Based on my past service experiences with agencies that provide direct service to those experiencing homelessness, I had a certain image of Sarah’s House cultivated in my mind before I arrived last August. When I set foot on property for my first day of work, I was awed by how much Sarah’s House immediately stood out. Hence, this first impression made me a firm believer in the shelter’s and Catholic Charities’ work from the start.
Sarah’s House location in suburban Maryland first struck me as odd but I soon realized the importance of such an arrangement. Every previous homeless services agency for which I had worked was located in the inner city, whether that be in Sacramento, South Bend or Albuquerque. To drive 30 minutes outside Baltimore seemed strange at the outset and still seems a bit odd, given the number of street homeless individuals I see in the city. The suburbs, supposedly, are immune from urban problems like homelessness. However, as my time at Sarah’s House has illustrated thus far, homelessness is everywhere, not only in our cities but also in our suburbs. Anne Arundel County, where Sarah’s House is located, has a high cost of living, and many lower-wage professionals are unable to afford housing for themselves and their families. This leads primarily to two scenarios: either people pay a disproportionate amount of their income toward their rent or mortgage, or they enter unstable room sharing arrangements with friends or family that often disintegrate. In both cases, stability is in short supply and these individuals often struggle to provide for their basic needs, especially when those needs involve raising children. At Sarah’s House, the goal is to provide this stability so those in need have a better shot at self-sufficiency.
More so than the suburban location, this goal of self-sufficiency is what truly sets Sarah’s House apart. Sarah’s House does not just offer shelter for those experiencing homelessness, but rather offers comprehensive support to assist in rebuilding lives. On-site childcare enables guests to work or to attend school without having to fret over their children’s well being. Employment assistance counsels clients on resume writing, interviewing skills and professional behaviors to enable them to contribute positively to the workforce. Overall, Sarah’s House does not just provide a bandage for the ills of homelessness, but instead, gives its guests the resources to mend these wounds on their own. It would be an exaggeration to say that every person who walks in the door leaves fully self-sufficient and capable of a wholly independent lifestyle in the real world. In fact, more often than not, it takes a while for our clients to adjust to the reality of life in a homeless shelter, a reality that involves appointments, chores, and hardest of all, saving money. As my time at Sarah’s House has illustrated, homelessness is not a problem that can be eliminated overnight. Rather, it takes time, effort, and most importantly, compassion on behalf of both those who help and those who need help to bring about change for the better.