JOURNEY INTO HOSPITALITY
Part 2 of 3
PUTTING POHL TO THE TEST. My consent to lead a homeless day center in a relocation and rebirth of its services in 2000 coincided with a friend recommending Christine Pohl’s book, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. Whatever had ignited and fueled my fascination with hospitality as an alternative in compassionate care found roots, form, and flower in Pohl’s careful research and caring call for a recovery of hospitality not just in congregational life, but in the broader social service system. I decided to put Pohl’s approach to the test, hinging my leadership and the effectiveness of our organization helping neighbors end their homelessness on hospitality.
STRENGTHS-BASED AND HOSPITALITY-FOCUSED. As I rebooted the organization, one staff member and volunteer at a time, I seeded the concept of hospitality at every level. I did not have to sell it; when I explained the approach, it was usually readily recognized as a legitimate and liberating alternative to standard professional practice. The fact that Pohl’s book was also coinciding with a major shift in social work practice to a “strengths-based” approach was helpful. Social workers were beginning to be trained to look for and value a “client’s” strengths, capabilities, assets, etc. over their vulnerabilities. So, it was easier for me to help them see the stranger coming through the door as a gift-bearer, to make room for them, to anticipate their process of recovery in the context of hospitality, and be open to receive the gifts they had to offer.
TESTED EARLY AND OFTEN. As Horizon House opened its doors in a new facility adjacent to downtown Indy in 2001, our intentional expressions of hospitality instead of merely providing services were tested early and often. The old approaches were easier, quicker, and apparently safer. I found that I needed to persistently reinforce the concept and keep teaching and training staff and volunteers in the primary approach and practices of hospitality. I dared them to be different than other homeless-serving organizations. I challenged the entire city to say “homeless neighbor” instead of the usual labels, believing that our very language bears images into which we live. I felt we might have turned a corner in the broader community when I heard our mayor begin to use the term “homeless neighbor” routinely.
CRITICAL OUTCOMES. Within a year our outcomes in percentages of guests who were no longer homeless, who were working, and who were reporting an increase in their quality of life were slightly better than other homeless-serving organizations in the city. After two years, our hospitality-based outcomes were distinctive. This trend has continued in subsequent years.
WHAT ARE ITS POSSIBILITIES? But hospitality is neither easy nor automatic. It flies in the face of the vast majority of service-focused organizations. Can it be sustained? Will it be supported? Can it move to scale without losing its distinctives?
To be continued...