A Place at the Table

Conversation with John McKnight, Peter Block and Guest Edd Conboy

TalkShoe Radio  ~  August 8, 2015

Peter: I met Edd Conboy about three years ago when I was a guest at a daylong conference and I was able to get a sense of the ministry that he was involved in. I want to read you something that caught my eye after I met him. This is from an article on his work that we posted in April 2013:

When Ed Conboy took over orchestrating the Breaking Bread meals at Broad Street Ministry in Philadelphia, he focused on developing as many ways as possible to counteract the constant messages about scarcity that the guests, they call them guests instead of members, the guests encountered each and every day, like having to stand in line. The constant lining up for this service or that program is one of the most powerful reinforcer of the scarcity mindset. Lines are also a symbol of political imbalance. The wealthy do not wait in line. They have reserved first-class seats and priority access. Having to stand in line symbolizes helplessness, hopelessness and the constant concern that there is not enough. That it will run out just before it is my turn. Edd did something about that.

Then the article goes on, but we have Edd right here. So, Edd welcome.

When I read that it was a wakeup call to me. Could you introduce yourself to the listeners and talk a little bit about your work: what led up to it and what you are up to these days?

Edd: I would be happy to. We have a number of different services for our guests on Broad Street in Philadelphia. We are right on the Avenue of the Arts if anyone is familiar with Philadelphia and right in Center City. It is an old Presbyterian Church, though our program is quite secular. We still share many of the values of some of the early congregants.

I guess the cornerstone of our service offering is our Breaking Bread meal that you talked about and we have actually transformed the sanctuary, which was very large and old prominent church. We took all the pews out and put in tables and chairs. About two hundred people come and sit at round tables, with tablecloths and regular dinnerware and silverware. We try to use as few disposable things as possible because we think that gives a message to our guests that they are not disposable. We really want them to have a feeling of being included and being part of something that is vital and vibrant. So, we don’t work on a soup kitchen model. Our focus is on the dining room and not the kitchen. Actually our guests never see the kitchen; it’s in the back. The food is really not our central focus. Our central focus is on hospitality. We have a hospitality model and we think that radical hospitality leads to radical change.

Our volunteers come and serve our guests tableside; there is no standing in line for a meal and there is no cafeteria style service. Our sense is that many of our folks are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity or food insecurity, and often living on the streets. We have a sense that they have essentially forgotten who they are. We really want to have a place and engagement where they can remember who they are and that they are vital members of our society and culture; that they matter and that we care about them; and that we notice them and we want to address the chronic problem of scarcity in all of its forms.

Peter:  That is stunning to me, Edd, to take something so concrete: the idea that there’s no disposable silverware because people are not disposable. You are offering people the notion that they are permanent and that they are here and that this is a meal of remembrance, which is remembering themselves.

Just to stay with that, everybody is fed at the same time, aren’t they? Are there other things that occur during the meal?

Edd: Well, technically we have room for 186 of our guests. The room could hold 500 if we had long, rectangular tables, if the focus was just on the food and the meal itself. But the meal is really about the hospitality and so we are using round tables and limiting the number of people, which really does create a sense of spaciousness because social space is another thing our guests have a scarcity of. So, social friction is a concern.

We count numbers very carefully and we see the trends. The number of guests that we have will vary from 20 to 25 percent from the beginning of the month to the end of the month because of the benefits that have been cut over the years. On average our guests with SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] benefits have been cut by about four meals a month, so those folks will show up later in the month. Then, we have more folks that come in than we can feed immediately, but we still don’t have lines or tickets.

Our founder said very clearly,  “If we ever have meal tickets I want to shut the place down because that is not what we do.” So, my challenge has always been to not have meal tickets or that kind of numbering system. Instead, we have a host or hostess to meet our guests, greet them, and take down their name. Then we have a second seating area where they can see the meal being served. As people are leaving, we have people busing the tables. Then we go up to someone who is waiting and say, “Peter, your table is ready.” We take them to their place at a table rather than having them stand in line worrying that they are not going to be seated. That way, we are giving our guests the assurance that when it is their turn they will have a place.

