Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Reflection on Taking Dinner to the Shelter

I was planning to do another brief, "we took dinner to the shelter," note tonight. But.. well, my folks stopped in to drop off dessert (my dad really wanted to send brownies sundaes), and then they hung around to chat a bit. The told me the onions and mushrooms I was cooking for a spaghetti sauce smelled nice, and talked me into making ~1 cup servings of pasta. The point being, my family is awesome, which is obviously a major reason that I have never spent the night in an emergency shelter. But that is just luck of the draw; I got lucky to score an awesome family.

And what with the changing of the seasons, it's getting dark. The shelter in Redmond is basically at one end of a strip mall that is neighbored by other strip malls. When it was light out, the people who were coming to stay at the shelter would hang around in their shorts and T-shirts, and the basically just look like people who haven't decided where they are headed next. I've commented before, they don't look like the long-term homeless. But now that it is dark out, and getting cooler, and suddenly it seems like they are lurking rather than just hanging around. You know how in winter, whenever anyone wears a big winter coat, we basically all look like hoodlums? The same is true of people lurking in the shadows of a closed strip mall, they all look like hoodlums. Not like people who are trying to be unobtrusive while they worry and wait for a meal and a bed. I think it must get a lot harder to be a homeless youth (especially) as the days get shorter, and you spend more of your time conspicuously being in public places, it's harder to pretend you don't have anywhere to be right now. It become a lot more obvious that you don't belong anywhere.

Now that I've been taking dinner to the shelter for many months, I find myself feeling much more empathetic to the homeless people I see every day. On my walk to work, I regularly see at least half a dozen people sleeping on the street (on Denny for crying out loud- that doesn't include anyone who wanted to sleep somewhere quiet). I see people who sleep sitting up, their arms looped around their backpacks, which I assume happens when you are too worried about your own safety to commit to laying down or letting go of the backpack that has your only possessions. Being homeless would be terribly stressful. I see one guy who keeps a hair brush next to his sleeping bag, and I think I know why. He doesn't want to look like a bum. Or get treated like a bum.

Every time I take dinner to the shelter, I reflect that I am SO LUCKY to get to take dinner to the shelter, instead of eating my dinner there. Especially for the homeless youth, being homeless is often a matter of bad luck, and a lack of great support systems. While many of them have been pushed out of the foster care system with few enduring contacts, I have a fantastic family who has supported all my crazy endeavors, helping me get my education which makes it much easier for me to find work. They even bring me brownie sundaes to share with some people they will never meet because I told my parents I needed help. Friends of Youth does a great job at working to supplement the support systems for their guests, to provide them counseling, social work services and connect the with opportunities for education and work. But really, nothing can replace the good fortune of having a lifetime with a great family.