Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My Night at the Homeless Shelter

I'm sitting here at my desk listening to freezing rain as it hits my window. We are in for quite a storm tonight. While the world outside my window is dangerous and wet and cold with blowing and drifting snow, I am warm and cozy inside my home. My fire is lit, I'm wearing my favorite snugly robe and I just finished a delicious homemade dinner.

Others are not so lucky. I met many of them a couple weeks ago when I had the privilege of serving at our city's homeless shelter.

When people think of Traverse City, most people imagine the beautiful beaches, Cherry Festivals, Sleeping Bear Dunes and unique downtown shops. They don't consider that we also have our own homeless population.

While Traverse City has a homeless shelter, it doesn't meet the needs of our community. To solve that problem, a group of people developed a program called Safe Harbor that provide sanctuary to the homeless. Safe Harbor
rotates among a network of local churches each week from November until May. Each participating church recruits members to prepare meals, visit with the guests, clean the facility, serve meals and spend the night to ensure the safety of all.

The night I spent was eye-opening. I learned that people are the same no matter their circumstances. They have hopes for their future, they dream about a better life. They follow sports and news. And they listen to a little ZZ Top. Like Disco Don.

When I arrived, Disco Don came up to my car listening to his ipod and doing a little dance. (And, yes. I said ipod, because everyone needs their tunes.) Disco Don offered me his ear buds so I could enjoy the song he was boogieing to. I politely declined, explaining that I could hear it just fine from where I was. He then said to me, "You know Ma'am. I love Jesus. And I like my smokes. And I love God, but I like to drink." I smiled and said that I also love Jesus and enjoy a drink every now and then and he danced happily away.

I also met a man and woman who are planning to get married in April. They were talking about the details of there wedding: who is going to be Best Man, what kind of dress she wants to wear, hoping their friends will be able to make it. Why had it never occurred to me that homeless people meet, fall in love, and plan a future together? Just like you and I.

Then there was Philip. Philip has nicely trimmed hair, white, straight teeth. He's smart as a whip and very well-read. He discussed the primaries, gas prices and shared his opinions on many other subjects. His clothing was clean, brand-name and he was very well-mannered. And yet, he has no job, he has no car, he has no home.

I met Carol who was certain all of the women at the shelter were conspiring against her. She refused to sleep in the same room as them because she feared for her life. Instead she made up a cot outside the parish library and stayed there all evening. Even to eat her meals.

When I sat down to talk to her, she asked me about the business I am in (real estate) and proceeded to tell me how standards and practices of the real estate and mortgage industries need to change. She explained in great detail how she knew there is a recession around the corner and offered her suggestions as to how it can be avoided. And yet, she is homeless.

I met mothers and father. Grandparents. A young gentleman who works hard every single day but just can't seem to get ahead.

Another of the guests goes out every night around 10pm and spends three or four house collecting beer and pop cans to return for money.

I met very young adults who have family in town. And yet, they are homeless.

As I sat in my chair during my "awake" shift in the early hours, I listened to the quiet (and sometimes loud) snoring of these men and women who through some bad habits (drugs and alcohol), poor choices (drinking under age, not paying tickets) and other more complicated reasons (mental illnesses) do not have the blessings that I have.

It is my belief that our purpose in this world is to serve others. Whether it is our own families, a depressed co-worker, a sick neighbor, the homeless. We can"buy a man to fish" or "teach a man to fish", we just need to get that guy a fish.

Our challenge is to touch people's lives. In whatever way we can, every single day. And then go home and shake our groove thang like Disco Don.
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Sister Sassy said...

Excellent blog SISTER! I am so glad you did this and wrote about it here. Perhaps it will spur others to help out in their community. So many people look at the homeless as lazy losers but these people do all have stories about how they got to where they are.

I like that you said "Just get the man a fish" that is so true.

Ashlee said...

Thanks for the post. We don't have a homeless shelter here, but I know there are homeless people here. We had a blizzard last night too. I hope they made it through ok and found somewhere to keep warm. We have so much to be grateful for don't we?

Lisa xo said...

as always you inspire me ... you make me think of things I should be doing to help people.

You rock!

gmail bf said...

Excellent blog, very nice, even has Seinfeld on it. Homeless people should never die, simple.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Lovely blog! And great post. I think everyone in the U.S. (especially the politicians) needs to spend a night in a homeless shelter in order to realize that for many of the homeless "there but for the grace of God go I..."

And it's nice to "meet" another blogging Michigander - I'm from down in Ann Arbor.

tired mom said...

Great post. It is funny as the wind was howling I was thinking the same thing. Why do I deserve all that I have. Wondering where safe harbor was last night. I truly feel so blessed.

Sister Sassy said...

Safe Harbor was at Grace last night, I'm pretty sure they have it this last week of January- they had it Sunday night at least. I was supposed to voluneteer but I forgot...I suck. To my credit I did volunteer last time but they ended up not needing me.

Martha said...

I'm so touched by your post. I've been thinking a lot about our homeless community during the cold snap we're having here. Breaks my heart.

Thanks for volunteering. Being a busy Mom and full-time worker, yet still are something special!


Janet said...

Nice to meet you. i am a Realtor with a Social Work Degree, albeit a very old Social Work Degree. I am also very cool,no, not at all really. I love to read, to decorate and now I am obsessed with blogging. Stop by sometime:>)

Wade Huntsinger said...

Sister Sassy, shame on you, just kidding. Sister Honey Bunch, I think you hit the nail on the head, so to speak. One writer said, "but by the grace of God go I", so true. I finnally learned that these folks are so like so many today. Most are one paycheck away from disaster. Great post and thanks for reminding us that we are here to serve Jesus in any way He wants us to. We are here for Him and not the other way around. Many blessings

Oh, The Joys said...

Service is truly a priviledge. I like the way you wrote about this.

Brother Jimmy Eat World said...

Good post, HB! And I can't wait to take the boys to help out with a soup kitchen for the day.