So, the tables are constantly turning over.  The reason it works now is because our guests trust that our kitchen will never run out of food, and we never do. In the early days our guests would come in at the very beginning of the meal. For lunch they would come in at 11:45 to be first in line and the first to be served because they were afraid that we would run out. Now more than half of our guests will come in after the meal has begun, which is very gratifying for us because now it is embedded in the culture that they do not have to come and stand outside beforehand to be first in line. They can come a half hour after the meal has begun knowing that there will be a place for them at the table. That is really why it works because there is constant turnover and the immediate rush is not there like it might be at some other places where you see people standing outside for quite sometime.

John: You have created an environment that has the message of hospitality. You had people who once stood in line who are now sitting at a friendly table. Do you see any effect on the people who are at the tables now? What happens in this kind of setting compared to what it might have been like standing in a cafeteria line?

Edd: There are a couple of things that happen at the tables and we try to learn from our guests who are wonderful teachers for us if we just pay attention. They make good decisions in some very difficult situations.

What we find is not dissimilar to what my parents used to experience as they got older and they would go to McDonald’s on different days. We have guests who sit at different tables on different days and they have different communities they meet with on Thursdays or on Mondays. There is that sense of community and diversity.

To speak directly to your question, there is a certain amount of time it takes — and we are never sure how long it will take — for our guests to become acclimated to the way we do things. For one thing, they are used to standing in line everywhere else. So, for some of our guests it can be a little disconcerting, especially the first time they walk into the room. It is quite a large sanctuary. We have the round tables and we have music playing. There is artwork around. It is quite a scene sometimes and that can be a little disturbing for some of our folks. There are people who come in for the first time and, at that moment, they stop and their eyes get as big as saucers.  They want to know where they are supposed to sit and what they are supposed to do. We make sure we go over and talk to them; we tell them they can sit anywhere they like and it is often a little bit discerning at first.

We are also more and more aware of the folks we call returning citizens, people who are leaving prisons. For them we have to be very careful because too many choices can also be traumatic because they have been in situations where their choices have been severely limited. Now here we are, giving them choices like they can sit anywhere they want or anytime they want. We try to work with them on those kinds of things, to reassure them it is okay and that they are going to be all right. We are learning from them to how to engage with them in ways that is truly hospitable.

So, hospitality is a very dynamic engagement. It is not the same for everyone. In fact, we have to be really aware of what is truly hospitable in that context. It takes constant learning on our part to see what radical hospitality means to that person who is walking into the room, and not necessarily what it means to me theoretically, but how it is implemented in the moment.

John: That is a wonderful point of realization. A restaurant probably does not have that kind of sensitivity, but you add to the traditional hospitality of recognition of the distinctness of each person and you are addressing that as well.

Edd: That is our aspiration. This is not new. We always like to think that we are the latest thing. The Benedictines have been doing this for centuries. We are trying to add our version to a very long tradition of what it means to be a guest and what it means to be a host. It is a very complicated relationship when you really delve into it.

Peter: Say more about the complication of the guest and host relationship.

Edd: Sure. There is an intriguing power dynamic, especially in the situation where we are dealing with vulnerable adults who come in, and we have to really work to balance that as best as we can. It’s not going to be a perfect balance because in that moment it can become transactional if we are not careful and we are not really paying attention. There are certain needs that people have and there are certain capacities that we might have to fill those needs.

It is very easy to get into a complicated and, I think, damaging power relationship. That is why we speak about scarcity as the trauma and not about being homeless or being hopeless or being necessarily hungry or being poor or being rich and things like that. One of the things that we are paying attention to — and this is where we work with our staff more and more to be informed — is that we believe one of the universal human conditions is to experience scarcity. For example, even the wealthiest benefactors we have talk about how they don’t have enough time. They have plenty of money and great resources, but time is scarce.

