One of the very first opportunities we get to sit down with people is during intake at the shelter. Ideally, we are able to do this before everyone comes in for the night. It is less rushed and we are able to take our time and hold space for whatever our guest needs in that moment. It doesn’t always work this way- often we will have several people show up at the door when we open and then they quickly get swept up into the organized chaos of the first hour or two of the shelter night. Regardless of how or when intake happens, it is often the first place we infuse a dose of dignity dna- and if we do it right, it sets the tone for the rest of a guests stay with us.
Happily accepting my offer of a cold gatorade, our first intake of the season sat warily across from me at the small table in the pastoral care office. He wore a long trench coat and his face held lines of weariness peeking out from a scruffy beard. I was immediately drawn to his eyes- which shined with kindness on first glance, but with a closer look held deep pain and trauma. As I gathered the necessary paperwork, I asked him if he was from the area. “I came from the west coast. I have a friend here and she told me this is a good community to get a new start in. I was hoping to stay with her. That didn’t work out so here I am. I have been homeless for more years than I care to count.”
It was what I had seen behind the kindness in his eyes- long years of lived experience on the margins. We began to go through the paperwork. We intentionally ask for the bare minimum of information; just enough to know how to contact them, who we can call in an emergency, and if there are medical issues we should be aware of. As we began to talk about case management and the help we as the pastors could provide I looked up and saw a tear slowly making it’s way through the stubble on his cheek. “Do you need a minute?” I asked. “No,” he said, “this is just the first time anyone has really cared about what I want and is willing to help me get there with no strings attached.” “It’s probably a little overwhelming” I said. “We will just take things one step at a time, but know that this can be your home for now, a place to rest, to reset, a safe space.” More tears tracked down his cheek. He quickly swiped them away . “Thanks. It’s just nice to finally be seen.”
To be seen. It is a basic human right and one so many of us take for granted. For those that we walk with, to be seen, to be called by name, to be treated just like anyone else- slowly begins to weave a thread of dignity back into a story that all too often is frayed at both ends. And we do that weaving with great intention- knowing each person needs a slightly different thread and each tapestry tells it’s own story. – Pastor Erica