While many Americans have today off in honor of Labor Day, at the day shelter for homeless men where I work, we are doing what we do every day, 365 days a year-offering help and hope to all those who enter our doors. Homelessness doesn’t take a holiday, and neither do we. So, today is like any other day here at the center, and in case you have never been here, I will describe what a day looks like, although there really is no such thing as a “typical” day. Each day, like our guests, is unique.
When arrive at the center, I always am greeted warmly by at least a dozen or more familiar faces. I look forward to the sight of Andres’ broad grin and hearing him call out, “Hola, Miss Kristi!” Some of the men, like Ed, make a beeline to the center as soon as the overnight shelters close at 6:00 a.m., while others, like Henry, wander in from the nearby wooded areas, parks, and other nooks and crannies in the city that HUD defines as “not meant for human habitation”. Their reasons for coming to the day shelter are varied.
Some come for “the best coffee in town”. By now, every volunteer in the Coffee Room knows that James’ standing coffee order is “sugar, coffee, sugar”. Some come to take a hot shower to wash away the dirt and grime from the previous day and to use our toiletries to freshen up and to, as Kevin said, “feel good and look decent”. Some come to seek the assistance of our social services staff and our case managers in exploring housing, employment, and income options and referrals. Some come for the services provided by the Legal Aid staff member and the Veterans Administration Outreach Team who are on-site at various times during the week. Still, others come to read the paper to stay abreast of current events or to watch television, with “Law & Order” being a hands downs favorite. Thanks to “my Stan Man”, I receive the best summary of The Courier Journal’s top stories on a daily basis. There are a host of reasons that the men come to us, but the real reason that they come here, whether it be for a day, a week, a month, a year, or more was revealed on my first day on the job over three years ago by a guest who stated, “The people here care about you and love you.”
To some people, the above statement may sound trite, and it may give the impression that the work we do here is superficial. To the staff, volunteers, supporters, and guests of the day shelter, the above statement is all-encompassing of our mission, and it is some of the most rewarding and challenging work of all. There is no greater joy than when a man receives a new lease on life when he is given the key to his own home, and there is no greater sorrow than when one of our guys dies alone on the streets. There is the daily ebb and flow of triumphs and setbacks, and through it all, there is love in many forms.
Sometimes, that love is tough love in the form of having to bar a guest from the center for a period of time when a rule is violated. Sometimes, that love is the form of taking a moment to greet one of the guests by name and to truly listen to their stories with both your heart and your ears. Sometimes, that love comes in the form of advocating for those whose voice often goes unheard in the political arena. Sometimes, that love comes in the form of asking others to donate their time, talent, and treasure to enable the staff and volunteers to best serve the needs of our guests. Sometimes, that love comes in the form of making sure that the center is clean, neat, and inviting, so, everyone feels safe and comfortable when they are here. Sometimes, that love comes in the form of toiling over grant and funding requirements to ensure that the center stays in compliance, in order to keep our doors open for another year. Regardless of our individual roles, we collectively care about and love each of our guests in countless ways.
So, on this Labor Day, enjoy time off with your family and friends, just as those of working here will enjoy time with our special “family and friends”. Our work here is a true labor of love!
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story