If you ask Jennifer Ferraez how she began her relationship with homeless communities, she will tell you the story of her grandfather. Jennifer remembers how he viewed all people as his brothers and sisters, and how he looked for beauty in every person he encountered. As her grandfather took her on walks around Ventura as a little girl, Jennifer also began acknowledging the presence of people that others didn’t notice. When describing her grandfather, she quotes, “Don’t tell me what you believe; show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.”
Jennifer attended her first park feeding at age eleven. Four years later, in the midst of her own personal healing journey, she returned to the streets where her grandfather had led her. After reading The Catcher in the Rye, Jennifer began her quest for “real people.” The real people she encountered were the ones on the streets. Just as she had seen with her grandfather, Jennifer again experienced authentic human connection. Once again, she saw suffering merge with beauty – “quilting themselves together,” as she would say. The people who were homeless became her teachers and friends.
Jennifer now lives and works in Santa Barbara, continuing her relationship with friends on the streets. Her job description is a complicated one; she wears many hats as a clinical social worker, drug and alcohol counselor, and mental health specialist, among other roles in the community. She focuses on the chronically homeless, the men and women who have been on the streets the longest and are the most vulnerable. Many local organizations, Doctors Without Walls and St. Bridget’s Fellowship to name a few, have been deeply influenced by her commitment and expertise.
Her relationship with friends on the streets continues to weave itself together in suffering and in beauty. She describes this relationship as “incarnational” – a humble involvement with and investment in humanity, the embodied humanity. Her relationships with street friends give honor to their experiences and their personal narratives. Because stories lead us to acknowledge people as Human rather than Other, Jennifer cares deeply about giving “voice to the voiceless.”
Where does she turn when the voices of the unvoiced overwhelm her? She turns to beauty, the “glimmers of beauty” that sustain her. Those glimmers come through nature, through friends, through encouragement, and they surround her and give her hope. Jennifer continues to serve those on the streets with remarkable patience and kindness. Her actions preach her beliefs just like her grandfather’s did, and she quilts a beauty-filled pattern.
Written by: Kyli Sessions