Column: Nothing but a shoulder to cry on

by Jan Lewis

I recently shared with you the story of Shalom House, a place of respite and peace that serves as an emergency shelter to homeless men in Kansas City, Kan.

As hard as it is to believe, these men are the lucky ones: They have a place to go. The two young women that I met last week are not so lucky.

Sandy and Louisa are both seventeen years old and seniors in high school. They make straight A’s and have dreams of going on to college. Louisa has been accepted to Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kan., and Sandy is hoping to apply to UMKC after attending the Fire Academy. But these two young women face overwhelming hurdles in achieving their dreams because they are teen mothers and they are homeless.

Louisa ran away from her California home at age 15 and has been living with a boyfriend. Her son, nine months old, attends Catholic Charities’ St. Benedict’s Early Childhood Education Center in Kansas City, Kan., while Louisa finishes high school. Sandy, whose daughter is four months old and also at St. Ben’s, is currently sheltering with an aunt while she finishes her high school education.

Louisa’s relationship with the boyfriend is unraveling and she has concerns about her safety and her baby’s. But at seventeen, there is no out. A cry for help would mean both she and the baby going into foster care, and the odds of her getting her baby back when she turns eighteen this summer are zero.

Sandy’s stay with the aunt is only temporary until she turns eighteen this spring, when she plans to “go out on her own”. But where do you go when you don’t have a job and you have an infant to care for? And what happens to the dreams of college and a better life for you and your baby?

While Catholic Charities has Shalom House for men, we have nothing to offer these young women but a shoulder to cry on. And cry they did this past week, and I cried with them. Some days it seems so overwhelming — the needs that we can’t serve. And those are the days that I have to remember that even if I don’t have a plan, God does. I may not understand it, but I have to continue to have faith and to encourage faith and hope in those that we cannot help.

As I drove home from my encounter with Louisa and Sandy, it occurred to me that while Catholic Charities couldn’t offer shelter, perhaps I as a Christian could. Perhaps it is time for each of us to open our doors and respond to Jesus’ words: “I was a stranger and you took me in.”

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