It has been forever since I’ve been here. Life has taken all kinds of twists and turns and I forgot all about documenting them here. Folks have asked me recently to do some posting. I was going to just start a new blog cuz in some ways it feels like a new life… but the adventures in hospitality are new every day and it still is part of this crazy, fun, beautiful, painful, scary, joyful, magic dance so here I am again.
Gonna just start by pasting in some email updates from the warming center. See if posting those gets me back into the spirit…
December 6, 2018
I’ve been nervous-excited about the start of the warming center this year. I always am. Like a kid going back to school, excited to see old friends and meet new, nervous that things won’t go well. This year, however, held an extra set of issues to stress out about as my anxious brain considered facilitating the warming center and keeping things up at Peace House. I’m still nervous – It’s day 3 and I’m already having a “wear your pajamas’s to work” day. And those who know me know I’m always worried that I can’t do it right, that I can’t do it good enough, and that no matter what goes wrong it’s always my fault.
But.. day 3 I’m here in my pajamas and, ya know what, it’s okay. This morning we made waffles at the warming center, we squabbled in good fun over proper toppings (Is Jelly better? Syrup? Butter or margarine? ) and not a person said “I’m not gonna eat your waffles, you’re in pajamas .”
Phil and William did vats of dishes and when it was time for lunch and we didn’t have a volunteer signed up to bring it we set to work warming up tomato soup and making grilled cheese. Using left over buns, Hawaiian rolls and some bread Ashlie walked over to Trader Joe’s and purchased on her bridge card. Fruit and pretzels round out the meal and fresh from the oven cookies for dessert. As I type this from the makeshift “desk” folks coming and going pause for hugs and to share how glad they are the warming center is here.
“Thank you for being here. Again.” “
Hey Sheri, got bus tokens? We’d be lost without ya’ll.”
“Can I use your phone to call HAWC? “
“Do you need someone to organize the donations?”
“That tent you gave me last year got me all the way through ’til the rotating shelter started.”
“Can we decorate cookies again this year?”
“I didn’t need the camping gear, but what MISSION gave me was a sense of purpose.”
Monday 2 of out guests (one staying in the warming shelter, and the other marginally/precariously housed- neither has income) each handed me $5 toward food or bus tokens. Another guy, spent $10 towards some staples and offered up a shopping trip of up to $20 on his bridge card later this week. Tuesday it was a guy handing me $5 from selling plasma to buy waffles, and Seth running over to Trader Joes to buy something for lunch for the guest who couldn’t eat the ham volunteers from the church had provided since he can’t eat pork. All of this and so much more.
And I realize, I am reminded once again – it’s not about me. It’s about us. Everyone has a piece. Everyone is needed to make this all work. No one “saves” anyone here. When we are at our best (and sometimes our best – at the moment – is showing up in PJs) we create the space and support each other to “save” ourselves.
“Sharing is Caring!” Mutual Aid at it’s finest!
As I listen to conversations around me, and connect with the guests as they come in I find myself thinking about past years, friendships that have grown over time and how those who have been around help the “new” folks learn the ropes. I think about how much I have gained and learned in this community. From this community. I think about how much I rely on so many folks to do this work and how many of those folks that I rely on and value so much are seen as “unreliable” and “unworthy” in our society.
I find myself thinking of open hours last night at peace house. I was worried because I’d cleaned out the fridge for the warming center and hadn’t had the time to go shopping. I left the warming center last night with a car overstuffed with folks heading to Peace House for an overnight and wondered how we’d be hospitable after a day of warming center busy and Peace House cupboards bare. But somehow Milk appeared in the fridge and frozen pizza to cook for the gang. Seth had made homemade bread and as it baked Rose began decorating boxes to place around town to collect hats, mittens, socks, coats, hygiene items and such, and Ashlie, Louis, Cindy and Biankha shared stories and tips about navigating the red tape to access resources.
Happy sigh. We got this.
I always say “we are in this together” and if this week has showed me something it is how much those words are true. It’s exciting and humbling. It’s that realization that I am important, and also that I am not important. That both can be true at the very same time.
I’m so glad all of you are a part of this. Thank you. I hope you can stop by the warming center sometime and join in the fun.
With deep gratitude, fierce love and hard-nosed hope, Sheri
December 15, 2018
Another busy week at the warming center. We averaged about 45 guests this week! We had visits from PORT and from the medical outreach team. Yummy lunches and great snakes every day. The generosity of our host and others in the community always inspires me. Guests frequently hand over an unused bus token, add their own items to the donation table, or purchase food items to share on their bridge cards. Again this year, Journey of Fatih created a holiday “free store” where guests could get gifts for loved ones and get help wrapping them. Such an amazing thing for those who might not be able to afford to get the things they want for their loved ones this holiday season. Children’s books, toys, and stuffed animals were popular and some great gifts for adults as well.
Yesterday the warming center moved out of our First seasonal host, Journey of Faith. Monday we move to our new home for the next 2 weeks, Trinity Lutheran Church. Moving day is exhausting in so many ways. As I pack up “the warming center bag” with the contents of our make shift welcome desk (community contracts, sign in forms…) I always find myself smiling in amused wonder: “the first 2 years we did this everything we took from one host to the next fit in this big bag.” Moving day meant grabbing some left over food to bring along for the next day and stuffing everything else in the bag. Now my little Honda Civic makes multiple trips to carry bins of yoga mats and blankets for napping, toasters, food, items for donation, games, art supplies, first aid kit….
