We had a shift of service at the Men’s shelter this weekend, and I really feel for those poor homeless guys who, after spending a night inside where it’s warm, have no place to go. The shelter opens for sign-in at 6PM, and by 7PM the guys have all shown up, taken their Breathalyzer test, and gone to claim their spot for the night. Then it’s showers and dinner time until 9PM. Lights Out is at 10PM. Rollout is at 7AM, and they have to be out by 8AM.
But at least we were part of giving them a safe, warm place to spend the night. This is through St. Andrew’s in downtown Vancouver. Portland has their own set of missions and shelters, but this is a part of Vancouver’s. And it’s run by the Lutheran church.
The work for us volunteers is often physically taxing, and risky to one’s health, but isn’t this what Christ called all of us to do? From Matthew 25:
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
It has been our privilege for the last few years to work the shift that is always the last one to get volunteers – the Sunday morning 0530 – 0815 shift. This is the last shift our congregation works before the next congregation steps in for their turn. Essentially we get up at 0330, drive all the way into the city to go work at the shelter, then go to worship. You get to worship and you’re kind of dragging, but you at least have a glow of the knowledge of having done something good for someone else who needed it.
And if you look for it, there’s the presence of of God. It’s hard to see, because his presence is happening through you. Your gnarled fingers are straight enough to help. Your weak arm is strong enough to help. Your physical presence is all that’s needed; God works through you, no matter how you are – the important thing is that you are there for him to work through.
And really, that’s all that’s needed.
At work through you.
The work of running the shelter is cleverly divided up amoung the shifts, with the guys doing their share. The fellas have to do vacuuming, cleaning restrooms, dishes, wiping down, taking out the garbage, and so on. The volunteers do the washing, folding, handle setting out the meals, and so on. There are donated socks and underwear to distribute, towels to lend for the night. It’s important for each preceding shift of volunteers to have done their work, so as to not throw an undue heavy load upon those who follow. One important part is just lending an ear to the fellas to let them know that somebody cares about listening to their story.
And about that: we had the privilege of talking to several of the fellas as they had their breakfast and got ready to head out for their day. I met a couple guys who had lived in my old home town for a few years, and it was fun to talk about all the old landmarks and how they’d changed. They also had a unique perspective on them, telling about where is a good place to shelter for a night or two, where there’s a good place to go during the day. It’s eye-opening.
One important thing that should not be lost in this story is the plight of homeless women in Vancouver. The fellas tell me that there are only 8, yes, EIGHT, beds available for homeless women. This particular morning, they knew of at least 15 others who had no place warm – and safe – to go. If you have a family, there’s shelter space. If you are the victim of domestic violence, there’s shelter space. But if you’re a single woman, no.
If you have any chance to help out your local shelter, please consider those who are left to wander in this kind of deadly-freezing weather. If you don’t know how to help out your local shelter or food bank, please do a quick search for ‘local homeless shelter’ and see what their needs are. Usually their needs are simple, and it’s easy to help out. Really. Just check and see. Helping somebody who really needs it is a simple Google search away.
And if your church isn’t helping out, right here is an opportunity.
Go and do good.