As the shabby dressed people shamble pass me at 5:00 a.m. to face another day on the streets at the coldest time of the day, almost to a person they thank me. “Thank you, God bless you” they say to me as they leave the building where they have been sleeping on the bare floors or trying to sleep sitting in chairs.
This is a Sunday morning and the outside temperature is just below freezing. I have been watching over these human beings since 1:00 a.m. in a building that is part of the Reno Homeless Shelter complex. The building called the Resource Center seems to be mainly composed of classrooms some with computer stations for training. This area is being used as a last resort to try to get people out of the cold drizzling rain. Why am I here? Because the Homeless Shelter is yet again unstaffed probably because of sick call-ins.
Temple Sinai was scheduled to provide the volunteers to man the emergency overflow tent setup in the back-parking lot of the Complex. We usually have three volunteers, at the tent, from 8:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. and three volunteers taking over at 1:00 a.m. to after the final cleanup at approximately at 6:00 a.m. Actually, four volunteers had arrived before 8:30 p.m. but two were asked to help with the fourth overflow for the third overflow for the second overflow shelter at the Record Street facility.
The area identified as the Men’s Shelter, which serves as a coordinating center, was being manned by an untrained new person who had no idea what to do and was overwhelmed. One of our volunteers, who is a pre-med student at the University of Nevada, and has helped the Shelter often was trying to assist this person.
Our other volunteer started to man the overflow that was being housed in the Resource Center. As far as I could tell the complete complex was being manned by one security guard, a person at the Family Shelter that I assume were employees and our four volunteers. At 1:00 a.m. two more of our volunteers arrived. They took over responsibility for the overflow tent, one of the tent volunteers went home and I moved to the Resource Center and the two volunteers there went home. They both had important commitments just in a few hours.
Was this situation unique? I seriously doubt it, probably more the norm.
Before I started volunteering to man the Overflow Homeless Shelter I would have thought that my emotional response would be a feeling of good service, a feeling of contributing. But I find my emotional feeling is anger, anger of how this can happen here. But I also look around and see some of the young volunteers, the young pre-med student who is spreading the word about free medical clinics, the young lady, mother of three children, taking 24 credit hours a semester so she can become a social worker and try to make a difference.
How did we get here as a nation? This situation isn’t new. It’s been going on for hundreds of years. Is this just a part of life, a part of evolution, survival of the fittest, survival of the most cunning, or survival of the unscrupulous? What we are left with are the results of neglect, indifference, shame, and our self-inflicted ignorance!
I often hear “But for the Grace of God go I” as people encounter the Homeless, the families sleeping out on the streets and I think do they give that anymore thought than “God bless” after someone sneezes? I don’t think I did.
We are in a rapidly evolving world except for the Homeless. Some now have smart phones but they are dressed in unwashed, unclean clothing, ragged coats, hats, and gloves if they are lucky. Many have day jobs but can’t afford to find even minimal shelter, a flea-bag motel, a shared room, some try to stay in small camps along the river or out in the desert.
Often the police will raid these encampments and burn or destroy their few precious belongings. Do the authorities who order these raids actually go on these encounters and watch? What can be going through their minds, do they feel that is their duty? Under other circumstances would these raids be criminal?
Early in this same evening, manning the overflow tent my friend and I watched an older man probably in his sixties or seventies (hard to tell under these circumstances) try to walk across the pavement (tent floor) with his son trying to help. The tent was already at overcapacity but we still had two thin mats and one clean blanket.
The son helped the older man over to one of the mats and tried to help him sit. The man’s legs were so stiff and in so much pain that it took the son about ten or fifteen minutes to get his father into a sitting position on that mat. The son then started to gather two other blankets that were already thrown in the “to be cleaned” bins.
I approached him and told he was not to use those blankets because they needed to be cleaned first. He mumbled a few words to me that I couldn’t understand but he was polite and determined so I stood back and let him gather the two blankets he felt he needed. He then spent the next almost half hour arranging the two remaining mats on top of each other and padding and stacking the blankets to give his father a more comfortable sleeping space. The son then pulled a deserted patio chair close to his father, wrapped himself in a discarded blanket and went to sleep.
“Thank you, God Bless You”