A day in my work week often looks like back-to-back meetings, long phone calls, and hundreds of emails that needed answers yesterday. This may sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not. I love my job as Executive Director. And I know that all the parts of it are necessary to make Pathways Vermont run smoothly and to continue our important work of ending homelessness and supporting people to live successfully in the community. And every so often, a day can also include an opportunity to go in to the field to witness some of the work that our amazing staff manifest with the people we serve.
Last week I had one of those rare moments. Dave, a service coordinator with our Supported Services for Veteran Families project, was moving a couple into their new apartment, and I stopped in to thank the landlord and congratulate the new tenants. It was such a great honor and privilege to be present when the landlord handed the keys over to this young married couple who had spent the past year struggling with homelessness. This couple, with so much pain and hardship etched on their faces, proudly walked me around their new home pointing out the closet where their clothes will hang, a space for a small desk, and the place they will put their bed. They radiated both pride and awe.
To welcome them into their new home, I gave them a coffee pot, coffee and two mugs. I will never forget what one of our former clients (who has since graduated from our program), Jedidiah Popp, said describing the miracle of his first cup of coffee in his new apartment after years of struggle. As I handed the couple the coffee pot, I found myself wishing I had been able to bring more: a fan, a piece of furniture, a wall clock, an empty photo frame to fill with new memories… I so wanted to surround them with the simple things that would turn their empty apartment into a home. As they shared part of their story with me, I felt the pain of their journey of a year spent without knowing what the next day or night might bring, of having to beg reluctant relatives to hold on to their possessions, and the day-to-day living nightmare of experiencing homelessness.
I have seen the look in their eyes before. It is the look many people I have known experiencing homelessness have: a look that is full of incomprehensible exhaustion and despair, oddly coupled with a hyper alertness (scanning for danger and scanning for opportunity, all of the time). It is a look that causes my heart to ache inside my chest and re-inspires my resolve to keep fighting until homelessness is eradicated.
Fortunately, I have seen that look fade for people over time— with a key to their own home in their hands.
This young couple, standing in their freshly painted living room clutching their new keys, were both teary eyed and overwhelmed with gratitude. When I asked what they were most looking forward to, they responded with shy smiles and shining, happy eyes: watching tv, cooking a meal, and sleeping in.