It was a rare Friday for me--I arrived at the municipal parking lot at 5:35, a couple of minutes before Mike and Brent came driving the two Street Ministry vans. Sandy M arrived a few minutes later. We had many visitors tonight; Brent and I estimated around 45. As usual, to most we gave a bag with some imperishable food and candy, a water bottle, and a juice pouch. Tonight we also had a cooler filled with sealed blocks of cheese of a size that would be a single serving for a person with a good appetite. I was a bit surprised at how popular the cheese was--it seems so ordinary in my middle-class life--but, as several of our visitors told me, when you lack access to a refrigerator it is hard to keep cheese.
One of our first visitors was a woman bringing her seven-month-old baby in a stroller. She stayed at the van for quite a while, and, a few minutes later, many of the women staying in the shelter saw her and came over to see or hold the baby and to try to get it (sorry about the "it"--I was busy handing out bags of food and never found out if it was a boy or a girl) to smile.
I offered to help another woman who approached the van. She was so soft spoken that I had trouble hearing her. She told me she couldn't eat the food we had, but accepted a bottle of water. She then left but later returned when Mike wasn't busy and talked with him. It takes a long time for many of the homeless to trust someone. Mike had built up that trust with her and I hadn't. She was comfortable talking to Mike in front of me, however. (Mike is very good about recognizing when people want privacy and will walk away from the back of the van--where I usually am and where we hand out the food bags--to talk more privately, but she began telling Mike about her problems before he had a chance to move.) She was a bit confused about her medications and had trouble taking them at the proper time and in the proper amounts. Mike called up Karen on his cell phone and let the two women talk. Karen is one of our volunteers who is usually out on Tuesdays. She is also a nurse and, evidently, had helped the woman with her medications in the past. Apparently the phone counseling was successful because the woman seemed satisfied.
Brent and I heard some good news--a man we gave some food to told us he had just landed a full-time job in a factory making large air filters. He starts on Monday. He got the job through an agency in Chippewa that we have been referring people to. The man also told us that the company was hiring more people. Shortly after, our friend who works at a car wash came buy on his bike. He was about to leave when I asked him how the car wash job was going. He said it was going well, but then paused and told Brent and me more of his story. First, he said he had been sober for 90 days now. He also told us about his educational background--he is quite skilled in many areas of technology including electronics. He said he might look for a better job soon. Although the car wash was good to him, and he has been a good employee there, he has the skills for a much higher paying job. We told him about the possible job openings at the factory.
We had a fairly steady stream of visitors throughout the evening. In addition to the food items, we also gave out a pair of shorts, a shirt, a backpack, and a hygiene kit. (We probably gave out quite a bit more, but those are the items I helped distribute.) We also made a list of requested items from others visitors.
A few minutes before shelter opening time CT came over. I talked with him for a few minutes. He has been gradually buying wood to build a "tiny house" next to his camper. He earns a living as a roofer, but often stays at the shelter because he cant afford the gas to commute from his camper out in the country into town and back.
Although tonight was a pleasant evening--the temperature was in the upper seventies and humidity was not a problem--I heard apprehensive comments about winter already. It will be cold soon enough, and that is unsettling to those on the street. The shelter opened at 7, and I left about 10 minutes after that.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.