Senior lacrosse player offers food and friendship to Baltimore residents experiencing homelessness
Every Tuesday evening, after lacrosse practice, T.J. Harris, '13, meets some of his men’s lacrosse teammates and Jimmy Bahr, '13, and Mike Wroblewski, '13. They fill Harris's car with food and head onto the Jones Falls Expressway to drive downtown.
It’s all part of what Rev. Jack Dennis, S.J., called "Homeless Hookups, Part II." Fr. Dennis was director of Campus Ministry at Loyola until he left this summer to lead Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis. Harris got involved in the project three years ago because Fr. Dennis asked him to help, and helps coordinate it every week.
"My freshman year a couple of the seniors (on the lacrosse team) mentioned that they were going downtown and asked if I wanted to go. I thought why not, I’ll just go down," said Harris, who came to Loyola from Crofton, Md. "It’s changed over the years. Early on we used to assemble 30 care packages with toiletries, toilet paper, and some of the stuff that the guys need down there that they don’t necessarily have access to. But last year we brought food instead."
The food was popular—and needed. But as important as providing food, Harris says, is spending time with the people the students meet and listening to their stories. Harris knows many of the men already, but when he sees a new face, he introduces himself.
"You just go down there and say, 'Hey, tell me your story,'" he said. He finds people are eager to talk—and the stories can be surprising. "Sometimes a simple little mistake is a 25-year process trying to fix it."
Harris, who plays defense for the Greyhounds, didn’t always understand how to speak with people who were experiencing homelessness. "The first time I went down I was kind of shell-shocked," he said. "It was just a huge wake-up call. It's something I had never seen. I have lived a privileged life with a nice family growing up, going to a private high school in D.C."
He found himself thinking back to a social justice course he took in high school where the teacher encouraged students to acknowledge people asking for assistance, even if they didn’t give them money.
And so he stops to talk. "You can sit there and talk to the guy for a half an hour and maybe you’ll never see him again," said Harris. "You can see it just makes a lot bigger difference than just telling them to take this and be on your way."
As Harris has gotten to know the regular visitors, some have become his friends. A few of the men who no longer need the food and resources he and the other students deliver to the site still come to greet him on Tuesday nights.
"The cool thing about it is the guys I met my freshman year who have been able to clean themselves up and have found jobs and found affordable housing. They are no longer living on the street, but they still come down there every Tuesday," Harris said.
Harris leaves tickets for them at the ticket window at the Ridley Athletic Complex. They take the light rail up to the game, walk up to the stadium, and sit with Harris’s parents and four siblings.
"They’ve made a lot of friends over the years, coming to the tailgates afterwards," said Harris. And when the men’s lacrosse team won the NCAA Championship in May, he heard from those friends in Baltimore.
"I got a few voice mails from a couple of them after the game going crazy," Harris said.
Last year when Fr. Dennis went with the students on Tuesday nights, he would invite the group to form a prayer circle. Hearing the prayers was eye-opening for Harris.
"They’re thanking God for allowing them to see another day, for their ability to walk and use their limbs, for their mental and physical health. They’re praying for people who don’t have it as good as them," he said. "They have hardly anything to their name, but they’re still thinking of others. Then you walk around campus and hear kids complain that they drank too much last night or they have too much schoolwork to do. Even for my team, we have a hard day at practice, we have a hard run, and then you think of these guys who would just love to get to do what we do. I guarantee that any of the guys would love to complain about having too much schoolwork to do."