Saturday, April 2, 2011
Inn from the Cold
5.30 a.m. : The third shift volunteers sit around a table chatting, drinking coffee, waiting for the guests to awake. Today there are 18 guests. The shift leader assigns each volunteer a job. Two in the kitchen, one on smoke break and two on cleaning.
6.30 a.m. : The kitchen crew starts on breakfast. Egg any which way: over easy, scrambled, French toast or omelettes. The day of the week dictates the way. Sometimes there are sausages. Sometimes there is bacon. Sometimes it's just egg and toast. The bread is white or whole wheat. It's donated by a local grocery store after it's best before date is past. Still good to eat but not at its freshest, it will have to do. Any fruit? Some apples, lots of bananas. Apple juice, sometimes there is orange as well. Cold cereal. Instant porridge. Quite a variety.
6.50 a.m. : It's time to turn on the dimmer switch in the sleeping rooms. The idea behind the dimmer switch is to slowly pull the guests out of their slumber like the rising sun.
7.00 a.m. : The lights go on. It's the official "get out of bed call". The guests know to grab their pillows and blankets as they rise. They toss their bedding in a large bin before entering the eating room. At this point, some are desperately craving for a cigarette. They quickly grab a coffee and pour out the door followed by the designated "smoke break" volunteer. The kitchen is open for orders. Eggs any which way depending on the day. White or whole wheat toasts? Juice please! More juice please! Is there any more sugar? The guests love their sugar. It's the buzz they're looking for. The eating room is quiet for the most part. Clinking of utensils on dishes, spoon stirring coffee, coughing, sneezing and coughing. It's winter time and many are sick with a form of winter illness -- colds, flues, etc.
Some of the guests are plagued by forms of mental illnesses. They refuse medication, help and choose to live on the fringe. Others are addicts: drugs of some sort or alcohol. The men are more plentiful than the women. On average, 2 - 3 women stay at the shelter, the rest are men. Some are as young as 18. What is their story? What path brought them here? People of authority make them feel inadequate. They prefer to avoid the social worker, the cop or the shift leader. Instead of facing their demons, it's easier to live on the fringe.
CP 24 rolls out the morning news on a loop. Same news every so many minutes. Eventually the guests get bored and move out to the foyer to await their sign out time.
7.45 a.m : The kitchen closes. If anyone is lingering in the eating room, they're asked to move on to sign out. The TV is turned off and wheeled out to its storage area. Clean up winds down. Dishwasher is loaded up, food put away, counters cleaned, pots and pans washed, tables, chairs, door handles disinfected, floors mopped, carpets vacuumed, washrooms disinfected and washed.
8.00 a.m. : The guests sign out and grab a bagged lunch of sandwiches, juice, granola bars, water and fruit. Some walk out and head for the nearest place that will allow them to hang out for the day: the mall, some church hall, a coffee shop. Others take time to bundle up, layers upon layers of clothes, parkas, snow pants and boots, scarves and mittens. Packs are thrown on backs, shopping carts are loaded up.
8.15 a.m. : The volunteers finish up the morning shift. They chit chat in the office and agree that all went well today. Home James.
Paths will cross. Volunteers and guests on the city streets. A shy "hello". An awkward nod. Their only wish is to blend in with the crowd and to forget that at the end of the day, they won't have a place to call home again.