A Community of Radical Welcome

By Schroeder Stribling, N Street Village Executive Director

On Tuesday, February 21st, I was delighted to welcome clergy and lay leaders from a variety of faith communities around D.C. to N Street Village for an Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, co-hosted by Luther Place Memorial Church.  It was my pleasure to express our gratitude to our guests from Jewish, Muslim, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, and Lutheran congregations – all of whom are cherished partners who have helped to create and sustain the mission of N Street Village – to talk with them about the impact of our interfaith collaboration, and to invite them deeper into partnership with us as we look to the journey ahead.

As we approach the 40th anniversary of our mission next year, N Street Village has become a crucial part of the fabric of social welfare for vulnerable women in our region.  In 2012, we will serve approximately 1,000 homeless and low-income women.  Over the course of this year, more than 175 women will find safe housing in one of our five residential programs. These women and hundreds more will also access a full spectrum of supportive services here.

The challenges facing the women that we serve are steep. Of the 950 that women we served last year, almost all were coping with housing and/or income crises. The median income of the women we serve is under 300 dollars a month, and a third of our clients report no income at all – this in a city where fair market rent for an apartment is over $1,100 per month.  Additionally, 88% of the women at N Street Village last year were coping with a mental health problem, addiction, or both; 88% were survivors of trauma; almost 10% were HIV+; 78% were managing multiple or chronic health conditions; and 70% were over age 40 – complicating the picture for them significantly related to employment, income and health.

But what has been created here at N Street Village through the inspired collaboration of our interfaith partners and other supporters is a small sign of hope for the broken world around us. Thanks to our supporters’ energy, commitment, and “faith-in-action,” N Street Village is a community of truly radical welcome, where we witness moments of healing and justice each day, in ways both small and large.

Take, for example, the exchange I watched a few weeks ago. An older African American woman – almost a year sober and living in our shelter – was trying to teach a recently homeless younger white woman with a significant physical disability to crochet.  They had just met in the Tuesday afternoon knitting circle. As they worked, the younger woman was complaining to Cheryl (as I will call her) like a teenage daughter would to a demanding mother – her hands shook, she couldn’t do it, and she didn’t want to keep trying.  Cheryl would not let her quit. She firmly and lovingly pressured her to keep going and she guided her hands directly until finally the stitch caught.  She had done it, she COULD do it. They laughed together in relief and in acknowledgement of the spark of a new relationship that bridged the many differences that might otherwise divide them.   A million moments like this weave together here each day – creating a community of loving-kindness and mutuality that expresses the inclusive hospitality at the heart of our mission.

Again, I want to express my gratitude to all who stand in solidarity with our mission – and especially to our many partners from the glorious variety of faith communities that have a hand in our daily life and work.  I am grateful for your contributions to N Street Village and also for all of the other social justice work that you carry out in our region. We look forward to our continued collaboration and to the opportunity to stay vigilant together in pursuing a shared vision for justice and healing in our city.