Do you phone a friend? Take a holiday? Book in to see a counsellor? Get a good night’s sleep and see how it all looks the next day? What do YOU do when the going gets tough? When life seems so hard you don’t know where to turn? Do you struggle on, putting a brave face on it, or break down in tears, or talk things through with your nearest and dearest?
Someone recently posted a story of a football team who came back from oblivion to win their league and asked “How do YOU overcome adversity”. At times life feels unbearably tough, it can be incredibly stressful and problems will sometimes feel insurmountable. Then relate our own situation, or that of the football team’s comeback, to a homeless person who is living in social oblivion. Faced with huge physical and mental hurdles, how can he even contemplate getting his life back, from his own point of desperation?
a difficult or unpleasant situation.“resilience in the face of adversity”
How can you possibly overcome adversity if you haven’t slept well, if you have no bathroom or bed, and you sleep outdoors in the wind, rain, cold, all elements. If can’t wash your face, body or hair, or shave, so you look unkempt, you smell pretty bad, yet you have no money to buy deodorant or soap. Your friends are tired of you sofa surfing, they’ve done their best but have their own lives to lead and there’s not much more they can do for you anyway. On top of which, someone stole your mobile phone (you can’t afford credit, you only used it for What’s App) and at knifepoint your documents were taken while you were trying to sleep. And then some passer-by in a smart outfit comes along and drops 20 cents onto you and says “Why don’t you just get a job?”
Helping a man, or woman, get back on their feet and off the street is a very complex issue, it needs deep understanding, a huge amount of patience, compassion and kindness. Helping people that feel so bad about themselves, who feel that no-one cares, no-one values them, no-one wants to show them any human affection, people who are often hugely embarrassed about their situation, and who may not speak to others for days, or weeks, on end.
Project Rome (http://www.project-rome.org) is devoted to helping people help themselves.
We have homeless men and women on our team of volunteers. They feel needed and valued. They unpack and repack our cars when we arrive with pans of hot food for our street service. They hand out bread, or serviettes, or serve the food to their fellow street-dwellers. They take plates of food to those who are less able. They pack up the rubbish, pour the drinks, carry the tables, set up the chairs. They are valued and needed.
We show our homeless friends genuine warmth and affection, we hug them, embrace them, kiss them, remember their names, make eye contact and smile. We show that we believe in them, that we want to give them the chance to help themselves.
As someone once said to Project Rome’s co-founder when he was homeless, “you are better than this”. In those few words, she showed absolute belief in him. He is now a partner in Project Rome, heading up the Project Rome House and helping others in a way that most people could not even contemplate. He is also one of the city’s best known faces of helping those living without shelter, food or comfort in our city.
When it comes to practical help, Project Rome offers homeless men the chance to shower, sleep and change their clothes, in The Project Rome House. We take in washing, clean it, fold it, pack it and deliver it.
We are the only organisation in Rome that does this. And we’re the only organisation in Rome that sets up tables and benches on the street for our guests to eat at in a sociable and comfortable way (just as you and I do). We serve the women and older people first, we help the less able to the tables and we hold their arms and guide them. We do the same for those who are drunk, or unsteady on their feet.
We never wear rubber gloves, because we clean our hands first, and we only ever have skin-to-skin contact. And eye contact.
We don’t hand out clothes and shoes unless they are pre-ordered by the intended recipients, giving the homeless a reason to come back, a purpose in life, and clothes that are chosen just for them.
We cut hair and shave beards. We touch people’s hair and skin to make a genuine human connection with them. We rub cream into the cracks on their weathered hands. We buy pain relief creams for those whose joints and muscles ache. We listen when people tell us that life is hard.
There are many Project Rome differences and possibly the most notable is that we never serve pasta and tomato sauce. Serving a dish of tepid pasta in processed tomato says that “we have cooked for you the cheapest and simplest meal we could”, it infers, that’s what they are worth, a cheap meal that we threw together in volume.
Instead we buy 10 fresh vegetables, the formerly homeless guys at the House chop and prep them, and we cook a delicious stew with them, adding fresh good quality beef, beans, lentils, other pulses, and flavouring. And we serve it with rice and potatoes cooked in the oven and sprinkled with olive oil and salt. The potatoes also keep cold hands warm. The guys we serve love them and can’t get enough.
Why do we do this? Because the people we help “are better than this”… they are better than the life they have been driven to and we recognise and value this and we won’t stop until others recognise it too.
A very long reply to what initially seems a very simple question. Please ask your friends the same question. “How do you overcome adversity” and share this on Facebook and wherever else we can encourage a discussion of this very human topic.
And please hit our donate button to set up a regular monthly donation, because a small gesture from you will help us to do things like cook more of our nutritious meals, rent apartments, pay for phone credit… it will make a big difference to us being able to help others.
Co-founder Project Rome, with Steven Barnes.