Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reporting from the Roof: Morning. Day 2

Night outside our tent flap
I have a new friend. Two of them actually. Tiny. Spongy. Bright orange. Earplugs are the greatest!

I didn't think of getting a pair until well into the night. After 'lights' out around 9 when we four had bunked down into two separate tents. After Chad, a staff member brought up hot chocolate and cookies for the roof inhabitants. And after being startled awake just before 11 by loud crashing and banging somewhere in the night.

I had to get up and explore. We were all wondering, what the hell was that? and nobody else was moving.

The light outside the kitchen door
I crawled out of the tent. Put on my boots and explored. The source of the noise was easily discernible. Behind the building on which we are camped out is a large fenced in area where construction machines and materials are stored by the City. For some reason, two workers thought it would be a grand idea to unload a truck load of broken up concrete into a big metal garbage bin... at 11 at night.

I stood on the roof and watched them and wished I had a megaphone. Wouldn't they have been surprised! But I didn't so I watched in silence and then reported back to my tent mates. Leah, who works with our medical team suggested I radio down to staff for a pair of earplugs.

"Do you want some too?" I asked.

Two voices piped up from their tent in unison. "Yes. Please!"

But the radio battery was dead so I went in search of earplugs. And a new battery for the radio.

 The shelter is different at night. Quieter. Surreal almost. Lights are dimmed. Voices hushed. People are bunked down, some trying to sleep. Some watching television. Some reading. Some just sitting huddled over a mug of coffee, a laptop, a radio. The doors are always open for people to come and go throughout the night, the second floor smoke deck lights always on.

I enter the building through the kitchen door that has been left unlocked, just for us. And I think of the number of homes where doors are left unlocked, porch lights left on in anticipation of someone coming back in the night. In the hope that the one who has left will return to the kitchen, and the hearts that miss them and find their place at the family table again.

At eleven pm, the kitchen is quiet. Lights dimmed. I slip out through the door leading into the large day area of the second floor where normally, during daylight hours, tables are set up with four chairs each and clients sit reading, watching TV, playing cards or chatting with eachother or staff or any of the over 60 volunteers who come in each day to help serve meals. Three meals a day. Two snacks. 3500 servings of food a day.

At night, during winter, the tables are pushed back or lined up to form a barrier to keep the 'women's sleeping quarters' separate from the men's. Blue mats line the floor. Half are occupied. The other's await people coming in from the cold as they inevitably will do throughout the night.

I see a couple of people I know. Smile. We pantomime hello. People are sleeping. We don't want to disturb them.

I head down the stairs to the first floor, into the lobby where during the day there are always people milling about. At night, the area is empty, until I push through the doors into the security area by the front doors where a crowd of people stand milling about the doors to Intox.

Intox is a large room where individuals under the influence of drugs or alcohol sleep each night. Linear rows of blue mats line the room. Laid out, head to head, a foot apart with enough room between each mat for staff to walk to check on people throughout the night. All 200 mats are full. Bodies lay curled up, face down, face up, sprawled out.

It is quiet when I walk in and ask for the earplugs. Lights are dimmed. I don't know a lot of the night staff. I'm usually gone or not yet in when they're at work. Their shifts begin between 9 and 10pm, end at 7. While I sleep, they are busy taking care of people.
Rush hour begins

It is important work they do.

Someone asked me recently about the number of people we sleep under the influence. "Aren't you enabling them?" they asked.

"Yes," I replied. "We enable them to stay alive. And that is more important than anything else. Because as long as they're alive, there is hope."

Dawn breaks in the east
And while it can be heart-breaking to think about so many people lost to addictions sleeping another one off another night in a row, not one of us has the right to judge. We only have the capacity to do. To take care of human beings in need.

I am reminded of the importance of what we do as I walk through the sleeping building. I am reminded of the imperative of caring for those who have lost their way on the road of life and have come through our doors seeking shelter.

And as I head back up to the roof and crawl into my tent, I am grateful for this night. This opportunity to be of service.

I can't change the world. I can't change another person's life. But I can change how I look at what is happening in the world around me. I can change what I do, how I see the darkness and the light, the sadness and the brokenness. And no matter what is happening around me, I can soften my heart and look through eyes of love.

I shared a night on the roof of the shelter with Dave and Leah and Heather. We laughed and joked, told stories and teased each other. We huddled together in one tent until it was time to go to bed. We were a team. A group of people committed to making a difference together. We were a family.

We were not alone up there on the roof. We were part of a larger group of people who work and volunteer and live here at the DI. Connected to the world out there, to those who also work and volunteer and live in shelters around the country, waiting for that moment in time when they can slip through the unlocked kitchen door and return home to the hearts that love them.

In our sleeping on the roof, I find myself connected to the reason why it is so important we keep doing what we are doing to provide a safe haven for those who are lost on our streets -- this is their way home. This is the door back to the kitchens, and the people they love and who love them.

We are all connected through the threads of our humanity that link us all, no matter our condition. And in our humanity, we must care for eachother, no matter our state of being.


The Gooseberry Garden said...

amazing post.

The Gooseberry Garden said...


Happy Birthday.

we have your birthday stated in our poetry picnic post,

link in a random poem to share if you could.

bless you.

keep up the excellence.

sharmishtha said...

the world has become so noisy lately that i too will not mind possessing a pair of them, the only problem is they will muffle the sound of the alarm too.

Maureen said...

DI has such an eloquent advocate in you.

Anonymous said...

glad to hear that you got to see the night staff.
very interesting stories.
have you ever thought of being a reporter?
i hope you do.
you're good at it.