A day in the life at a shelter

Some days you arrive at shelter at 7 am and find yourself in a car with two women talking about time in jail, tossing around comments about violent abuses that took place. Other days, you might be drinking coffee in the kitchen with residents and talking about the weather.

Some days you’ve got to put pregnant moms out on the street in the middle of the winter. Other days you get to take pregnant moms in off the street in the middle of the winter.

Some days you might be making a full three course meal for lunch, and you’re everyone’s favorite. Other days there is pizza for the third day in a row in the fridge, and you’re apologizing as everyone lines up for a plate.

Some days you’re calling the child abuse hotline, some days you’re calling the elder abuse hotline, somedays you’re putting on plastic gloves to unclog a toilet.

Some days you get to make everyone smile, somedays no one can make you smile.

Some days you learn fun new slang, other days you learn intense new struggles.

Drug and alcohol addiction, battling the health care system without health insurance or a paycheck, a shelter running the gambit of untreated and treated mental illnesses, and different cultures clashing with humility and violence.

Some days half the shelter is crying while the other half is trying to fight one another physically. Some days this happens when  it’s also another resident’s birthday, who is expecting cupcakes and smiles.

You have strong bonds with certain residents who feel like old friends you’ve never met before, and there are other residents you don’t have as much patience for. You always try to see the person in each person’s path you cross, but knowing that it takes a village to run a shelter- all of your coworkers different personalities meld with different residents in the shelter.

Your coworkers are super empaths- and regularly check in with you and other coworkers to see if you are okay- and asking what you need.

Being good to others feels so good- and you have to be a good advocate for yourself first to be able to continue being an advocate for others.

Diana came over the other day to deliver holiday treats, and we updated each other on our lives, on our fears. I told her what was hardest for me at my new job, and she laughed.

“That’s some Annie specific problems. I mean, other people too… but you know what I mean.”

And I loved her for that.

Had a conversation with someone my age who had lived a completely different life than me. And we sat outside while she smoked, and she spoke about hope. And I said,

“I know you must believe in something. Because I see it in your face almost everyday.”

Her face broke open into a smile.

We spoke about what we have in common- a belief in good people, and the believe that the good rubs off. To always treat people with respect, but to keep to yourself it you are surrounded by toxicity. Find the people who make you feel like there is hope, drive, and who support your dreams. But find it and keep it within yourself first, and never let anyone else get close to it.

I love my job. I mean it. I am learning about marginalized communities in a whole new way now. I loved my job in refugee resettlement, but most of the time the language barrier kept us from discussion real fears, real life, etc.

Smiles are always enough, but it’s pretty great when you are able to break beyond a smile with words.

The thing that I am learning through all of these complicated lives I am meeting- is that life is pretty simple. You could spend your whole life trying to find the solutions to the problems of the world. But I’m pretty sure, at the age of 25 that it’s a pretty simple world. People light up and open up when they feel that people they trust believe in them. And people grow and change when they meet and share coffee with those they fear.

What I’m learning is we all need to feel supported. And it takes all types to support all types. I cannot support everyone- because not everyone vibes with me perfectly, and also because I am only one person. We need all different types of personalities and people to be out there, interacting with people they had never thought they would be interacting with before. It builds a kind of beauty and depth to life, and takes all the complexity (which I believe is really just distance) and puts everyone in closer proximity to one another’s struggles.

The human being is a super beautiful and empathetic creature for the most part. We just can’t help it. When we are around someone who is hurting, we feel that hurt as well. And we understand that hurt if we take a moment to listen and try to understand it.

In regards to the OCD- I am still being haunted by my germ/contamination fear- but I am being super productive. Ever since I started taking Lexapro- it’s like I know exactly what to do, every moment. My life is more organized than it has ever been- and all the pieces that I have struggled my whole life to put together are now intuitive and sorted into separate piles that I tackle daily.

Thank you to Lexapro, and my psychiatrist for gently suggesting me try it for a full three years on end. I now see life and myself more clearly than I ever have before. In manageable, progressive pieces. Using my OCD mostly for positivity now, not negativity.  

“When we get hungry, we eat the same fucking food: the ramen noodle.” -We the People, a Tribe Called Quest

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