It was 7:30 p.m. Saturday night. The outreach team needed extra help due to the hard freeze so good friend Katy and I volunteered to help out. As we pulled out of the UNITY Welcome Home outreach team’s parking lot, I thought, “Surely no one in their right mind would still be out on the streets looking for shelter now. We probably won’t even find anyone to help.” It took about one minute to find someone “not in their right mind” who was still out on the streets with no shelter. (Makes me wonder what does that term “right mind” really mean anyway? Can someone actually have a “wrong mind”?)
There she was, Miss C. — waiting with her two bags in front of the Burger King. She wasn’t exactly “looking for shelter.” It was more like she was waiting for something – perhaps for someone to pick her up and take her to the city overflow shelter where she had stayed the previous night. She eagerly jumped into the van and cheerily talked about how nice it had been there and how she didn’t mind staying there as long as she could leave during the day to get some sunlight.
It wasn’t hard to find others who were shelter-less that evening and who seemed to be waiting for their predicament to change. They were just standing in front of fast food restaurants or in doorways or under bridges. About half-way through our shift, I thought “How on earth are we going to find everyone who needs help?” I prayed silently, “God, please guide us to the people who need our help.” I don’t know if my prayer was answered, but I do know that about 100 people found shelter that night who may not have found it otherwise. (Katy and I were a small part of the outreach efforts that night — others from UNITY took part in the initiative: Angela, Pam, Cynthia, Mike, Calvin and NOPD colleague, Sam.)
The last person Katy and I helped was Mr. M, an elderly gentlemen who was sitting outside of the locked (at 10 p.m.) door of the bus station. He was rocking back and forth to the piped music (perhaps the bus station owners thought that at least they could offer the solace of music since they weren’t offering shelter inside?) He was blind in one eye and nearly deaf. When we offered to take him to the city overflow shelter, his one good eye lit up and he eagerly accepted. On the way to the shelter, we could hear him murmuring over and over: “Safe and warm…..safe and warm….safe and warm.”
Vicki Judice, Deputy Director