We all experience scarcity in different ways. We are aware of that with our guests, and often remind folks of that fact in our orientation with our volunteers. I think of this every time I go to the airport to catch a flight and I am in the TSA line. I have a moment when I think that I am going to miss that flight. I don’t have enough time and this line is moving too slowly. I go through the whole mental gymnastics about scarcity: this time I am going to miss that flight and there are no more flights and I will really wreak havoc on my work or my vacation. Then I calm down and I watch the line and it is moving okay and we are going to make it.

In the 15 years the TSA has been doing this, I have never missed a flight, but I always think about that possibility. So, I entertain this thought with our volunteers: imagine that 30 seconds that I go through the mental gyration of missing my flight, and imagine that is my entire week; then imagine what it mean if that is day after day and that is all I think about. That is the trauma of chronic scarcity that it is very different for our vulnerable adults who are living in that moment. That is what we believe makes the difference: the relentlessness of the scarcity, not just the experience of it.

Peter: It’s also very visible as most of scarcity we make invisible.

Edd: Exactly and we are masters at covering it. Our guests are beyond that. They have let that go.

Peter: In talking about waiting in line, it is not only that you wait in line and wonder if you are going to make it but also that the reward at the end of the line is to empty your pockets and raise your hands. I always feel that I am being arrested.

John: Edd, one of the things that you mention in your article “Seeing Blue is how you came to see things that you had not seen before even though they were all around you. One of the things I think our book The Abundant Community is trying to help people see is that very thing. There is in locality an abundance, but we don’t see it because we are in a sense blinded by the institutional consumer world. I was wondering whether you have a way that you could tell other people that might be a practice that would help someone see what is there and have the experience that you had that led you to the kinds of actions that you take. How can we see?

Edd: For me part of my meditation practice is having a softer focus of widening my view. Historically, as a therapist, I would be working in a very small room in a therapy setting. It would be a very narrow focus and I would be very focused on the client and myself and the client’s family. It would be very tight. In this work at Broad Street it is about softening the focus and really widening the view. To let in more — not just more information, but more experience. I keep asking myself what am I not seeing because I am looking too closely, and I begin to suspend my judgment about knowing what is in front of me. I think that there is a real value to sitting in the practice of not knowing and allowing what is occurring to enter into my consciousness rather than me trying to find something out. It is really an uncovering rather than discovering.

John: You think that you discovered as you talk about your sort of discovery of the meaning of standing in line. Was a part of that discovery looking inside yourself? You didn’t have to read about it. Your own humanity helps you once you see it in relationship to others to see the others.

Edd: I think that’s right, John. It is also an awareness of what the relationship is like in the moment. For instance, when we first took over the orchestrating the Breaking Bread meals, there was a clothing closet that people could go into and choose some items of clothing. It was first come, first serve, and we could serve about 40 people. Our Thursday lunch doors open up at 11:30 and about 9:00 people would be lining up in front of the building. We would open the doors and they would be racing up the stairs and quite literally stepping on each other to be first in line. Our folks were not violent or mean spirited. They were just desperate. They were desperate for a pair of pants. They had been wearing the same clothes for three weeks and that was all they could think about.

So, I just became aware of how untenable it was for me to be watching and to be part of that; in some ways I was a coconspirator in allowing that to happen. We had to find a new solution and finally came up with a lottery; it wasn’t that brilliant, just an opportunity to use some game theory. So, there is no more first come, first serve. Almost immediately, like within a week or two, the line disappeared. People started coming later because it didn’t matter if you came in one minute or ten minutes after opening because we had put the lottery in place.

We started looking for ways for us to be noticing our own experiences and our own sense of awkwardness. This was just not a host–guest relationship. This was something more conspiratorial. I think there was a sense that what we found unspeakable. So, as we began to speak our experiences, we said that this is not how we want to live our lives. This is not how we want to engage with our guests. Then we were forced to look at new ways of looking at the room and our relationships and then looking at new possibilities.

Peter: The more you talk, Edd, the more I feel that your guests are transparent in conditions that we are all living in. If you think of Black Friday you see people stomping over each other to get things. The consumer culture is based on the belief that no matter how much I have it is not enough.

