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This past weekend some of our staff participated in the Urban Plunge Street Retreat hosted by Mobile Loaves and Fishes in Austin. Check out the first of a three part series of
first-hand accounts reflecting on the experience and lessons learned:

As someone that has been at Catholic Charities for some time, I continue to be amazed at the dedication, compassion and authenticity of the staff members I have the opportunity to serve with every day. My friends and colleagues said yes to a weekend surrounded by discomfort, fatigue and trauma. 

We had an opportunity to attend the Urban Plunge Street Retreat that was hosted by an organization in Austin, TX called Mobile Loaves and Fishes. As a street outreach team I thought it would be a great time to refresh our minds and hearts so that we may continue our efforts to end poverty in Tarrant County. 

Well, the idea was that we would get a glimpse of what our friends that sleep outside experience. We would leave our phones and wallets behind. We would sleep outside in Austin, we would eat at the local missions and we would engage in conversation with our friends sleeping outside. It was hard to enter the trip with any expectations. Maybe we would have some great conversations, see what other homeless service agencies are doing, and get to know each other a little more.

The one thing I knew for sure was that Austin isn’t cold. Not in January at least… well, as it turned out it was two of the coldest nights of the year. The below freezing temperatures were really uncomfortable, but not nearly as uncomfortable as watching a barefoot gentleman lay down for the night on a sidewalk with a couple of blankets. The conversations were uncomfortable at times as well. I heard “why are you here?” or “you don’t belong” or “you chose to sleep down here?” The answer sometimes, uncomfortable.

So what were my takeaways from the trip? First and foremost: No one should have to sleep outside, ever. No one should ever have to experience any type of homelessness. Alan Graham, CEO and Founder of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, said that “Housing will never solve homelessness, but community will. It’s not a transactional thing, it’s a relational thing.” This reminder is one that I will continue to embed into my work here at CCFW.  Second, it is so important to learn and share knowledge across the social sector. While on the trip, we got to spend some time learning from Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ Community First! Village and it was definitely one of my favorite parts. I saw Christ through the ministry of Mobile Loaves and Fishes. People were truly loving people that were hurting, hopeless and lost. I had one gentleman tell me that after 31 years on the street, he was able to call this place home. Everyone was smiling, full of joy and confidence. This is something I’ll continue to strive for with our clients every day. Lastly, I was reminded that I get to work alongside a great community of people at CCFW that are constantly innovating, pushing and changing the conversation to really end poverty. I love what we are doing at CCFW and I can’t wait to see what we do next. I am encouraged by the relational work that SOS team members are doing everyday through our street outreach efforts.