I can’t imagine not having a place to call home. Not knowing where I’ll sleep at night. Nowhere to put my things. Nowhere to feel truly safe. Homeless. My heart aches for the homeless. For the ones who’ve just had a tough break. For the mentally ill. For the people who have no friends or family to fall back on. For the addicts. And the ones who’ve had unimaginable life circumstances that eventually landed them in a place I wish no one ever had to be.
I contacted the volunteer coordinator at our local homeless shelter and asked if I could take a tour. I’ll be honest and admit I was a little nervous walking up to and in the homeless shelter. I’d been there before, but there were a LOT of people outside. And I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t feel unsafe. Just nervous.
Kelly (the volunteer coordinator who was so passionate about her job) walked us through the family section of the shelter first. The shelter is open 24 hours a day. When a family arrives at the shelter downtown, they are transported to another shelter until a family room becomes available. While they wait for a room, they sleep in a big open room on cots in this “overflow” shelter. Once a room becomes available, they are transported back to the downtown shelter. The average stay for a family is 42 days. Some only stay a week. Some stay for months. Some just need a quick breath and a little time to regroup and get themselves back together.
A typical family room. If there are more than two kids, they move in another bunk bed or a crib. My heart sank when I walked in here. I can’t imagine being a parent and not being able to provide my kids with a home for whatever reason.
Family room “closet”
There is a group playroom where volunteers can come and play games, do crafts, or read to the kids living in the shelter. This room is critical for the kids at the shelter. For obvious reasons, the parents at the shelter are at their lowest of lows. Frustrated, lonely, scared, tired, beat-down. Parenting is hard even when our life circumstances are acceptable. I can’t imagine trying to parent when I have the stress (and guilt) of having nowhere to call home. This room is where kids can just be kids. And volunteers can come and play with those kids to help lighten the load (however small or large that may be) for the parent(s).
When someone donates things to the homeless shelter (you can usually find a list on your local homeless shelters website to see what they are most in need of) it comes into a sorting facility where people can get things they need. At our shelter, you can donate things 7 days a week from 7 am to 7 pm. You just drive up to the warehouse doors and they’ll take your stuff. Just like dropping things off at the DI or Salvation Army. You can donate all sorts of in-kind items as well as food.
This room below is where the men sleep. The women’s rooms look similar. People can “check in” at the homeless shelter at 10am. They have to be out of the shelter by 7 am the next morning. And then can check in again at 10am. (This does not apply to families–there is no check-in/check-out system with them). When my brother was staying there, they had to be out of the shelter by 7 am and couldn’t check in again until 4pm. But the case managers didn’t have enough time to really get to know the people so they could actually help them. So they started letting them back in at 10am so they could work with them and help get them back on their feet.
During that 3 hour break (which is when I was there), the entire facility gets cleaned. We saw a lot of cleaning people milling about. And they did a pretty dang good job. Since its inception decades ago, our homeless shelter has never turned anyone away (unless they are visibly high or drunk in which case they can go across the street to St. Vincent’s and stay there.). If there aren’t enough beds in rooms, they pull out cots and put them in the hallways. Or they transport people to the over flow shelter in another city about 15 minutes away.
A few more interesting things I learned (I learned a ton, but can’t put it all in one post):
**When someone comes to the shelter, there are case managers there available to help them in any way. Help with jobs. Help with homes. Help with anything. They have a pretty incredible system set up there to help get people back on their feet.
**The stories of some of the people there are absolutely heartbreaking. People JUST LIKE THE REST OF US. Truly. I often imagine what I would do if I didn’t have the education I have and the friends and family I have to fall back on if something catastrophic happened. The people at the homeless shelter aren’t a bunch of addicts and mentally ill people. Yes, some of them are, but some of them aren’t. And even the ones who ARE addicts or mentally ill–they have a story too. They have as much worth as anyone else.
**Often the people you see on the side of the road with the cardboard signs aren’t the ones utilizing the help at the homeless shelter. Some of them are, but many of them aren’t. Kelly told us they often don’t want the help. But there is an “outreach team” of case managers who find them and offer them help. Some accept it. Many of them don’t. For various reasons (often mental illness).
**As long as they are actively looking for housing or jobs, people can stay as long as they need. There is no time limit at the shelter.
**There are currently 50 families and approximately 200 kids at the shelter. FIFTY families. Kills me.
**When someone (or a family) first arrives at the shelter, the number one priority is to give them what they need (food, clothes, etc). Then they work on building relationships, get them whatever medical help they need, and help them with jobs/housing.
**We asked why people who are homeless don’t go somewhere warm. Why stay in Utah over the winter?? Kelly has asked some of the homeless people this same question. Their answer–“The people here respect us. They don’t treat us like second-class citizens.” This was SO good for my soul to hear. It certainly isn’t always the case, but I hope it’s the majority of the time. They truly are our equals whose souls have as much worth as ours.
I often wonder how I can help the homeless. Like, REALLY help them. But I realized there are already some systems in place that help them. And sometimes what is really needed is people showing they actually care about these people’s tomorrows. And people who are willing to donate money to keep the shelter running or in-kind things to support simple life-sustaining needs while the case workers, counselors, therapists, staff, and volunteers do the work of getting them back on their feet.
With this in mind, I am doing a specific drive for the homeless shelter. If you are local (in Utah), I would LOVE for you to help me.
We are collecting things for the Road Home homeless shelter from today, Monday, November 17th until Sunday, November 23rd. We will be taking the stuff to the shelter on Monday, November 24th.
Please please please make sure all donations are either NEW or in GOOD CONDITION. And PLEASE sort through the stuff before you bring it. Last time I did this we filled an entire room in my house, three feet high full of bags. And had to rent a UHaul to take the stuff down. So I want to make sure everything we’re taking is worth taking. 🙂
Things we need:
**MONEY. 94% of donations go straight to the shelter and the people who come through there. The shelter doesn’t run without monetary donations which leaves people with nowhere to go. You can donate directly to the shelter through their website, OR, you can give the money to me and I’ll take it down. Check or paypal. If sending through paypal e-mail me for more info. Every dollar counts. Truly.
**SOCKS. New or very gently used. Any and all sizes and colors. Socks are like gold to people there or so my brother says.
**COATS. All sizes for men, women, and children.
**BLANKETS. New or gently used.
**HYGIENE ITEMS. Also premium items and SO critical for them to feel “clean” and take care of their bodies. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, small shampoos and conditioner, deodorant, lotion, razors, feminine hygiene items, diapers (size 3-5)
**WARM CLOTHES. Coats, long sleeve shirts or sweaters, pants. All sizes for men, women, or children.
If you know where I live, you can drop off the stuff on my porch anytime during that time frame. There will also be a drop-off spot at my sisters house in Draper if that’s closer for you. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for an address to drop things off.
If you know anyone else who would be willing/able to participate, please forward this post to them!! Or feel free to share the post on any of your social media accounts. The more people we have contributing, the bigger difference we can all make together.
This quote pretty much sums up how I feel about all of this.
“It’s almost like Jesus meant what He said. When you’re desperate, usually the best news you can receive is food, water, shelter. These provisions communicate God’s presence infinitely more than a tract or Christian performance in the local park. They convey, “God loves you so dearly, He sent people to your rescue.”
I guess that’s why “love people” is the second command next to “love God.” And since God’s reputation is hopelessly linked to His followers’ behavior, I suspect He wouldn’t be stuck with his current rap if we spent our time loving others and stocking their cabinets.” Jen Hatmaker
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.