My Year at JOIN

By Lindsay Rundquist

I have been putting off writing this post, as the topic is encompassed perfectly in the cliché “words cannot describe”. We’ll start with JOIN as a culture. The individuals on staff here are some of the most compassionate, accepting, hilarious, FUN people I’ve ever met. You would be hard pressed to find another more unique group of human beings who are so good at what they do.

JOIN’s philosophy is “we don’t have all the answers”, which is a tough find in the social work world. Every day at JOIN was a matter of reflection—and a lot of the time you’re wrong! This is what makes it beautiful though—all of us are trying to figure life out, whether we’re on the streets or in a position of “authority”. We’re humans working with humans.

In that, there was obviously a lot of conflict to deal with on a daily basis. In a way, I liked getting my hands a little dirty and trying to work through these conflicts because it’s real. People come in to the day space and their daily—their minute to minute stressers from the street, explode over the peanut butter jar. And so really, we can intervene and maybe stop a fist fight from occurring in that moment, but there is little or no affective intervention on the street.

One of my most profound moments occurred very early on, when I had several extra tickets to the symphony. Daniel(JOIN’s Immersion Coordinator) and I offered the tickets to a few of our folks. When we walked to our seats that night we saw “James” already sitting down, reading the program. We hadn’t really expected him to come, but certainly hoped he would! It was the Oregon Symphony’s Christmas show, and during the final number I looked over to see James’ eyes watering, and a “smile the size of Texas” on his face(as one of our old time regulars would say). As we were walking out amidst the ridiculous display of wealth and class, I asked James if he had enjoyed the show(as frankly, I had found a few of the pieces amazingly boring). He began to cry, said it was wonderful, gave us hugs, and jetted out the side door.

I realized then that I had invited him to a nice, warm musical evening, and then sent him back into the winter streets to sleep. This was a tough thing to grapple with, as I’ve grown up going to the symphony and not thinking twice about it. Now when I travel downtown for a show, that experience with James is very much present. Doing outreach with Quinn and Lio in that area also has caused me to take a look around when I’m heading to a bar on Saturday night, and that amazing view of downtown from the Marquam Bridge holds different meaning.I learned later that the other individual I invited to the symphony showed up outside the Schnitz, saw the crowd, was keenly aware of his homeless status, and left.

The thing I will remember most about JOIN though, is how much I laughed—how much fun I had. Through the chaos, emotionality, and authority I often had to exert, I just had a good time! Some pretty outrageous things happened in the day space, and it wasn’t hard to keep a sense of humor about it all.

The friendships I formed at JOIN, both with staff and our folks, will be with me the rest of my life, along with the wealth of knowledge I gained from this invaluable experience. JOIN has certainly rocked my views of social work, relationships, and how I view life, so the transition from here will be a little rocky! But in the best way possible. Thanks JOIN! I love you! 🙂