Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Our Shelter

Friends 15th St. Shelter is a gym. You may have played kickball in a gym like this in elementary school. It has a scuffed wood floor, padded walls and red lines that don't seem to mean much of anything. But each night, 12 people sleep here.

I arrived at Friend's after a surprisingly difficult search to get involved with the homeless. To the average citizen these places seem mysterious compared to the well documented (on TV anyways) public venues of prison, hospital and police station. Well, welcome to Friends.

In the 1980's, the faith based community demanded to know what Mayor Koch was going to do to address the drastic homelessness problem in New York. The Mayor turned the question back on the religious community, asking them to do something about it. So they did.

Since the 1980's, a separate "faith-based" shelter system has been serving some of the most vulnerable and hard to service of our homeless neighbors. This network of drop-in centers, safe haven beds and faith shelters are a low threshold (easier to access if you've got a mental problem or drug problem) options for homeless new yorkers. Faith based beds are tucked away in church basements and meeting rooms of synagogues all over the city.

At Friends Meeting House, the Quaker community runs a shelter which sleeps and feeds 12 people every night. This is a small, safe space, which provides a light meal (of course including dessert) every night. It's relatively clean and has an excellent record of safety. Most guests here talk about the city shelters as if they were prison.Through the efforts of the volunteers, (who each pick one night a month to sleep over at the shelter) we are able to be open every day of the week (and for a few years, 365 days a year!)

Coming here was the beginning of my journey into the world of my homeless neighbors. This is a place to eat, to sleep, to talk, to be angry in, to laugh in, to feel part of a community and to feel utterly lost.... this place is so many things. But when all the guests leave in the morning, you realize it's just a gym. Our neighbor's live in a gym.

Friends Shelter ALWAYS needs volunteers. If you're interested, please go here.

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