It is Superbowl Sunday at our Ready to Work House. Residents, staff, family and friends gather to cheer on the local team. There is a sea of blue and orange in the dining room – sweatshirts to cup cakes to banners. There is a feast of pizza and wings and more soda than you could ever want. The spirits are high and the mood is electric. In short – your everyday, regular Superbowl Sunday.
Yet, most of the people in the room were homeless last Superbowl so this party and a Broncos win means far more to them than your average fan.
Many people who have been homeless say the toughest thing about living on the street is not the streets themselves. Rather the hardest thing is losing your humanity. The de-humanization that comes with the way you have to humble yourself to access services, the way people turn their gaze away from you when you walk by, the way you try to cover your odor in a public place, the way you feel invisible in broad daylight. The loss of dignity and self-esteem can be far more damaging than the loss of tangible resources. It is also much harder to build back.
So, how do we re-humanize people? Bridge House programs have a simple philosophy – treat people like people. We want to be everything a client doesn’t expect. At Ready to Work, we build self-esteem through giving our trainees the respect they deserve, by setting expectations, and through trust. We cannot run our social enterprises without their hard work and dedication and they know it. We trust them to make good choices and are there to guide them when the going gets tough.
It is not what we do, but how we do it. Our culture is subtle. Our culture is powerful.
The Broncos rise to the championship this season offered a narrative for our Ready to Work trainees to follow and for the House to rally around. From the start of the season to last Sunday, the competition around football teams provided a platform for relationships. Residents and staff alike could relate on an even playing field, bantering about their favorite teams and feeling the highs and lows that come with sports. In our weekly house meeting, the Broncos and their rivals offered a chance for program leadership (our Director, Widd, is a Raiders fan) to show vulnerability and humor.
Football, and in particular the Broncos’ turn around mid-season, offered a chance to delve into deeper issues. It wasn’t more than a couple of years ago star player Von Miller was suspended for substance abuse and early in the season no one thought Peyton Manning would play at a championship level again. These are the stories that provide hope and humanize the experiences our trainees face in their own lives. The humor and humility around taking in a pie in the face when your favorite team loses sets a tone – one that we are all equal. Working in tandem the stories of redemption and the community built around sports have helped set the House culture. You don’t need to be a football fan to see it.
Isabel McDevitt – Executive Director