Edd: Yes, and that is the mantra that we have. I love your Abundant Community and sense of abundance. We have learned that is a very complicated language about abundance because it is experienced in different ways.

In our early days, for example, we used to have huge bowls of fruit on the tables; looking back we like to say we were well intentioned and ill-informed in equal measure. We thought that if we had massive amounts of fruit overflowing on the tables that people would be so happy to see all of that; instead, it really traumatized our guests. At first we could not figure out what was going on and why it was so tense. If your experience of yesterday that there was not enough and if your experience of today is more than you can imagine, then your thought might be that tomorrow there might not be anything. So, I better hoard as much as I can. So, we do one serving a meal and say that there is exactly enough. There is never more and never less.

Even though we are not a religious organization we have some spiritual component. Our colleagues from the faith side talk about the manna of the Israelites. You could not refrigerate well and so there was just enough. You could not store. So, their sense of the abundance was in the moment and not abundance over time. There was enough manna for everyone. There was abundance, but it was not overflowing and you could not store it away or lock it up in a safe deposit box and worship it. So, abundance even then, and as you talk about your communities today, doesn’t necessarily mean surplus.

Peter: You know the power imbalance. You know John and I and a lot of other people raise the question of charity and philanthropy, done as if I’m whole and you’re not well and need fixing. So, the volunteers then are as much the targets or objects of beneficiary of this radical hospitality as are your guests. Talk a little bit about the impact it has on them.

Edd: We have an orientation before every meal and a debriefing afterwards, and we talk about their experiences. We try to make ourselves as transparent as possible of what we are doing and why we are doing it.

There is another piece that is very important in what we encourage in our volunteers, which is a little different from other organizations. For example, I know that when I go and volunteer some place,  I sometimes want to be hyper-productive; I want to do some really hard work and feel good about myself. I want to leave saying that I did something wonderful, and I’m really tired and sweaty. With our volunteers we say that sometimes there will be a lull in the meal; there will be some free time and it is perfectly fine to sit down and chat with our guests. We don’t have to be busy to be effective. It also changes the way they think about how they can be in the room.

So, we say the volunteers’ work is not just about doing, but also about how they are going to be. It has a profound impact on many of them. This is the first time that they have ever sat down with someone who in the past they just walked by or did not know what to do or say. It is a transformative moment for many of our volunteers to have that kind of very natural moment of conversation while sitting at a table. What can be more natural, more normal, and more human than sitting at a table and literally breaking bread with another person?

Peter: What strikes me is the meaning and symbolism that you create out of the everyday-ness of life. I think that is enormously powerful. John may have told me this, or I read it somewhere: if you ask the people you are serving, your guests, what are they good at, the number one answer is, I know how to cook. But for many people in ministry and the church the thing they are most proud of, and that is most measureable, is how many people they feed every week. One church in Cincinnati has a club called Club 5000 because they feed about 5000 people in a year or something like that. You think, my goodness, the people we are feeding know how to cook….

Edd: That is an important notion that we talk about at Broadway: how we continue to grow. There is a sense that every year our funders like to see how many meals we are serving and how many guests come over. It’s a capitalist model. It’s like how many iPhones did you sell this quarter as compared to last quarter? In fact, when we take a softer view and step back and say the fact that we are serving probably about 75,000 or 80,000 meals this year, and last year we served 52,000, means that as a society we are failing. Every year that I grow and feed and have more people come in and am hospitable to more to our vulnerable guests means that our city and our country are failing those people. These are markers of shame for me. I should be out of business.

John: Yet, this is a positive sign for many funders. As the need increases and the funders are doing nothing about the cause. They are more than happy to increase funding for an increase in people who don’t have food. It’s an endless and self-serving hypocrisy.

Edd: Then the question comes up, and I try not to laugh, but the question comes up: is it scalable? Can I scale it? At what point do you scale your Thanksgiving Dinner before it ceases to be a Thanksgiving Dinner? What’s that number? I don’t know, but I know that there is a number when it stops being a Thanksgiving Dinner.

