By Natalie Smith, FC 22
The gentle piano music of my alarm calls me into consciousness at 7:15. I slide out of bed and into the clothes I picked out the night before. Grabbing my journal, morning prayer book, and pen, I find my familiar seat on the balcony. I give my senses a moment to awaken as I watch a squirrel run along the telephone lines, smell the crisp and cold morning air on its way into my lungs, and listen to the crows squawking back and forth. Turning my attention to the prayer book resting in my lap, I read a page, then write a few lines in my journal and consider my intentions for the day. Once my spirit is fed, I wander downstairs to make tea and oatmeal to feed my body. I check the watch on my wrist – it’s 7:45, my queue to head out the front door and hop on my bike for the 15-minute ride to the Men’s Shelter. I push play on the morning news podcast as I ride out of the driveway.
Feeling content from my nourishing morning routine, I’m prepared to nourish the men at the shelter as best I can. What I find at the shelter, or what finds me, depends primarily on which staff and residents are present, and secondarily on the weather. If our full team of staff is available, which includes three supervisors, five caseworkers, three maintenance guys, two shelter aids, and me (half-caseworker, half-nurse), it will most likely be a smooth day. However, more often than not, we’re at least three staff members short, and I find myself scurrying between serving breakfast in the kitchen, completing intake paperwork with new clients, monitoring the entrances from the security booth, entering data into the computer system at my desk, or meeting with willing residents in the nurses office.
Of course, I do find myself with down time every once in a while during which I catch up on emails, phone calls, and visit with any of the men who are interested in sitting down for a chat. As I said, the weather has a significant influence on how many men stay inside and how many go out seeking other social services or collecting bottles and cans along their various routes. Either way, there always seems to be someone asking for help making a phone call or filling out an application, for which I’m happy to be of assistance. After my eight hours of encouraging, counseling, and supporting these men has gone by, I say goodbye and hope the weather is still good enough to enjoy my bike ride back home.
The hour after I leave the shelter tends to be the hardest part of my day. This is when I struggle with separating my life from those of the men at the shelter. Though I do everything I can each day, there never fails to be someone who is still struggling, someone who did not get the phone call they were waiting on, someone who did not get the medication they needed, someone who got news that a family member has died, or someone who says they just don’t want to go on. My heart aches for these men and their pain that seems inescapable even as I come home to a cozy house full of friends, a hot shower, a delicious homemade meal, and a bedroom all to myself.
I do my best to enjoy laughing at the dinner table with my community, finding peace in our evening prayer time together, and relaxing as we watch a show and sip on a steamy mug of sleepy-time tea. I know it’s all a balance, some days are easier and happier than others, yet as I fall asleep each night, I can’t help but wonder about the men at the shelter and those left out on the streets. Are they safe? Are they scared? Are the warm? What more do they need? What more can I do? Who will be there tomorrow? I say a prayer for them, trusting another day will bring another chance. Turning on some gentle piano music to quiet my thoughts, I drift off to sleep until the morning comes to do it all again.
Natalie is a Shelter Worker at Catholic Charities Men’s Shelter. Visit our service sites page to learn more about Natalie’s site and others we offer.