Monday, February 15, 2016

Spending Valentine's Day in a Homeless Shelter

I took the photos below last year when I stayed overnight at the Emergency Warming Shelter at St. Mary's in Painesville, Ohio. It looked about the same last night.

Pope Francis's words pretty much sum up what we try to do. We let our hospitality, our actions, proclaim the message of the Gospel.

Last night we had 14 guests, sleeping on cots around the perimeter of the gym.

My cot, sleeping bag, etc. The same for all the guests.

Outside the emergency shelter. Last night was very cold, windy, and snowy.

Spending Valentine's Day in a Homeless Shelter

I, along with lead volunteer and organizer Kathy Philipps, spent Valentine's Day night at an emergency Warming Center/Homeless Shelter, with fourteen guests. Some of our guests could have died if they had to spend the night in the bitter cold and snow of Painesville, Ohio. The emergency shelter was provided by St. Mary's Parish, and I want to thank the parishioners, staff, and the pastor, Fr. Steve Vellenga, for their huge generosity, a generosity right in the spirit of Pope Francis and, indeed, Jesus, who admonished us to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless.

Our shelter has a minimum of basic rules, and these provide for the safety and well-being of our guests. We know the names and much about the lives of our guests, and we try to treat them as friends. We are not bureaucratic; we don't have endless rules and forms to fill out because we don't have governmental funding (in fact, almost no funding--just small donations and volunteer labor). In many ways we operate along the lines of the Catholic Worker, founded by Dorothy Day about 85 years ago. Dorothy's model was based upon the ancient traditions of hospitality, so central to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

For the most part, the night went well. Linda Coughlin and Dan and Kathy Philipps helped set things up, served a light dinner, and set up the cots, sheets, blankets, etc. They brought in a television/VCR unit and showed a movie, and they talked to the guests until after 9 PM.

Around 10 PM all the lights were extinguished and almost everyone fell asleep. Kathy was awakened in the middle of the night by a guest who was pacing and crying--she seemed to be suffering from anxiety. Her anxiety escalated into loud talking and great distress, and she and her partner left of their own free will around 4 AM. Another woman, suffering from mental distress, also left in the middle of the night. But most guests did fine and slept all night. People woke up around 6 AM, had a light breakfast, cleaned up the gym, and all were back on the street (including Kathy Philipps and me) by around 7:15.

I headed home at that time, having had about 6 hours sleep. Kathy, who slept very little, gathered all the linens into plastic bags and took them home for washing.

The night involved a lot of work, and maybe not enough sleep. But nobody died, nobody froze to death, everyone was offered shelter and food, everyone was treated with respect and kindness--Valentine's Day night was a success. You might say it was a night of love.


Brian R said...

God bless all the guests and volunteers at St. Mary's warming center!

View from the North Coast said...

Yes, Brian!