“If you need it in your house, we need it in our house times nine.”
– Sister Maureen, Executive Director of the Dorothy Day House
If you live in Memphis, chances are you have driven by the Dorothy Day House (DDH) many times without even realizing it. The three houses that make up the DDH—– Dorothy’s House, Joseph’s House, and Loretta’s House—are not outwardly labeled. They look like exactly what they are: homes for families. As Sister Maureen, Executive Director of the DDH, so beautifully describes it, these houses serve as homes for regular families who have hit a bump in life.
The Dorothy Day House provides temporary housing and support services for homeless families in Memphis. Inspired by the vision and passion of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement, the Dorothy Day House creates a supportive environment to build trust, hope, and confidence within the residents. In partnership with other local agencies, DDH staff members and volunteers provide families in need with a safe living environment and the means to re-establish their independence.
Within the Dorothy Day House community, a key focus is calling these living spaces “home” and assuring that they feel like home. With that comes all the usual attributes, tasks, and needs that go along with having a home. Residents are responsible for their own cooking, laundry, and basic cleaning, which helps provide the families a strong sense of independence. That autonomy is coupled with support in areas like grocery gift cards, transportation, tutoring, assistance finding and maintaining a job, and more. The DDH model of housing families together is unfortunately rare, as traditional shelters are often unable to keep families together.
The Dorothy Day House understands that thinking about how to help those experiencing homelessness can feel overwhelming. For many, the first step is to learn about homelessness in Memphis. The Dorothy Day House offers online resources for those looking to begin the conversation and increase awareness of homelessness in Memphis. In addition, DDH Lunch & Learns offer interested guests a chance to tour one of their houses, hear about the origin of the organization, and learn how to get involved.
While the work DDH does is immense, some of the strain is alleviated with the help of volunteers. One great way you can get involved is to donate household items, because as Sister Maureen said, “If you need it in your house, we need it in our house times nine.” DDH puts out a weekly Wednesday Wishlist to encourage folks to donate needed items. With multiple families staying in each of the three houses and with all basic supplies coming from the Dorothy Day House itself, it’s not hard to imagine the ongoing—and growing—need for donations.
On-site volunteers can also make a big difference. Volunteers might lend a hand with last-minute babysitting requests, tutoring or mentoring for the residents in school, maintenance or housework, deep cleaning, moving a family into a new home, or other tasks that arise. Sister Maureen said it best: “If you have a special skill, we need you.” Whether you are taking steps to learn about family homelessness, teaching children about homelessness, or are ready to start volunteering, the Dorothy Day House has a way for you to stay connected.
How to get involved and stay connected to the Dorothy Day House:
Dannon Thornton is the Director of Community Engagement at Volunteer Odyssey. She graduated from the University of Memphis where she spent lots of time falling in love with the city through volunteering. You can contact her at email@example.com.