(Photo courtesy of David Mooney)
Homeless Outreach is a new event that happens every Sunday from 1pm-5pm. This organization was inspired by and named after the Saint, Benedict Joseph Labre, Ministry to the Homeless. Labre is the Patron Saint of Homelessness, and this new organization at Regis Unveristy was started by sophomore David Mooney with the help of sophomore Zach Martinez. Every Sunday they invite Regis students to make lunches and go downtown to start conversations with the marginalized and hear their stories. Please take the time to read this interview with David Mooney and Zach Martinez.
Why did you start Homeless Outreach?
Mooney: We have begun this with Regis’s Jesuit values in mind. Specifically, the values of Cura Personalis, men and women in service of others, and unity of mind and heart. For myself, I was inspired by my experiences with meeting those on the margins during my high school years. When I came to Denver, I couldn’t help but notice the many people who are ostracized and I couldn’t help but feel a strong pull towards trying to help these people and get to know who they are as people. And I was reminded of the beautiful, joyful friendships I made with those on the margins back on the streets of Cleveland and I wanted to bring that opportunity for joy to my fellow peers at Regis.
Martinez: David told me about a class he had in high school where they would go downtown with his class and they would feed and talk with the homeless. I think, for me, it is important to have a world perspective where I don’t just hear one side, but I listen to all the people in my community. It feels good to give. When you give, you are receiving a lot more.
What do you do?
Mooney: We make food packages which consist of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a water bottle, a granola bar, and or a small bag of chips or vegetables. From Regis, we take the bus down to 16th street mall and civic center park. We make these packages in order to use to initiate conversation. It’s not about efficiency of how fast we hand out food or how much, but it is about conversations and friendships. We have something to offer in return. We ask their name, we get to know them deeper than a superficial level.
What has homeless outreach meant to you?
Martinez: It has meant seeing the realities of the world we live in. It has made me examine how blessed I am to be where I am.
What has been your most meaningful experience?
Mooney: Broadly speaking, it is always pretty amazing to see the transformation that Regis students go through as they realize stereotypical perceptions are inconsistent in that those who are experiencing homelessness are human beings just as much as they are. Every experience is different. Some homeless people may not say a word, but that doesn’t happen too often. Many of the people we meet have lots to say. One particular experience was with an elderly man who was probably in his 60s, whose name is Ron, and as we approached him and said, “Hello would you like something to eat?” He looked at us with a face of irritation and snapped back, “who are you what are you trying to sell?” To which we replied, “Oh no we are not trying to sell anything. We are just students from Regis University wants to help you out.” We engaged in conversation starting with small talk but quickly progressing to much more personal topics. He told us about his three kids, how they don’t know he is homeless, which for us, in a very real way, transcended the notion that homeless people are just shallow or lazy; we don’t think of these people as having families or kids. As we saw with Ron, and with many others, pride and independence constitute the majority of what little they have. Our hope is to unshroud their dignity that is inherited in every human being. At the end of our conversation with Ron, he smiled, looked at us, and asked, “Are you guys Christians?” To which we replied, “yes, we are.” To which he said, “keep doing what you are doing. We need more good Christians in the world.”
Martinez: Last time we went, a homeless woman who had been homeless for quite some time played us a song on her guitar. Also, recognizing in some of the people I meet that mental health is such a big issue here that people do not understand. Not just in a marginalized setting, even an excellent university like Regis people are struggling with mental health. On the street, people do what they can to survive.
What do you hope that the people who participate get out of this?
Mooney: Homeless people are everywhere, no matter where we go, we will always find those on the margins. But, while the homeless are seen, I found it quite difficult to find those who would be willing to commit to a program such as Labre. Over and over I have heard the same responses of “I have a test,” “I am busy, sorry,” or “no, I am not going” to our invitations of the opportunity to befriend those on the margins. I think that what makes it so hard for people (myself included) to follow through on helping the homeless is that a relationship such as that is one that is not a necessity, but rather, it is one that is formed through pure, selfless love.
Martinez: Compassion. When you begin to do downtown more frequently, you make connections with people. It brings a lot of joy in their day to see you, especially being youth. The fact that youth is leading something like this gives people hope.
Frances Meng-Frecker Staff Reporter