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By Father Angelbert Chikere, Director of Life, Justice, and Peace for the Diocese of San Jose |  Fall 2023

Shared Humanity: From Homelessness to Service

An Interview with Tafhari Franklin

Looking into my eyes with a thought-filled smile, Tafhari began:

My name is Tafhari Franklin, and I now live in San Jose. I previously lived in New York. For years, I was ‘in the pit’ and did not even realize it, which meant I could not even ask for help. I moved here to California to be closer to my family. Still, the only person aware that I was dwelling in complete despair and addiction was God.

Tafhari then shared that he had served in the Navy, which made the timing of this interview, Veteran’s Day weekend 2022, more significant, if not providential. I thanked him for his service. “Oh, nice. Happy Veterans Day, brother, and thank you for your service,” I said excitedly.

He was probably not expecting that from a priest, nor a Nigerian native, at that. “Thank you, man, thank you, I appreciate it,” he responded with a more relaxed smile.

Tafhari went on:

I was Mr. Party Guy. I did not want to listen to anybody else. I told God that I did not need him. I told Him, ‘I got this.’ But in reality, I had lost sight of all humanity: my own and that of my fellow humans because I only thought about myself. It was all “Me, me, me… I, I, I. I was abusing drugs, drinking, and making bad choices. I ended up on the streets homeless.

 After saying this, he seemed to stare at the table with an empty gaze. Then, raising his head and looking into my eyes, he continued:

I camped wherever I could: on the concrete sidewalk, under bridges, and in the homeless camps. I lived out of bags containing any possession I could get a hold of, and I couch-surfed with my bag of belongings and spent my time waiting for the next eviction notice. During that time, I hoarded everything I could get because nothing was truly mine, which is how I became homeless.

He took a deep breath and sighed before telling me the next part. For Tafhari, life was empty; he described his humanity as totally broken. Eventually, he lived in a homeless shelter for nine months and worked a low-paying job. He barely made enough to feed himself. While at the homeless shelter, he witnessed what he calls the “revolving door” cycle of homelessness, where people continuously return to homelessness after brief periods of trying to recover, find sobriety, and find employment. Tafhari did not want that circle of perpetual homelessness to be his story.

Then he met Sandy and Liz, who work with the South Bay Community Land Trust.1 This organization collaborates with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) in the Diocese of San José. The CCHD grant offered him a pathway from homelessness to permanent housing through a grant. Tafhari was skeptical, not believing such an opportunity was available to him.

At first, I did not trust [Sandy and Liz]. My heart was hard and disbelieving with all my flaws. But they did not ask about my race, religion, or anything like that. They just showed me love, and that opened the door in my heart. They told me that there were many like-minded people, some who had been in my place, in bondage like I was, who were committed to ending the continuous circle of homelessness. They gave me light! And now, I want to pay it forward and give that light to everybody else. All I can think of now is service, service, and volunteering.”

In his own words, the CCHD grant and Liz and Sandy did not just give him financial help; they restored his sense of humanity through their humane examples. Now Tafhari is doing exactly likewise. From the ashes of homelessness, Tafhari is now a homeowner and a South Bay Community Land Trust board member. He is now making good on paying it forward – helping other homeless people and even opening his home to his sister and niece.

As we concluded our conversation, he took off his glasses and, cleaning the tears from his eyes, he said:

I was so used to eviction notices and being kicked out... but at the exact moment when I started unpacking my bag, in my own place, that I owned, brother, I felt a sense of self-confidence that I never thought I would feel again. I felt like a human being. Someone believed in me; someone saw me, not just another homeless statistic.”

As the director of Life, Justice, and Peace for the diocese, I am grateful for the Diocesan CCHD committee: your generosity is changing lives and communities, one person at a time.  I am also grateful to Tafhari for his willingness to share his story. Finally, I am grateful that God inspired me and the interviewee with the same thought: to invite each other to one another’s houses. I later visited Tafhari’s home.  His life was transformed, but I was also changed in ways that words cannot fully express. Still, in the simplest of expressions, it will be in recognizing, working with, and loving the humanity of others that we will achieve the fullness of our own humanity.

1 The South Bay Community Land is an organization with a mission of combating displacement, land speculation and community deterioration, and expanding housing and economic development opportunities for low income and moderate-income residents in Santa Clara County.

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