I’ve been here before, this place or others like it. Places where those that we avoid eye contact with while walking the streets of our cities, find respite. Places where they are welcome.
It was snowing when we arrived and the line had begun. A gentleman with a decorated leather hat and a pack on his back, held the door for me and wished welcome. It wasn’t yet seven and he was first, waiting by the door, for when the CCEH Concord Cold Weather Shelter officially opened.
Inside, a newspaper reporter was talking to the volunteers, making sure names were spelled correctly, scribbling down quotes. As I moved around the room, photographing the cots, the piles of sheets and blankets, the empty bins waiting to be filled with the worldly possessions of these homeless men and women, I heard him ask question Why do you do this?
Why do you do this?
This, meaning what, exactly, I wondered. Volunteer? Why do you do give up a few hours of your evenings during the coldest, darkest time of year? Why do you do this, meaning, care? Why do you care for the well being of these strangers, some of whom consider this to be their choice?
For the volunteers, there isn’t any money in helping. There is only this: a large warm room, bare tables for signing in the guests, stacks of bins for checking in their unessential gear for the night, and an evening of conversations with any guests who linger by the tables until lights out.
Of course, he was probably being quite literal. Why do you do this? This center. This specific cause, homelessness in the biting New England winters.
For Thrive Outdoors, who has had two of their partners actively involved for the past two winters, taking on the managing of the shelter seemed like an obvious choice. Much of the core beliefs for Thrive Outdoors were born while Jake managed the Manchester Homeless Day Center. It was in spending time with this specific population, that inspired much of what Thrive Outdoors sets out to do in our communities – in recovery centers, in schools, in working with veterans or disadvantaged youth.
Jake and his partners and all those involved with Thrive Outdoors, are not hoping to give easy answers to complex problems within how our society operates, but I believe that they do see several things clearly.
They understand that in our community, there isn’t us and there isn’t them. There is only we.
And the better we are at coming to see and understand that, the better off our world will be. Everyone deserves dignity, everyone deserves a door held open for them, a place where they can unload their baggage and share in this community.
My husband came with me to the shelter. Having help manage the shelter the past, I shouldn’t have been surprised when he recognized guests and they recognized him. He stood by them as they had their bags checked, and I watched them chat and laugh, catching up on how the rest of the year had been for them, since the shelter closed at the end of March.
From a distance as the line began to filter in from the doors, more and more the people arriving began smiling and catching up with the volunteers, as they signed their names and gave them their bin numbers.
To the volunteers, these were not strangers. These were people, people whom they remembered from past winters, people whom they may even work with or see during the rest of the year.
How could they not do this?
On the wall, in the middle of the cots, there is a giant whiteboard. Last night, it was blank, but Jake has asked each of the nightly managers to come prepared with an inspirational quote to share on the board. I’m looking forward to returning to see what’s written there and how it’s transpiring, and to hopefully write more stories of those people who gather in that old church hall as the snow falls gently outside.
Last night wasn’t a storm, it was softly falling sparkles of white that caught the light just-so as it fell to earth and dusted the ground.
It wasn’t a blizzard, but it was a beginning.