Shelter Shock

The shelter life, as unbelievable as it may seem, is often more stressful than actually sleeping on the streets.

Almost all those you encounter living on the streets have attempted the homeless shelter route, including myself. It is a different world of homelessness altogether.

The shelter life, as unbelievable as it may seem, is often more stressful than actually sleeping on the streets. The endless rules and regulations, unrealistic, occasionally sadistic staff members, and, of course, the fact you are literally stacked on top of one another makes for a particularly undesirable experience.

You are expected to find gainful employment within an unusually short time frame so that you may relieve yourself of the shelter’s services. It usually winds up as being a gateway into a homeless revolving shelter door.

Most of the time, just putting the shelter’s address on your application will exclude you from a job.

My personal favorite topic of discussion brought up in most homeless shelters is this: “They’re making money from us being in here.” This usually irritates me and forces me to attempt to explain (to the idiot who brings up the topic) that no one makes money from your homelessness. The idea of a for-profit homeless shelter is ridiculous. Someone either donated money or the government grants money for the shelter to operate. Usually, it’s a slathering of both, neither of which lends itself to raking in the cash. However, trying to explain this to the idiot is akin to teaching a pig to fly. It makes you look stupid and irritates the pig.

I ponder the nature of the men and women who operate homeless shelters. I have personally met quite a few in my tramp’s journey. All of them seem to have an intention of helping the downtrodden. Yet, in short order, the overwhelming problem consumes the best of intentions.

Somewhere between the mentally ill, drug addicts, and the basically lazy, they find themselves jaded to the illusion of philanthropy.

Trapped in a world of the homeless and the endless ocean of personal tragedy, each individual represents the quenched glimmer of hope. It’s usually replaced with a hardness which necessarily protects their open hearts from the reality of society.

Yet, I have met a precious few, the most idealistic of us all, whose genuine love for mankind cannot be turned by a sea of adversity. Usually those who find themselves in a shelter, who are there by sheer bad luck, gravitate to these lionhearted people. Unfortunately, I have found these individuals often do not have the power to alleviate the problems of the many into a solution for the few.

Amidst the jaded, the precious, and the simply aghast, a homeless person is faced with an almost insurmountable problem of bootstrapping themselves to the mainstream of society from a metal bunk bed or a plastic mat on the floor in a room of people who are in the same situation.

I have seen the fear in the eyes of those who are homeless for the first time—even military veterans who have seen the horrors of war. The color drained from their faces, the shock of realization as they lay down on their bedding in the shelter for the night.

That first night is unsettling to watch from afar. For all but the unfeeling, it resonates throughout the experience. Whether it is the man who brought it on himself through a series of bad decisions or those who are victims of unfortunate circumstances beyond their control, the evocation is the same.

From Speak Up

We are honored to publish work like Mark’s essay above. It is our hope that each new post illuminates (at least a little bit) the complexity of the homeless experience and carries the invitation for deeper listening and engagement.

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