A volunteer recently sent us this reflection following a home visit. We have changed the name of the person being visited. At the heart of St. Vincent de Paul service is the “home visit,” where volunteers visit neighbors in their homes. Neighborhood group volunteers make thousands of these in-home person-to-person visits annually.
Carole answered the door and led us into her small two bedroom apartment. As we walked by the bedroom doors and into the living room, we noticed that all the doors had holes in them. They looked much like holes made by a hammer.
After getting settled, Carole began the conversation by telling us she was a domestic violence victim survivor. When we asked about her situation and whether or not she was getting any child support, she revealed that the father of two of her three children had been put in prison for a “door smashing” incident. Carole was injured and hospitalized following the ordeal.
As we talked more, we noticed that there were actually four children and not the three Carol mentioned. Carole told us the other child belonged to a friend of hers that had been staying with her for a few months. What we thought was one home for a mom and three kids was really a home for two moms and six young children.
We asked if the friend was helping out with the bills; she replied that her friend had three children under the age of six and like her, had been unable to find work. The friend lacked the skills required for most positions.
It seemed obvious to us that a lot of Carole’s stress and financial complications could be eased if her friend could find her own apartment. Was it time for Carole to ask her friend to move on?
“I can’t ask her to do that,” Carole said.
“You see my friend and her children were homeless and living in her car. I had to do something and help her out in some way and the only thing I have is a roof over my head so the least I was share this with her.”
Our thought process was that we were not making any headway. So we decided to change the conversation and go a different direction. Later when we started to leave Carole asked if we could accept a donation of children’s clothes. She had a ton of baby clothes that she wanted to donate. “I’m a great believer in giving back” she said.
As is often the case during home visits, there was a lot of “static,” in the home. The children were watching TV and it was loud. The kids were being kids, squabbling now and again so it was often hard to concentrate on what we were being told.
As I thought back on the visit, I could not get this apparently routine call out of my mind and then her words came back to me “the only thing I have is a roof over my head so the least I could do was share that with her.”
In my comfortable middle class world, having a roof over your head is a given, an unquestioned assumption. How many of us would see their house and their home as a gift? How many of us would be willing to share it indefinitely with another family?
These are uncomfortable questions, ones we need to think deeply about.
For Carole, the home for her friend and her children was one of the few gifts she had been given and so, without counting the cost, she shared it.