Tonight was my final night working at the homeless shelter. I just got home a few minutes ago. The reason it was my final night is because it closes on Sunday. I am overwhelmed at the thought of all of the beautiful people I have come to know there now sleeping on the street at night because there is nowhere else to go. I wish this shelter was open year round. We simply do not have the funding to keep it open at this time, and that is a crime.
I began volunteering every Friday night for several hours down at the shelter in January. The first few times I went, I came home and threw up afterwards. That's how I knew I had to keep going back. It really makes me sick to see so many people without anyone to help them.
At least 75 percent of the people at this shelter are Vietnam veterans who suffer from PTSD and have substance abuse problems as a result. Why isn't the government taking care of these men? Other residents are young couples, young gay people who have been disowned by their families, mentally ill people of all ages, and people who are addicted to meth. Over half of the residents have full-time jobs, but do not make enough money to have a life outside of the shelter. The shelter has had an average of 80 people every night since it opened in November.
I have met so many fascinating people at the shelter. Scott is a middle-aged man who reads constantly. I spent a lot of time talking with him about books and about his experiences living on the street in other cities in the northwest. Charles is a very educated man going through a divorce that left him without a place to live. He can talk about almost anything and can quote more authors than I can. He has grown more and more frustrated with his situation as the winter has gone on. I hope he can get off the street soon. I met Samuel tonight. He is my age and has been living on the street in various cities for the last couple of years. He has finally gotten off of meth and is looking for a job. Richard tries to give me a different book every week, all of them on Christian themes. He finally approved of the one I was reading tonight, Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott, although he still encouraged me to give Phillip Yancey a try. Richard is trying his hardest to live a good Christian life, but he is still traumatized by his experiences during the war. Sometimes his flashbacks cause him to drink more than he should. The Christian shelter no longer lets him stay because of this. Another young gay Asian man was one of my favorite residents. He is always on campus in the student union and in the library. He has the most beautiful smile I have ever seen.
One of the most touching things I have seen at the shelter was when a young family came seeking a place to stay and a shower. They had come to this city expecting to have a place to live and it did not work out. They lived out of their car for a few days. Before the left the shelter for the last time, the dad and the son who was the same age as Bella's son came in and donated the only thing they had to give--their hats--because they said that other people needed them more than they did.
I don't know if the church who donated the building that housed the shelter the last couple of months knows how much the lives of so many people were bettered by their actions. I don't know if any members of that church even ever came to volunteer there. I do know that they did something good, and I can only hope that somewhere, someone will be generous enough to enable the shelter to stay open all year.