Peter: Years ago, at Johnson and Johnson, , the ones who make Band-Aids, the company’s president, John Walker, a very wonderful man, looked at the group and said, ”The only way we are going to increase sales in Band-Aids is to increase the number of wounds.”

Edd: Right, a perfect metaphor for what we are doing.

John: Let me ask you one other question and I bet the people who are listening have it in their minds too. Let us imagine that you are in a place where you have two hundred people to whom you would like to offer hospitality, but in fact you only have a hundred meals. You have said you always have abundance, but we often hear of food pantries that run out of food. How do we deal with that?

Edd: That’s a really difficult question, John. The premise of your question is probably where I would divert a little bit. Again, our focus is not on the food. That is the way we have decided to enter into the space and into this conversation; the focus is on how are we with each other. With that focus, I’m sitting with people, not feeding people. I think I would have a different conversation and perhaps I’m not even sure how I would address that situation. I don’t think it is about splitting the atom.

What we generally would do if we did not have enough for everyone is not open our doors. We have a personal care hygiene item box like socks, underwear and various items, and we do an order fulfillment system. If we don’t have enough — say every single person ordered the same item and if we don’t have enough to fulfill that order — we would not even have it on the order form because our belief is we have to serve everyone.

That is not a perfect model because we can see that Jefferson said half a loaf of bread is better than no loaf at all. I think there is some sense of that, but that is not how we have decided to enter into this conversation.

Peter: Let’s open for questions from listeners. Somebody on the chat asked, how do you relate to guests who are a bit more psychotic than the rest of us? Could you respond to that concern?

Edd: I just saw that. I love the way the question is framed: “a bit more psychotic than the rest of us.” That is exactly right. Part of it is to remember, as my Unitarian friends, say I am that, too. We do have a number of people who have some serious mental health issues. Most of time we do a model where we make sure that people are safe; we have high latitude for aberrant behavior as long as the safety concerns are well taken care of. We tend not to be confrontational and we are not worried about how we look. Sometimes some of our guests will say things or act in ways that are very bizarre. We are very careful to let our volunteers know to expect to see that and to hear that and to know that quite often — and most of all the time — those folks are quite safe even though they might say some very scary things.

The key for us is the same key we have been talking about, and that is relationships. Most of the time we know those folks and we can engage with them and we can begin to marshal some of their resources. For some of the folks it is how they have learned to navigate in the world; they see an option and often look for it. We have a fair number of people who have significant mental health issues. We have not called any law enforcement into a Breaking Bread meal in over six years. That is something we strive towards and to make sure that our folks are safe. We create an environment where people have that expectation. Quite often many of our guests will take care of some of the other guests without us having to intervene. That’s been working for us for a long time. We pay attention to it every day. We try to make sure we are intervening in a stressful situation as early as possible and all of our staff members are trained in crisis management to be able to see things sooner. In the old days we would come in when someone was experiencing some illusions and delusions and we would come into to that too late. Now we are able to intervene and engage with those folks much earlier than we used to.

Caller: I really want to thank you for this wonderful discussion. Thinking of the point that you just made about when a situation comes up and the guests help to take responsibility for working through it, I was curious what role, if any, do certain guests help in planning in how you arrange the experience or how this wonderful organization evolves over time.

Edd: Well, that’s a great question. Let me address it in two ways. One is I can give you a very short answer. Once we had a gentleman who was very new to our Breaking Bread meal and stood up and began to quote unquote act out. He was very dramatic in his acting out. As I was walking to the table one of the guests next to him said, “That doesn’t work here.” The gentleman just stopped right away and sat down. It was a wonderful moment, to learn that our guests can see some things [that we can’t]. I thought I was dealing with somebody was dealing with a serious mental illness, and I was actually dealing with someone who has been surviving and has a way to survive. So, sometimes we are not sure what we are encountering. Guests are so smart and they see things we can’t see. So, there is that and that is one aspect.

