Listening to those without homes

By Meggie Girardi, '10  |  Cover photo by Mo Riza

I did quite a bit of talking at Loyola. I led Evergreen groups, I ventured into the Center for Community Service and Justice to mingle with friends, and I discussed Relay for Life all year long.

In my everyday life at Loyola, I seemed to jump at the chance to speak. But when, if ever, did I truly listen?

Over the last five years, since my graduation from Loyola, I have been working with people who are homeless. And, believe it or not, listening has become the most important aspect of my career as a social worker.

Opening a door

“Our capacity to listen puts us in contact with the wider dimensions of the world in which we live. It lets us connect to it. Listening can open in us a door, a greater sense of participation in the world,” W. Isaacs writes in Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together: A Pioneer Approach to Communication in Business and Life.

I learned early on during my studies at Loyola to be curious and to ask deeper than surface-level questions. If we continue to question ourselves and others, we continue to grow as informed and reflective individuals. And so I’ve spent a fair amount of time questioning my passion and my career path working with individuals who are without homes: Why do women not feel safe living in co-ed shelters? Why is it so challenging for an individual with a felony to reintegrate into society? Why do homeless veterans make up between 10 and 20 percent of the homeless population in the United States?

Questioning is not good enough if we don’t truly listen to the answers.

Deserving a sense of home

Working with the oppressed, marginalized, and stigmatized members of our society requires me to listen to the women who have experienced domestic violence and are survivors; to the inmate who came out on furlough for two weeks and found a job; to the veterans who have seen atrocities and need time and support to heal.

I am humbled by the number of connections and interactions I have been privileged to have with other human beings.

The individuals I work with are not people without. In fact, they are people with so much—so much personality, life experience, joy, pain, humility, and courage. Still, they lack a roof over their heads, and they are human beings who deserve their own sense of home.

And while the concept of home is vast, the concept of homeless is unimaginable and complicated for most.

The idea of a person being without a home in the western world view often means social exclusion or marginalization.

Homelessness is commonly referred to with words like rootlessness, rooflessness, placelessness, centerlessness, dislocation, transient, pavement dwellers, squatters, displacement, diasporic living, and being houseless. These conventional definitions of “homeless” do not define the people I work with. These words are negative descriptions. They discount the humanity of the individuals.

The Loyola core values of social justice and focusing on the whole person, discernment, and the constant challenge to improve continue to survive in my daily practice—if I am willing and able to listen.

A valuable gift

It is a conscious and continuous process for me to realize that listening is the most valuable gift I can give. It requires effort, honesty, and ingenuity.

The Ignatian way challenges us to be uncomfortable. We need to listen not only to the words, but to the silence—to what is left unspoken in our society about the very real and widespread issue of homelessness.

To be present with another human being is a true test of ourselves and our society in how we view individuals with homes compared to those without homes. I believe how well we ascribe to the art of listening will ultimately lead us to end the cycle of homelessness.


Originally from Delaware, Meggie Girardi graduated from Loyola in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies and Art History. She joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, working for two years at a homeless shelter in Missoula, Mont. Today she is a case manager at the Poverello Center, which provides education, advocacy, and services to improve the stability and well-being of people struggling with poverty in Missoula. She is additionally pursuing a master’s degree in social work at the University of Montana.

Read other stories from Loyola’s home issue here.

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