"Do small things with great love." - Mother Teresa
That small phrase is what would best describe the goal I set for my night of serving at Simpson Housing Services. I have lots to ponder following my experience but thought I'd throw in a quick overview here before I post some other thoughts. For a basic description of the shelter I volunteered at and the services the men there can receive you can go here.
Okay - this is the first time I have chosen to interact with people that are homeless. At least in a meaningful, more personal way. Sure, I've handed out money, made sandwiches, and done other such activities - but had never put myself in a position where I would have hours of face time with a person who is without a home. Yep, I was a little apprehensive. But it was awesome!
On a given night there are two overnight volunteers that serve from 5:45 pm until 7:00 am. The three shelter staff start work at 3 pm and leave around 10:15 pm - shortly after all the guests are supposed to be in bed. The volunteers are basically the "eyes and ears" of the staff. We take care of the guests basic needs (there are about 46 overnight guests each night) - handing out supplies, making coffee, directing traffic a little (where to get what), etc. Meeting needs and making them feel cared for and safe. This frees up the staff to meet with guests one on one and do the work of trying to provide better access to care for their guests with the ultimate goal of obtaining permanent housing for them. The volunteers rotate their turns sleeping - one from 10 -2 the other from 2 - 6. I split the difference as I am "shadowing" so I got to try to sleep from 12 - 4...but mainly I just listened to the sounds around me.
My first impression was that this was a lot like a youth lock-in! I've helped organize many a lock-in for high school kids and there were some similarities....especially in the personalities that were present. The introvert, the helper, the funny guy, the really smart guy, the guy that gets picked on a lot, the guy that thinks none of the rules apply to him, the guy who knows how to work they system....but after spending time with them....the facades start to come down and the real stuff starts to come out. Lots of sadness, anger, loss of hope...balanced with gratefulness, contentment, and the beginnings of hope.
I tried really hard to learn names. Thru the course of the evening I had about 10 conversations with specific guests that allowed me to listen to at least part of their stories. It was humbling to listen in on their journeys. Some had been homeless for years....some for just a couple of weeks.
Each face and story was unique - and I tried to respond to each one with love. Thru a smile, an encouraging word, a handshake, cookies and milk, coffee....caring. But of course...in the process I was changed. More on that later.
So - it was an evening of small moments that were incredibly rich. I can't wait to go back. The volunteer schedule is already full for May....and I find myself disappointed rather than relieved. NOT what I expected. But of course with God in the middle of it....what else should I expect!
Small moments, small things....hopefully done with great love, indeed.