The following is a brief testimony written by Gabbie Ramos, a freshmen in the nursing school at Penn, about her first time encountering the homeless on the streets of Philadelphia with Christ in the City. Christ in the City is a Catholic non-profit dedicated to forming missionaries, volunteers and communities in knowing, loving, and serving the poor. On the 2nd and 4th Fridays of the month, Drexel and Penn Newman Ministries come together at 5:30pm at Newman for training and hit the streets at 6pm.
Tonight was my favorite experience of college thus far. You might think that going to an Ivy League school means I would learn the most valuable lessons its classrooms with esteemed professors, extensive research opportunities, students from all over the world, and all the resources I could ask for, and while the education is unparalleled, tonight I discovered my new neighbors might be my best teachers. Tonight I left the Penn bubble and went out with some really cool people from the Penn/Drexel Newman Center for Christ in the City with the challenge to see Jesus in the people we walk by and avoid eye contact with.
I know I’m guilty of this which is probably why although I was excited to go out, I was a little nervous on the inside. Then I met some of new neighbors living on the streets of Philly. First were Sean and Vincent. Sean had lived in numerous cities before coming to Philly. For some time, while on drugs, he had a house with friends. He quickly realized it was better to be clean on the streets than an addict in a home, so he has been on his own without any family around here, making it work. A few weeks ago he met Vincent. The two were together “taking care of each other.”
They had made copies of a spreadsheet that listed the location, days, and times homeless people had access to free meals, coffee, laundry service, toiletries, clothes, and showers. When they encountered a newly homeless person that always made sure to give out a copy of the sheet. Every day Vincent gathers new information and writes them on notecards. They watch out for each other and do everything they can to help their brothers on the street who they recognize have mental illnesses and cannot be as resourceful. If two homeless guys could give all they have, their knowledge and advising to other people on the street, what more can I give?
Then we met Alfred, who less less into talking, but gladly accepted a water and snack while asking us how we were. He was shocked when Alan reached out shook his “dirty” hand. Finally we met another group of gentlemen who were blatantly honest about their drug problems. Jimmy said to me, “I went to elementary school and high school. I was a good student that raised my hand to answer questions, but I never raised my hand to say ‘When I grow up I want to be a drug addict. I never asked for this addiction. I made one mistake and now look at me.” I spent a while talking to Joe. I think he was happy to have someone to listen to him.
He is currently enrolled in a program through a hospital that gives him synthetic heroin supplemented with group therapy and counseling to help him in his recovery. He seemed to be doing well and even has an upcoming interview for a group home soon. He was really grateful to this program and the fact that people are talking about drugs and the consequence more often. He recognized this dialogue is the only way to make change because outsiders don’t understand what it’s like to be an addict.
One of the last thing he said to me was (while pointing at some of the guys next to him who were drug users), “You see them? Do you really see them? What makes you different from them? They could be your brother, your sister, or your cousin.
Some of the nicest people I know are addicts. They made one mistake. I bet you make mistakes too. I do too. Except because of their mistake they’re stuck. But they’re people and nothing really makes them different from you.” In shaking hands and saying goodbye, I couldn’t stop thinking about the wisdom on the street. The stories within the hearts of those aching to just be heard. We can’t change their lives, but we can listen to their whisper in our very noisy world. So while I went to do outreach for the homeless in Philly, in efforts of humanizing them, I was really humanizing myself to break invisible walls I built between them and me. (Part of this realization thanks to Alan). So if you made it this far in my novel, pray for those people who we make invisible, those people who have nobody to pray for them.
Want to experience our Holy on the streets like Gabbie? Email Madison Pedrotty for more information.