The Dream Which Became a Reality
Dreams can become reality, especially when they are designed to share the love of Christ with others. Emmaus House/Harlem was founded upon just such a dream. The dream of one man, to create a community for the homeless men and women of New York City, by living Christian lives while serving and caring for others.
The Rev. David Kirk, a longtime presence in the anti-war and civil rights movements throughout the Southern United States, had realized that the city’s dormitory style shelters and soup kitchens were not the solution to integrating the homeless back into society. Father David dreamed of alternatives that would not create increased dependency and long-term homelessness, but instead, help the homeless help themselves.
The Dream begins
In the late 1960s, Father David took over an abandoned four-story brownstone at 160 W 120th street in East Harlem. He soon learned of a mother and child who were thrown out of their home in the dead of winter, and Father David welcomed them into the brownstone. That same day, an elderly gentleman left his apartment building because there was no heat, and he too was welcomed into the newly formed community. Emmaus House was born.
The Dream takes shape
While Emmaus House was located in one of the poorest parts of Manhattan, the community was modeled on the Emmaus movement established in France to aid the poor after World War II. The idea was simple: create a community that could restore the belief of trusting in one another, help those in need, and serve as a “Parliament for the Poor,” to speak on their behalf in order to better their lives.
The Emmaus Way of Life enables residents to rediscover their faith and hope through spirituality, while living a life that is scripture based: “feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, clothing the poor, and caring for the sick and imprisoned.” In return for the love and support they received when welcomed into the community, residents were encouraged to share that same love and support with others in need.
The Dream requires hard work
The challenges of life can make it very difficult for individuals to make a fresh start, especially when homeless or struggling with addictions. To help the transition for new Emmaus House residents, each are welcomed into the community without any reservation or judgment. They usually arrive homeless and jobless, must commit to being drug and alcohol free, and be willing to build a new life that involves a concern for those still on the streets. In return, each resident is provided with a furnished room to share, three meals a day, and the support and encouragement of the Emmaus community to improve their lives. The year-long commitment creates opportunities to develop the skills and work habits required to succeed in society. Residents are provided with 35 hours of work a week, first within the community and later, outside employment opportunities. Eventually, residents “graduate” to independent living.
The Dream makes an impact
To find new values beyond the domination of drugs and quick money, Emmaus provides resources and referrals for counseling, therapy, and educational advancement. Spiritual guidance and support is offered by local Orthodox clergy who routinely visit Emmaus House. Each person works on a given plan based on their individual needs, from basic reading to college level courses, and drug counseling to job counseling.
Emmaus House has empowered countless people to change their lives. The impact of the Emmaus community is limitless because it bears witness to Christ’s teaching to love one another. The homeless men and women of Emmaus House live and work together to help each other, while caring for those still caught in poverty and life on the streets. Self-respect is nurtured within the Emmaus family. With self-respect comes trust, and members of Emmaus House develop the skills to listen first without judging anyone, learning the importance of accepting people.
The Dream flourishes
When Emmaus residents break free from the cycles of poverty, they discover a new way of life. The community prays for a better life and struggles each day to live a Christian lifestyle. What was expressed in scripture becomes reality at Emmaus House. Residents care and support those in need through its outreach services: the food pantry, its clothing pantry, and the traveling kitchen. Their witness is an example for all of us, reminding us of how a community becomes family when they care and love for one another. Emmaus House residents learn to live simply so others may simply live.
The Dream lives on
While Father David Kirk fell asleep in the Lord from kidney failure in May 2007, his dream of a caring community for the homeless lives on today. Residents still live as a family, sharing common meals and work, showing the same love and mutual respect which Father David shared with them. Former residents maintain their promise and commitment to help those who still struggle with life on the street. Every day, more local clergy and faithful from the Metropolitan area learn of the Emmaus House mission and begin helping to provide encouragement, meals, education, and support to those in need. And as long as there are men, women, and children who are homeless and poor in New York City, the work of Emmaus House/Harlem will continue.
To find out more about Emmaus House, please go to: http://www.emmaushouse-harlem.org/