I was told to arrive at 7 p.m. last night and I'd be staying until 7:30 a.m. this morning. I didn't know what I'd be doing other than helping and sleeping--I was told I'd get six to seven hours of sleep). When I first arrived they gave me a tour. They house men, women, and families separately (the children are usually housed with the women). The two staffers I met were great people and really dedicated--one is the daughter of the shelter's founder so she definitely has service "in her blood."
Next, I was instructed to find sheets and blankets for my mattress and pull it into the director's office where I was to sleep. Then I hung out enjoying talking with some of the shelter residents until lights out at 11.
They needed a volunteer to "sleep over" as they are required by law to have two non-residents (staffer and a volunteer or two staff) there over night. The daytime staffer said this was in case of emergency. I commented to the nighttime staffer that little 5 foot 1 me is not going to be much help in an emergency. He wasn't a big guy himself and replied to me that he wouldn't be any help either. He said we would help direct folks if there was a fire drill or something of that sort but if two residents got in a fight, we'd just get "out of way." That wasn't super comforting but every resident I met was warm and friendly--not at all the surly type to pick a fight.
The staffer woke me up at 5:30 a.m. and I made multiple pots of coffee while putting out breakfast. He couldn't believe I slept well and I was surprised, too. I was up a few times as the mattress wasn't very firm but went right back to sleep--and I didn't need my friend's suggested earplugs, either. ;-)
On Sundays, all of the residents need to leave by 7 a.m. as the shelter is attached to a church and the shelter noise interferes with the services. They are able to come back later in the day, though. Everyone I met seemed in good spirits--many were going to play pool that morning at St. Charles Park District's Senior Center (they shared that it only cost $6 per YEAR to join.) They all joked with each other about their pool skills and exchanged good-natured trash talk. Like other times when I've volunteered in shelters, I was encouraged by what good spirits people can have even during a really tough time in their lives.
Several expressed that this was the best homeless shelter in the area. There was a big-screen TV in the gathering area as well as a computer for them to use. It is a well-organized shelter and receives strong support from local churches, groceries, and businesses--including yummy donations from some of my favorites: Trader Joe's and Fresh Market. :) They also provide services to people getting back on their feet, allowing them to rent their own dorm-style rooms. The rent money is then banked and saved for them to give them some starter funds when they move out.
It was a really good experience and I would definitely volunteer to stay over again as well as continue to bring food. I was sharing with a friend before going that I think one reason I volunteered was to help me get out of myself a bit. I still feel really sad at times about this baby that we thought we'd have with us right now. Helping out such as this really helps me focus on all the blessings in my life and put everything in perspective.
If any of you are local and want to know more about the shelter, wish to bring food, or are considering "sleeping over" yourself, feel free to contact me or visit their website at: http://