By Lawson Snipes
My first evening as a guest at the Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter felt like “old home week.”
Perhaps it was because I knew virtually all of the guests from the streets, either as co-beneficiaries of services from Davis Community Meals Resources Center, the recently closed Grace in Action’s Grace House or as writers or client vendors of “The Spare Changer,” our community’s homeless publication for which I am a contributing editor.
But many core volunteers and both chairs of the shelter board of directors were there as well; I served as a board member during its first two seasons. Young volunteer staff and drivers who were new to me seemed like old friends as well.
Perhaps it is because the first week’s host was Davis Community Church, where I am a regular attendee. I believe there were 17 of us the first night and about the same number on the second night. On the first night, it rained heavily as we stood outside the Friends Meeting House for the intake process. Later we sat inside, sipping tea and coffee as we waited for our volunteer drivers to take us to DCC.
Once there, we checked in, chose our morning cleanup jobs and, after everyone who had registered the previous evening had arrived, we stood in a grand circle in the room that served both as our dining room and later — after the cots and sleeping bags were assigned to us — our sleeping area.
Standing in a circle, as if on the front porch of the homes we did not have, we listened to Julie Barlow, co-chair of the Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter, make routine announcements about what to do and where to go should the fire whistle sound; where the women would sleep privately; and when the lights would go out (10 p.m.) The lights would come back on again at 5:30 a.m.
We gave thanks to the volunteer cooks for that night with enthusiastic applause. Julie then asked us to stand together in silence for a few moments, giving thanks in our own individual ways for the bounties and blessings we were about to receive. We then selected our place settings from the nicely placed round tables for six and lined up for buffet-style dinner where we were served by several volunteers — many young people in high school or college.
There were smiles all around, and why not?
Dinner featured vegetarian and beef pastas; several interesting, even intriguing salads; a brown rice and lentil concoction; and lots of pastries, juices, coffee, tea and milk. I was stuffed after two helpings. The evening was uneventful, flawlessly organized by the compassionate and well-trained and well-prepared staff.
Not a disparaging word of any kind was heard from anyone. We were all glad to be there, not just out of the cold and rain, but glad to be with one another in such a safe environment for a change.
And the volunteers were happy to be with us. There are no words to describe that feeling adequately, but trust me, I did not feel homeless at all.
To volunteer, visit www.interfaith-shelter.org/volunteer-sign-up
My presence was something of a surprise to both clients and shelter folks, especially board members and core volunteers. No one was as impolite as to inquire, but I felt it, so I let the truth be known, and there is no shame in it: I have been behind in my bills, while comfortably housed, since February of this year. The Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter provides a valuable opportunity to catch up in a month. In one month! How would you like to be able to get back above water in just one month?
I will be able to pay my bills, and pay for the new computer I just borrowed money to buy yesterday, and to repair the cell phone I cracked last week. Though insured, the deductible on this $600 Android is a walloping $130! Ouch!
Everyone seemed to understand, and that is important to me, it really is. I have not been homeless for five years now, except for a short stint when my lease was about up and I was going to have double foot surgery anyway, and it just didn’t make good sense to sign a new lease before returning from a six-week hospital stay.
When the Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter program was first designed, it was to be a no-frills, congregational-based winter shelter — just a roof overhead. It has blossomed into much more.
The second night’s fare was Cornish hen followed by roast duck that a 20-year-old volunteer cooked and brought to us! Oh, there were lasagna and meatballs and something vegetarian, too. The garlic bread was well seasoned and warm. The chocolate devil’s food cake sweet and moist … just the way I like it.
If anyone has a goal, and “chooses” to be homeless in order to achieve it, the Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter is the place to be. Thank you, IRWS of Davis.
— Lawson Snipes is a Davis resident.
2012-13 host site schedule
Dec. 23-29: St. James Church
Dec. 30-Jan. 5: St. James Church
Jan. 6-12: Unitarian Universalist Church
Jan. 13-19: United Methodist
Jan. 20-26: Davis Community Church
Jan. 27-Feb. 2: Davis Lutheran Church
Feb. 3-9: First Baptist Church
Feb. 10-16: Davis Community Church
Feb. 17-23: University Covenant Church
Feb. 24-March 2: University Covenant Church
March 3-9: Congregation Bet Haverim
March 10-16: First Baptist Church