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Lessons from the homeless shelter, Pt 2

November 18, 2010

Tuesday morning I set up breakfast at the Elgin PADS shelter, hopped up on the edge of the counter behind the counter, and waited.

Like I do most Tuesday mornings.

Todd wasn’t there. The guy who is always wearing that Obey shirt and carrying a book and thanking me for smiling wasn’t there.

In the warmer months, people miss nights. They find some place to stay for a night and they don’t come to the shelter. Can’t blame ’em.

Not when it’s cold out, though. Not when nights bring frost. When people don’t show up on those nights it’s because they’ve moved out. Found a job, saved some money, got an apartment or a room, and they’re back on their feet.

Which is great. But I noticed on Tuesday, in a pouty kind of way, that it’s always the people I look forward to seeing that are suddenly not there one Tuesday morning.

There were several new guests this week, though. One nice guy. Several grumpy ones.

I sat on the counter, occasionally getting up to actually DO something for someone, and I caught myself looking over the new faces.

“He’ll be here forever.”

“He won’t be here very long.”

“He’ll be here for a while.”

“Wait. I’ve only been here nine months. I have no idea who will stay longer than anyone else.”

But then I started thinking about the people I’ve already seen get back on their feet.

And comparing them to the people I seem to assume won’t be at the Elgin homeless shelter for very long.

Know what they have in common?

Not age, or skin color, or first language, or dress code, or personal hygiene.


The people I like to see are the people who don’t stay in the homeless shelter for very long. They’re the ones who are smiling in the morning. Who introduce themselves when they see me. Who thank me for coming and bringing cereal. Who survey the constantly fluctuation selection of breakfast items every morning, and do the best with what they’re given. Who take what they need and eat what they take. Who pass up what they don’t like instead of grumbling about it.

The people who stay in the homeless shelter (at least for nine months) are usually the people who get up at the last minute and then get upset that I’m putting breakfast away at 6:30 without waiting for them. Who deliberately tear the plastic bag that the donuts are in so that the shelter employees throw them away and next new donuts that night. Who drink half a cup of something and throw the rest – cup and liquid – in the trash. Who ignore me when I say, “Good morning.”

And Peter came to mind,

“Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,” (1 Peter 5:6)

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