The other piece speaks to the roles of guest and host. A lot of people ask us, “Shouldn’t the guests being doing some of the work. Shouldn’t they be coming in and doing some of the volunteer work?” We have looked at that and it has not worked well for us because it does blur those guest–host lines, especially for folks living in chronic scarcity. There would be the expectation that if I do something, and if I am volunteering in the moment, then I would I expect to get something in return that would be more than someone who is a guest. The way we have dealt with it — and I’m not sure that it is ideal — is to have our mantra be: you can be a volunteer, or you can be a guest. You just can’t be both on the same day. You can choose your role. Some of our guests will volunteer and then they have relinquished the access to the clothing closet or personal care closet and to the meal that day. Or they can join us as a guest. Some of our guests will come in with the idea of volunteering and then they will decide they really need the services. So then you say: That’s fine. You can relinquish that role and be a guest or a volunteer; it is all equal value to us.

Peter: That’s a beautiful structure. Somebody on the chat asks, Does everyone eventually have access to a change of clothing?

Edd:  That’s a great question, too. The answer is, unfortunately, no, and that’s part of our scarcity. As our mutual friend Jill Janov would say, sometimes we catch our guests’ disease and we have a scarcity of time and a scarcity of human resources with our volunteers to keep the clothing closet open as much possible. We are working on expanding that beyond the meals, and we have some wonderful volunteers who have organized our inventory. So, we are able to get many more people, but I would say that one of the areas that we are looking at very closely is how to expand that capacity and still do it in a way that is relational — so that we just don’t leave clothes out on a table for people to pick through. We have people go down to the clothing closet in small groups and there are personal shoppers to help them to pick out clothes.

Peter: You’re kidding.

Edd: No, we also have some menders who are wonderful women who come from some of the churches. They showed up about four years ago and said that their spiritual practice was mending the world by mending clothes and they asked if they could do some mending. So, the guests will come in and pick some clothes out and if the clothes don’t fit the mender will hem them or fix their favorite jacket.

What we say at Broad Street is it’s never about what it is about. The meals are not about the meals and the clothes are not about the clothes. Even our mail service is not about the mail. We have 3,000 people who get their mail at Broad Street. It is also not about the mail; it is about the relationship and all the things that could happen and the opportunities that can be opened to them by having that sense of being anchored in a place and in a time.  So, the clothing closet is not just about clothes. We really do want to expand the services whenever we can and that is an area we have been working on carefully.

Caller: First of all, Edd, I think it is very beautiful what you have distinguished…. I feel like what you distinguished about time is such an important thing. It’s a lot that people don’t have time it is because they are operating in isolation to a large degree. So, they orientate to it as a scarcity and I feel like when we come together at the next level that is the greater possibility

Edd: Your comments reminded me of Alan Watts talking years ago about the carpenter’s apprentice. The apprentice showed up and the carpenter said there is no work today because they ran out of inches. He could not understand because they had plenty of inches yesterday, but they just had a shortage of inches. The story goes on and on. It sounds quite crazy until you imagine if we just put in time as a measurement. We say it all the time: I have run out of time. If I said we ran out of inches, you would say that’s insane, but we act as if running out of time is any less insane than running out of inches. I think there is something about that scarcity; it is almost a default that we go to when we stop paying attention. We move into scarcity quite effortlessly. I think the effort is to stay awake to what is abundance and what is enough and it is there all the time. It is not our default consciences. Our default conscience is to look for scarcity.

John: Time is an excuse for not paying attention.

Edd: I wish I had more time. Suddenly we have time.

Caller: When we are really present often times there is a solution or a way to forward someone in the moment that can take really no time, but when we are orientating to the scarcity of not having enough time it just avails, you know, that moving forward that forwarding action that could actually be the thing that would make the difference that affirms connection.

Edd: Yes, I believe that.

Peter: Edd, I noticed that on part of the ministry you have is sense of subversive theology. I was going to ask you earlier what do you mean by that, but I think that I have been listening to it.

