A community of hope for homeless young adults
Ron seems right at home. The young man sits at a side table with his shoes kicked off working a puzzle. Sister of Providence Corbin Hannah sits across from him. As they work the puzzle and chat, Sister Corbin asks about records Ron needs to apply for jobs. She helps him track down the needed phone number.
Safe Place Services of Louisville, a day shelter for homeless young adults, lives up to its name. It’s not everywhere that homeless young people can let their guard down, kick off their shoes and feel at home. It’s not everywhere they can find private showers, clothing, a personal locked cubby to store belongings, a warm meal and a loving and accepting community of people.
Making things happen
At the hub of this drop-in day shelter for youth and young adults is 34-year-old Sister Corbin Hannah. As youth development coordinator, she offers life skills programming. And, due to federal funding cuts, she pretty much runs the center with help from part-time staff and students.
During the four days a week the center is open, she stops whatever she is doing and greets each client as they arrive. If they are new, she shows them around and makes them feel comfortable. Just before noon she goes to the youth shelter next door to pick up a hot lunch to serve the clients, sitting down to eat with them. She connects clients with resources, oversees the peer-mentor and intern, organizes volunteers, and just hangs out with the people who stop in.
The streets and adult homeless shelters can be dangerous for young people. They are vulnerable to being preyed on by labor and sex traffickers, among other threats. They need this safe place.
Ron, who is spending much of his day at the center, says he’s gotten lots of help here. Help setting up doctor’s appointments and court dates, help getting a license and a Social Security card. Food, clothing, shelter, access to a washer and dryer. Right now Corbin is helping him put in applications to get a job.
“I actually like Corbin,” Ron says. “She’s cool, nice, calm, respectful, joyful. She’s not like any other person you have ever known. She’s a uniqua,” he says.
Help for those discriminated against
To watch Sister Corbin in her ministry is to see a person in her element. She is a perfect fit for this job.
It was a desire to care for and support LGBTQ youth that initially brought her to Safe Place, she said.
“A disproportionate number of young people who are homeless or runaways identify as LGBTQ. Depending on where you take the studies, it can be anywhere from 20 to 40 percent,” Sister Corbin said.
Years ago she worked at a residential treatment facility for youth in Indianapolis. She realized how broken systems were for the youth there. Even more so for LGBTQ youth.
“These particular youth were facing even more stressors of discrimination and intolerance, even within systems that are supposed to help them. And they were already at a really rough place in their lives to experience even more of that,” she said.
She certainly has found people who need that support here. After a program, a client hangs back. After others have cleared out, the client pulls Corbin aside. She tells her how she is feeling mad at God as she struggles with her mom trying to dissuade her sexual orientation. Corbin listens, offering meaningful support.
Love, opportunity and growth
“I want to be a part of a community that welcomes and embraces and loves and provides opportunity for hope to grow. There are a lot of young people who come in here and identify in various ways. It’s really important for me to show them that I respect them and I will support them, whoever they are. I realize they have a bunch of different barriers facing them, and I help them navigate those in their lives.”
Sister Corbin says her model in this is Jesus. He reached out to people who were treated as outcasts in their society and created community with them.
A loving community
The community she is helping to create here is warm, loving, unique.
“This place is special because regardless who comes in here, no matter what they look like, they open their hands and offer all they have,” a client who goes by K.B says.
K.B. says Corbin helped get needed therapy, a support group and a job. K.B. is now housed and doing well. Today K.B. returns to give back, volunteering with a book program that helps support the center.
“I enjoy giving back. This place really helped me a lot,” K.B. says.
Sister Corbin finds deep meaning in bringing hope and practical support to her clients.
“Most of the young people who come in here don’t have a support system. They don’t have people they can call if they are in a rut, or if they need an extra hundred dollars to cover their rent. Part of that has led to their becoming homeless. For whatever reason, whether their family was experiencing homelessness before, or there’s conflict in the family and they got kicked out, more than likely their path into homelessness was very traumatic. A lot of times they experienced abuse. And now that they are homeless, it’s a whole new traumatic experience. They are just dealing with a lot and if you don’t have a support system that can hold you during those times and help you figure your way out, it is pretty easy to despair and become depressed.”
Sister Corbin becomes a part of the support system they need.
“Sometimes I feel like I carry hope for them when they can’t,” Corbin says. “When they are in a place where they don’t see a way out, I carry that for them until they can carry it on their own. I say, ‘I see a way out, stick with me, we’ll do this together.’ I show them possibilities and options and I offer them care and support.”
What strengthens her in this sometimes trying ministry? It’s her grounding in prayer and in the community of the Sisters of Providence, she says.
“As a sister, I have freedom that a lot of other people don’t. I have the freedom to be focused on this ministry and to be available to the young people here. Not just timewise, but also relationship-wise. I have the space in my heart to love them. We all have a certain amount of love we can
give — I don’t have that reserved for a family. I would say that is the vow of chastity. I said no to marriage, but what I really was saying yes to was being able to be available to those people who need me. To share my love with many more people.”