I was at a homeless shelter not that long ago.
Since I’d never been to one before, I had little go on. As usual, the only references I had came from books. In my uninformed, little mind, I figured it had to be better than Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist but would probably be worse than L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.
The first shelter was for youth. As in teens. Now, teens can be a handful but this place was bad. Really bad. And, no matter how rude teens can be, they’re also kids.
Forget the graffiti on the walls and the locks on the fridges, it smelled. There were signs posted up for what to do if you had bedbugs and/or head lice and I immediately started to feel itchy. The bedrooms were tiny with lockers crammed inside and bunk beds lining the walls. I counted six before I stopped and left the room. I didn’t see a window. The mattresses were the thickness of gym pads and covered in plastic for easy cleaning. So were the pillows. I was glad we didn’t see their washrooms.
I felt immediately sad. And claustrophobic.
Our tour went on to the Salvation army. Another type of shelter, this time for adults. There we went through the kitchen and onto the living area where we saw another typical bedroom. More signs for bedbugs and lice, more plastic-covered mattresses and pillows. We helped out with lunch. Those who came to eat weren’t scary or crazy, they were average people who had been hit by hard times. They talked to us and told us their stories. They were hoping to get jobs and to reconnect with their families. Some were in transition, going to another province because there was work there. Others were trying to find work here, closer to their loved ones.
They must have seen something in my face, because they started saying jokes and trying to cheer me up. When I saw that they were trying to take care of me, I had to turn away or I’d cry.
I left not caring one iota if my book was number one in Amazon or last on the list. I forgot all about that reno I wanted done in the house and about the winter tires the car needed. I got home and kissed my husband, took the dogs for long walk and told them how wonderful they were (as they drooled around me in delight). Then, I sat at home, stared at our trees and felt so grateful I could have cried again.
I am so grateful that I have a job. That I have a home. That I’m sober. That I have my health. The rest is gravy. I need to remember that.
Will one of you kick me if I forget? Really. No? How about a shake? Next time I whine about something, just give me a little shake.
I really needed to see those shelters.