Most Thursday mornings you can find me at a local shelter for homeless families, working as a volunteer chaplain. I’m not as useful as I’d like to be, since I am male – and many of those needing the services of this facility (and similar shelters) are there because of domestic abuse – meaning that men are to be feared and avoided, not trusted. So, it can take a great deal of time to get past that hurdle before communication (and trust) can grow. And, many of the residents move on to other shelters, or (hopefully) a home, before such a bond can develop.
As a result, I spend a great deal of my time observing those who are there in the shelter, mostly Moms (and some Dads) getting their kids to the school bus, preparing to go to work. Often they are also preparing for a new round in the endless struggle with the Social Services bureaucracy and various other agencies and organizations: a struggle dedicated to providing enough food for their family, finding a new home, a new job, and perhaps medical or other care.
It’s an interesting place. I usually see kids reading schoolbooks, watching TV, talking with their parents and playing with friends. Both parents and kids will be eating from the continental breakfast buffet that the hotel puts out for them. (The State of Massachusetts contracts with a number of hotels around the state, such as the one I work at, to provide shelter for the several thousand homeless families that cannot be housed within state-owned and run homes.)
The kids are dressed just like any kid would be on a school morning – jeans or (for the younger set) some sort of themed clothing – (perhaps a superhero, Barbie, Hello Kitty, and so on…) Backpacks full, sometimes with Mom (as all Mom’s do) doing her best to make their hair and outfits presentable before they have to run out to the school bus.
When I drive up on those mornings, I sometimes see parents running from the hotel to the commuter bus stop nearby with plates of food – perhaps two or three bagels or toast, and (usually) coffee. Moms might be pushing a stroller, or shepherding a young child or two, while the dads might have a backpack or briefcase.
These are people, people like you and me.