|Unknown homeless person. Public domain photo.|
On this cold wintry day, I'm reminded of those in our midst who have no permanent homes. The challenges are difficult enough in the heat of summer; what must it be like in 20-degree weather?
On August 13, 2010, my friend Julie Costa and I volunteered for a couple of hours at an emergency shelter. First published at the Examiner.com, I offer a glimpse of that experience in the article reprinted below.
by Virginia Bergman
The pre-adolescent girl twirled the two hula hoops around her slender hips a hundred times – she counted – while younger children raced back and forth on three wheelers at the emergency shelter provided at St. Mark’s Catholic Church on Dayton Avenue in St. Paul Friday evening, August 13, 2010.
A five-month-old baby girl with strong legs propelled her walker for a few minutes before a volunteer paused to scoop up the irresistible infant.
At the center of the large room, cooled by a couple of well-placed fans, several guests, including a 12- or 13-year-old boy, sat around a table playing cards – no one mentioned that it was Friday, the 13th. When the hula hoop star stopped by to kibitz, one of the women told her she was cute. With a shake of her ponytail, the young girl replied, “No, I’m not; my hair isn’t styled!”
“She hates wearing her hair in a ponytail,” her mother explained.
At a nearby table, a Somali woman, covered from head to toe in traditional Islamic dress, tended a fussy toddler who appeared not to feel well. The woman offered a snapshot of her personal history. She explained that she left the failed state of Somalia to come to America in the 90s. She shuddered as she spoke of the violence and killing still rampant in her homeland. Now in the seventh month of pregnancy, she and her husband have separated and since she is no longer able to work, she has lost her apartment.
Another woman summarized one painful experience after another that ultimately brought her and her three children to St. Mark’s that evening. Smiling through tears, she expressed a strong faith that God would lead her and her children through their present difficulties. She later found a table off in a corner where she could sit quietly and read for a time.
The volunteers were glad to watch over the younger children and give their mothers a brief respite from their care. Ours was an easy assignment. The kids helped themselves to snacks laid out for them and occupied themselves with the variety of toys on hand.
St. Mark’s emergency shelter also offered its clients a selection of used clothing and assorted toiletries, a shower for their use, and curtained cubicles in a separate area for sleeping.
All told, the shelter served six women and 12 children that evening brought there from the Family Place, a day center for those without permanent homes.
St. Mark’s is one of many area churches, synagogues, and schools that participate in Project Home, a program sponsored by the Saint Paul Area Council of Churches. Project Home provides 40-60 beds of emergency shelter for families in Ramsey County each night.
As the evening shift for volunteers came to an end, a husband and wife team arrived to spend the night at the shelter where they would be available to respond to the needs of those they came to serve.
When I arrived home, I saw my apartment and its furnishings in a new light; volunteering for a few hours at an emergency shelter will do that for you.