Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Sleeping Over" in a Homeless Shelter

Last night I spent the night in a homeless shelter. Yes, you read that correctly. Our church supports the Lazarus House homeless shelter in St. Charles, IL and each month church members donate food. In addition, a volunteer spends the night helping out the staff. We had previously donated food and I'd always been tempted to volunteer for the all-night shift but never did. Then, last month, right after our unsuccessful adoption something prompted me to sign up to volunteer for the January date.

I've served at soup kitchens and homeless shelters since I was a kid.  In addition every year we cook a meal at an Evanston shelter in memory of a dear friend of mine who passed away.  So serving is not a new experience for me...but spending the night in a shelter felt a bit out of my comfort zone. 
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:

My Philosophy on Blogging

Welcome back to my blog!  Yes, after four posts in my first nine days as a blogger, it's now been a month to the day since I last blogged. Back in early December when I was weighing whether or not I should start a blog, one big argument against was the time it would take away from my already busy life.  I especially didn't want it to take time away from my family. Thus, I made a deal with myself that I would blog when I wanted to and when I had time. I wouldn't feel the need to blog with a certain frequency and just write when the spirit moved me. 
Since I last wrote I've continued to heal from our unsuccessful adoption.  We're back on the adoption list to be matched again and hopeful but, understandably, a bit guarded.  I met with the head of our adoption organization who had a lot of wisdom to share (I'll elaborate more in a future post).  Per her suggestion based on birthparent input,  I've been taking time to edit our adoption profile to streamline it more which will allow for more/bigger pictures. 
I look forward to sharing in future blog posts some more detail as to how I'm doing as well as share some communications I've had with the birthmom over the past month. In fact, I already have a couple of blog posts written in my head which I'll commit to (electronic) paper and post in coming weeks.

But today I thought I'd share my first blog post on a non-adoption related topic. I will post that one directly following this one so stay tuned. :)