Edd: Well, I am not on the theological side at Broad Street, but our theological and faith community really does a great job in informing us. We have a lot of conversations back and forth about that. When we have the conversations about values and what are our principles and practices, I think that subversive theology is really about doing what we do every day. The ministers here, by design, made sure that their communion table is in the dining room and we use that as a table where we do a lot of the administrative stuff. It is by design. They wanted to make sure that what was occurring on Sunday at their worship is also happening during the week. That doesn’t mean that we have any religious obligations. There is no prayer before the meal. There are no criteria for admission as in some places where you have to listen to a sermon or something. We are very secular in our approach. From their point of view we are one organization and we own the secular expression of that. It is just as vital a part as the religious community as they are to us. What we do is a way of holding both the sacred and the secular in a way that we think works and clearly makes the most sense.

Peter: They call it subversive theology, not subversive religion. I think what you are doing is an embodiment of that. It is very powerful.

There is another question in the chat: Can we use the idea of a softer focus to deal with the larger community’s scarcity?

Edd: Well, I think you would be the ideal person to answer that question, Peter. You and John.

Peter: Okay. Think of the way we use the word homeless; you talk in terms of people who are experiencing a kind of vulnerable scarcity. These people are not homeless. I keep thinking that is not who they are. They may not know where they are sleeping tonight, but to call them homeless is a dishonor in a way. Could you comment on this in this world of charity?

Edd: I think it is an important notion. I think about it sometimes when I’ve worked with some of my clients who are particularly damaged. This idea of home is also a very complicated issue. Many people have housing, but not a home. I know people who are experiencing enormous wealth who are homeless. They do not have a sense of home. Some of them don’t even have a sense of place. So, home is a very complex social construct. Our folks, about 30 percent of the folks that we engage with, are what we say “living outdoors in the city.” Another maybe 70 or 80 percent — and I’m not sure we have hit a hundred — are living in some sort of housing shelter insecurity. They may not know where their next shelter is. Maybe 15 or 20 percent at any given time have what we consider to be a stable housing situation, but they all come for a reason. This is about what  you and John are so adept at expressing. They come for a sense of community. This is where they belong. I believe that wherever you belong is your home.

John: That’s a wonderful way of defining it. Maybe your tables are becoming home for an awful lot of people because it is a place of hospitality rather than feeding.

Edd: That’s our hope John. That is what we absolutely hope.

Peter: There are a hundred other questions that I would love to ask you, but this would be a good point to start to wind up. Before we do, somebody asked how you are funded. Any final thoughts you have about funding?

Edd: Most of our funding comes from several wonderful benefactors. We also have a number of foundations. What we have learned is that when people come to visit us, and see and experience what we are up to, they have a sense of being part of what we do. We have no public funding. It is all private and that allows us to be very experimental. We love to pilot things and we learned from you, Peter, that you can’t fail if you pilot because you are always learning. So, it is a learning organization.

Peter: Well, you may be learning, but when we talk about social innovation and the way you reframe the common and everyday in such a purposeful way it is wonderful. Since I read your article and after having been with you I thought, Wow, this is available to all of us. Hearing you talk about it is more amazing. John, any final comments you want to make?

John: It’s been a wonderful and an informative session. I appreciate you giving us your time.

Edd: Thank you very much and to you and to all of the people who are listening, a heartfelt welcome. Come to Broad Street if you are in Philadelphia. Come and experience our hospitality and us. We would love to meet you and have you meet our guests and us. That is a heartfelt invitation.



Transcribed by Theresa Beck, Oxford, Ohio, August 13, 2015. Home page photo courtesy Broad Street Ministry.


About the Lead Author

Edd Conboy
Edd Conboy is Director of Social Services and the Counseling Center at Broad Street Ministry and Senior Staff Therapist at the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. Edd is not your typical therapist. He combines the skills, knowledge and expertise of the psychotherapeutic community with his real-world business experience to help clients get unstuck and to support them as they move into effective action. In his private practice Edd works with people from all walks of life — from business, community and non-profit leaders to inner-city youth — and is particularly effective working with people facing unique stresses like those of world-class professional and amateur athletes, survivors of trauma and couples with chronically ill children. Edd is also a talented photographer whose work was recently featured in Faith on the Avenue: Religion on a City Street by Katie Day (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

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