Wednesday, November 19, 2008

shelter mornings

The temporary homeless shelter that our church is hosting for November is filling up. On Monday night we had our first full house of 30 guests. This is great news. Word has got around, and we are serving lots of people. It also makes me worry that we might not have the capacity for everyone who wants in. The shelter runs at 4 other churches, one each month from December through March. It will be wetter and colder in the months to come. What will we do with all of the people?

For now, we are doing our best to make a safe, welcoming, nourishing place for people who have no other place to go. The guests are picked up at 5 different parks each evening, and driven to the host church in passenger vans. Volunteers provide supper and offer an exchange of warm dry clothing, shoes, blankets and personal items from a room full of donated items. The guests sleep on the floor of our church hall on mats, with blankets and pillows provided by the shelter.

I volunteer on the morning shift, Tuesdays and Thursdays. I get to the church just before 6am. The guests are still sleeping, except for those who left about 5:15 to go to work. Usually about a half a dozen work as day labourers. Although they get paid, they still are unable to find permanent homes. Rental housing is scarce, and prices are high.

At the church, I am greeted by the shelter staff, who come from the Hope for Freedom Society. These are outreach workers, one male and one female, who stay awake and supervise the shelter all night. They provide counseling and handle emergencies. Last year, the workers were successful in helping some of the guests get into rehab and permanent housing.

I meet with 4 or 5 other volunteers. I am the shift coordinator, having gained experience from last winter's shelter month. Together we serve coffee and breakfast (usually toast and cereal, but on Tuesday we made french toast with strawberries and whipped cream). The guests wake up about 6:15. They relax with a bit of breakfast, wash up and pack up their stuff. We hand out bag lunches at about 7am, and the guests leave in passenger vans to go back out to the pickup parks in the neighbourhoods where they spend their daytimes.

After the guests leave, we clean the kitchen and bathrooms and wash the floors. We take out the trash and restock paper towels and toilet paper and the stock of free feminine supplies in the ladies bathroom. The majority of our guests are men, but we have a few women each night too. We disinfect the mats and store them in a cube container out in our parking lot. The blankets and pillows go in there, all in bags labeled with each guest's name. They can use the same bedding for a few nights, then it goes to the laundry. We also pick up the dirty and damp clothing that the guests have left behind. It goes to the laundry too, and is recirculated to the used clothing room for someone to use again. We are usually finished with our cleaning by 7:45 or 8am. I leave a note for the volunteer coordinator, check the schedule to find out who I'm working with on my next shift, and we lock up the church and leave.

These early mornings are nourishing for my soul. I have wanted a way that I can help directly, and the opportunity has been provided. It feels good to be able to do something, anything, to help.

question: did you ever go to a homeless shelter? what was your experience?

mompoet - grateful for the opportunity

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