I find myself realizing it is not just the physical act of moving all this stuff that is exhausting but the emotional labor of being present to many for whom moving is such a trigger. Folks tend to be on edge moving day. Lack of any sense of permanence and the security that comes with that is so prevalent for those experiencing homelessness and so often such a reminder of the ways in which we “have failed” to achieve what society seems to believe we should. This comes out in increased tension, arguments over seemingly small things like who gets the favorite chair in the corner or crankiness over collecting nap blankets early so we can wash them. But here is the thing I realize even in the midst of moving madness….
I wouldn’t want to give up this rotation, this moving in a million years. As we pack up one of the Journey of Faith volunteers comes over to say good-bye. “Why do we only get you for 2 weeks?” she asks, and when I reminder we’ll be back for 2 weeks in March her response is “Yes, but we want you here always.” Another tells me “It is going to be too quiet when you are gone.” Dropping off a load of stuff at Trinity I’m greeted by Pastor Sara and the staff there who seem genuinely happy that we are coming. It is so rare in our society that folks experiencing homelessness, those precariously housed and those securely “homeful” get to sit together and be in genuine community. Talking to the folks who use the warming center on a regular basis I am reminded how much we need that. Maybe even long for it without realizing it. No matter why we use the warming center, for a warm, dry, safe place to be or for connection to community or for a way to live out our faith we get that connection. And our moving our rotating, gives more folks that opportunity. That gift.
In this season when so many celebrate with gifts that seems an appropriate reflection. Sharing. Mutual Aid. Solidarity. Moving from Charity to Justice. Whatever words we use, these are gifts. And, to me, it is about community. The gifts of community. The words of Dorothy Day come to mind; “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”
Thanks for being a part of our community!
With fierce love and hard-nosed hope, Sheri
December 20, 2018
It is an early AM at the warming center and my phone is blowing up with calls and text messages. “Mama, I’m gonna be late today, ” “Just wanted to let you know I have court today so I won’t be there.” “Hey I’m sorry I can’t make it this AM, but I’ll be in this afternoon.” These messages come in from guests, and the thought again crosses my mind; “Friends become family, strangers – simply friends not yet met, and a community is formed”. There is no external reason for these check ins with me — while I am glad guests take my “we are all volunteers” mantra to heart, no one has to clock in here. No external reason, and yet an internal reason even more compelling – -that simple human need for someone to care where we are, for it to matter “if we make it home tonight.”
I was talking with Pastor Lori the other day, from our current host Trinity Lutheran Church, discussing that there is a significant minority of guests who are housed. Formerly homeless they continue to come needing a meal, something to do, donations from the table, but mostly -I believe -needing community. Needing someone to care when they don’t show up. I have no facts to back this up – just my gut and the experience of burying too many friends, but I think sometimes when folks are housed they can become so isolated. Without the wrap around services (that agencies like Avalon do so well) people can feel “warehoused” instead of “housed”. Pulled out of the community they have built while homeless they isolate with their addictions, trauma and mental health struggles.
I love that the warming center can help mitigate this. It’s beautiful to see these formerly homeless folks show up with stories to share with the newbies. “Oh, you think you have it bad. I remember when there was no day shelter. ” (Cue up dad walking to and from school in 10 feet of show; uphill both ways ) while they check on the person who hasn’t shown up for a day or 2, ask about the guy camped where they used to and help folks navigate the buses, the red tape of agencies or simply offer to accompany them back to the shelter or show them where the breakfast church is.
And, of course, for those who are experiencing homelessness we continue to see the need for the warming center not only for that sense of community and being cared for, but for the very basic needs of shelter and safety. Our numbers remain up from this time last year, averaging about 53 guests a day this week. We’ve had delicious lunches every day, the start of our puzzle crew and folks from the wider community sharing their time and talents. Sarah, the music director at Trinity Lutheran facilitated a drum circle for us this week, Joe (from Fantastic Sam’s in Ypsi) gave haircuts, and Alex (the herbalist) , the PORT/PATH crew and medical outreach team continued their regular visits.
The holidays can be such a hard time for so many in this community; so many “shoulds” all seeming to highlight the ways in which we have “failed” by society’s standards. No money for gifts, broken relationships with children and parents and siblings. But these gifts of folks from the wider community sharing themselves with us make a difference. If you are getting this email from me you are someone who has, this year or in years past, given that gift of yourself. Thank you.
And maybe, just maybe, as we build our communities and choose families the warming center is – at it’s heart – about knowing someone will notice (and care!) if I don’t make it home. (Even if that home is the basement of a church on weekdays between 9-4.)
With fierce love and hard-nosed hope,
PS – Some of you have asked. So, with no pressure intended here is a current wish list:
(For the donation table)
* New underwear and long johns/thermals
* hand warmers and toe warmers
* warm sweatshirts
* backpacks, messenger bags, duffles and wheeled carts
(For the kitchen / community )
* packets of instant oatmeal
* frozen waffles
* cream cheese
* individual packs of nuts, crackers etc
* bus tokens
* $5-10 gift cards from local coffee shops
And, of course, the most important thing — the gift of your time and sharing of your talents