People will ask me from time to time what story brings me the greatest joy and fortitude in my profession.
After 50 years, it’s like picking which child you love most. There are favorites but after giving it some thought, nothing could ever measure up to the time I went homeless one Christmas season.
True story. I left the comfort of my home and family to witness firsthand the plight of homelessness in my city.
I lived in a shelter for three days and two nights. The only people who knew my guise that season was the editor who suggested the assignment, my family, and the director of the shelter. Even my co-workers were kept in the dark and assumed I had just taken some vacation time.
I had a theatrical make-up artist change my face and didn’t recognize myself in the mirror. I was incognito from the moment I stepped out of my home to when I returned — all the better for my experience.
I slept in their bed, ate their food, talked their talk and walked their streets during the day. Admittedly, it was the experience of a lifetime and perhaps the most tangible story I could have ever written, including the time I spent behind bars or frequenting AA meetings as an “alcoholic.”
And that’s why I built up such an affinity for Emmaus and the people this agency has served over 27 years, ever since that first shelter opened at Winter Street.
Since that time — for your edification — over 20,000 men, women and children have been assisted out of their plight and placed into permanent housing, jobs and self-sufficiency. Over 500 volunteers, 150 businesses, 190 faith communities plus 1,000 donors contribute time, services and over $400,000 in private gifts each year.
“In a sense, every day is Christmas around here,” says executive director Janine Murphy, who’s been aboard Emmaus since the very beginning. “They come here in the throes of depression and turn their lives around. It’s about people helping people and we get to see that every day.”