Today I ventured downtown to attend orientation for another volunteering opportunity. This time, my afternoon hours were spent at a shelter owned by the City of Austin and operated by Front Steps.
A line was formed outside, of which we skipped ahead and were greeted by a friendly volunteer. There, we waited for the community coordinator to give us a tour of the facility. Six girls and I stood waiting and we all looked a little tense. Of course, it wasn’t because of fear or judgement of others that we felt this way. It was more due to shock. The air was stale, the men were loud, and life looked a little more coarse.
This shelter, mainly for men, was packed at 1400 hours. The line for the restroom was almost equivalent to the entrance line to the facility. As our group began the tour, men roared and laughed while their eyes locked on to us.
“Welcome to the hood, FRESH MEAT!”
After an hour, we were all up to par on the facility operations and programs available to the clients. Then, we went upstairs to see the “sleeping rooms.” The coordinator proceeded to discuss how beds become open to the public in need.
“We have a lottery people can enter….
if their number is picked, they win a bed to sleep in for a week.”
Prior to this, I had just heard a man bitching at the gas station about how he did not win the money he had hoped for on a scratch off ticket. Well, I guess we all want to win something. Some just hope to win a place to sleep.
Stepping into the sleeping rooms, my nose began to burn. It smelled sour; a mix of poor hygiene and environmental cleaner. There was no personal space. It looked cold. This was no place to feel comfortable.
I immediately felt humbled. I felt grateful. and I prayed for others.
After our tour, my eyes began lining with tears. I imagined sleeping here. I imagined eating here. I imagined not having a place to call home. I imagined the true feeling of being lost. It all looked so gloomy. Yet, surrounded by this, many looked jovial.
A man’s dilapidated clothing complemented his lackadaisical hygiene, but his smile and laughter were as strong as ever. These individuals are living under unrelenting conditions. Front Steps gives those less fortunate a place to call home, and means to seek better ways of living.
I am counting my blessings this evening….