscape for community life, together.

Giving thanks for the good that lights the cracks and hard places in life; hoping for peace, light and community where it is dark. May all find a blessing in this new year.