Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Lessons in Homelessness

Working as a night monitor with City With Dwellings taught me a lot about working with homeless people. The organization's tag line, "A Community First Initiative" drew me in and working at two different churches gave me a chance to meet many members of our community.

As the monitor, my job was to establish relationships with the guests.   I knew them by name and got to know their personalities.  I was surprised how quickly we built rapport and was also continually shocked by how quickly it could evaporate. I learned about giving and receiving forgiveness.

Below are graphics that depict the average (18.4) number of guests that stayed with me for the 25 nights I worked.  I worked from 6:30 PM to 6:30 AM on Thursdays and Sundays.   During those 12 hours I got to interact with homeless men during check-in, dinner, a smoke break, going to sleep, waking up, and departing for the day.

Any night when there were 20 guests or more was particularly challenging for managing group dynamics.  By the end of the season, working with fewer at a time seemed much more manageable, but there was still plenty of room for unexpected events.  I worked hard to maintain quiet in an effort to help the guests sleep, but an overflow homeless shelter is a menagerie of activity.

Only one guest stayed with me every night that I worked.  That means he was with me the nights in December at Redeemer Presbyterian and the 3 months at First Presbyterian.  I worked 25 nights and the average guest was with me for 4 nights.  Of the 84 guests who stayed with me almost half stayed 2 nights or less.

These numbers demonstrate the churn and turnover in guests within the overflow shelter. These numbers are a subset in two ways.    They show only 1 of 4 sites coordinated by City With Dwellings and only the nights I worked.  

The depth of relationship that the longstanding staff members have with guests is impressive.  Through the many seasons of running the overflow shelter, they have gotten to know guests who come and go.   Working with an organization that ensures no one will sleep outside in the winter was an honor and a privilege to see the depth of love demonstrated through caring relationships.   I witnessed love in action and in truth.  

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