OK... big weekend - where to begin. We made it down to the emergency center in order to get rolling on that volunteer work. You know it’s going to be interesting when they employ the oldest trick in the book: having you come in for a tour/orientation early on in the volunteer selection process. Side note - When volunteering at a youth shelter back in Portland, I learned that certain organizations do this in order to weed people out before wasting too much effort screening etc. They do this because - plain and simple - so many people just get way freaked out when they are faced with the reality of what goes on (especially with organizations that work with under-served populations like the mentally ill, homeless etc.). So, we get there, and it’s as sad as you would think. Everyone seems to be treading water these days, so you can imagine the zoo that was the shelter. People packed the entry area, sleeping in chairs, against walls, on their worldly belongings. The air was filled with the unrelenting smell of what turned out to be chaffing-dished mashed potatoes that were unrecognizable (alongside equally over-warmed chicken that was the color of a banana). You get the picture.
We got all of the nitty gritty details (who, when, how) and then brought up to speed on the fact that public health problems are alive and well among this population - another big disadvantage of being treated like a ghost. We learned about the usuals - TB, parasites etc. - but we also learned about scary stuff that we had never heard of before. Wish I could remember the names.
Then it was tour time. Right at the start - as if on cue to get rid of the scaredy-cats right away - a guys comes flying down the corridor, waving his cane around and screaming “get the fuck out of my way!” at the absolute top of his lungs. No one bolted. Good crew. We were just telling someone that, for the entire time, we had the same tightness of chest that we had for 2 months, non-stop while volunteering in Ecuador. You see all of the help that is needed, and you just can’t shake that feeling that it gives you when you know you can help in alleviating that burden a bit.
We’re excited to help these folks out. Like most everyone else, they just seem to want a better life. One where they can take care of themselves and live life. They want to feel connected to something beyond the shelter - something that helps them to overcome the horrible stigma that’s so often associated with people in need.