Where Is Home Tonight?
Please sign the rules page. Add your name to a chore list. Don’t worry about your hernia. Sweeping the floor shouldn’t aggravate it. Take your styrofoam cup with your name handwritten in blue felt pen. Move right. Shuffle the shifting pile of bedding bundles to find yours. (It had better be there or else!) Make a B-Line to your place, the place you sleep every time you come inside. Save a place for your buddy. I know you don’t take no for answer (until you have to). Ask for a new cup when yours disappears. You need not despair. Ask for a Bible. Sure, promise to give it back. (I say keep it. It’s yours.)
This night is cold and wet. The forecast calls for ten inches of rain this week.
Churches in town partner to be clean, well-lighted shelters for homeless people to escape the winter’s cold and find food. Van drivers go into the night to designated pick-up spot to gather anyone who wants to come inside.
Most of the local homeless know each other. That’s good and bad. Most of them know the drill at each shelter: they get in line for the van at the same place and time each night. When they arrive, volunteers wave a metal-detecting wand over each body. They empty their pockets. Frisking is awkward and uncomfortable for all. But, necessary. This is a safe place.
One person said thank you.
Another asked for prayer.
A woman refused to surrender her long stick. She couldn’t stay.
Dogs are allowed in the shelter.
Inside, the people nosh nachos while they wait for the last person to enter the shelter. The room buzzed when a police car rolled in:
The cops are here.
Police are here?
The cops are here!
It’s okay. It’s not important, I tell one soul quietly. (You have other things to think about.)
No one is sober. Except for the 9-year-old girl, Tessa. She waltzes in completely comfortable with the routine. She knows what to do. She knows many of the people who are already inside. Her mom is there. The man is not her dad.
They hand over their playing card, many of them thinking we are going to play a game. Security misinformed them. There’s no game. We just need to know that you passed through security. It’s for everyone’s safety. Security volunteers collect knives, guns, sticks and drugs and lock the paraphernalia inside a trailer. You can have it back tomorrow. (We’re not cops.) Tonight this is a safe place for everyone. We all want to sleep soundly.
“I’ll stab you!” I hear from the women’s section. My back is to the wall as I survey the 50 or so bodies milling about the 50 x 50 room with a corner kitchen. She’s not talking about tonight. But, maybe tomorrow when she gets her knife back and they’re on the streets again.
Pray to God to intervene.
They settle down. There’s a zero tolerance rule here.
Jimmy knows that. He’s a regular. But, he has to go now. This is a safe place.
Jimmy, you can’t sleep there.
Move that f—-ing thing!
Jimmy, you can’t sleep there.
This thing’s never here!
Jimmy, you have to go.
You have to go.
The local police are on speed dial.
The Last Card Is Dealt
Ashley hands in the last playing card. A queen of spades, for heaven’s sake. The shelter is full. The vans leave. The police drive away with one obstreperous female.
Kumbaya: Come by here, Lord.
Pastor Dave calls the room to attention. His voice is calm, compassionate, and no B.S. The facts are:
You’re welcome here in God’s house.
This is a place of shelter. A place to rest and recovery.
A place to give glory to God.
A generous, nourishing spaghetti meal in prepared.
You may even eat seconds if there is such a thing.
One man walks in front of me to dump a full plate of hot food into the waste basket near my feet.
Whoa! Are you not eating?
My stomach’s bothering me.
Well, someone could have eaten it.
Do You Want Lasting Shelter?
How hungry are you? What does it take to fully surrender? To raise your hand? To cry out, I GIVE UP. You win. Take my life and give me a new one.
For two hours, I stand in the cold air pushing through the open door, writing on a cup each person’s given name or street name; adding a smiley face or a flower for Tessa.
“Lord, I hope I don’t know anyone coming in tonight. No one from the drug rehab home, none of the kids from juvenile hall. Please. Tell me they are making a new way and not following that same old dead-end road, the one that brought each of these people here tonight.
Your mercy is great. Let me not forget that.
Thank you for shelter that’s lasting.