My sister, Lisa and I parted with the homeless man, Wade and headed to the shelter.
We passed a middle-aged barefoot woman with a blank stare on her face. Oh, the stories we’d hear if only we’d listen. A police car dropped off a young, scantily dressed agitated woman.
We entered the building to find a corridor where the homeless had their fingerprints scanned to gain admission. I was puzzled what to do next. I approached a volunteer in his 20’s that was busy sweeping. I asked if we could have a tour. He told me, “No.” He explained the “sleep schedule” was started but he’d find his supervisor, Kim.
A tall woman in her 40’s appeared. Tall, solid looking. Short dishwater blond hair. Sparkling eyes full of laughter. Kim welcomed us and apologized she was unable to give a tour right now. She described the fifty year old operation to us.
“The first floor is for the inebriated and “high” clientele. We are one of the few shelters in Canada that takes in people “under the influence”. We have a detox centre, a rehab unit and even a psychologist on staff. However, some of these folks have chosen the first floor for thirteen years. Even when they’re sober! Because that’s where there their friends are sleeping.”
“The second floor is the dining area. We prepare little food here. We serve 3500 people a day. Corporations bring in food and often help out with serving too.”
“The third floor is sleeping quarters- a dorm- for clientele who are just a bit drunk or high.”
“The fourth and fifth floors are for those with mental health issues and the working poor. We also have a fair number of elderly who cannot afford accommodation. It’s a real shame, I tell you! We have bunk beds on these floors.”
I’ve been doing this job for years and years. It’s by far the easiest job I’ve ever had. I love it. I love harassing the people.”
Now, reading this you might think Kim was a bully. But, no, she said it with tenderness and love. I think she meant she didn’t put up with any nonsense. She told us she and the clients share a lot of laughter through the day. That the centre provides breakfast, lunch and dinner and snacks in between and at bedtime.
“A person will tell me that he’s starving. I say, “How can you be hungry? You just ate an hour and a half ago. You eat better than I do!”
“Even if I win the lottery, I’ll come back here to work for free. Just so I can “harass” them some more. I tell them that all the time.”
Lisa and I received an open invitation to serve here anytime. I felt honoured. I told KIm, “God bless you for all you do!” and we left.
I searched for Wade. I still had the twenty dollar bill in my pocket. I wanted to give it to him. He was gone. Another time, another person.