I wrote this a few years ago after volunteering with my mom and some of her coworkers at a homeless shelter. I have been thinking about it recently, and want to do this again. The experience was great, and the men were so thankful.
A basement of a rundown church in Minneapolis is what forty men call home. The “house of love,” as one man puts it. There are four main rooms in this basement; the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, and the bedroom. The kitchen resembles any given school kitchen, only slightly less clean. The cupboards are filled with mismatching plates, bowls, cups—mostly old coffee mugs, and bent up silverware. The dining room, if it can be called that, is a room filled with half broken tables and folding chairs. It is connected to the living room, which is filled with old torn up couches, more folding chairs, and one small television. Through a hole in the wall is the bedroom, one room shared by forty men. Small mattresses, similar to those found in college dorms, cover the floor. There are almost enough for everyone, but not quite. On the mattresses are variously colored blankets, and lumpy pillows, only half of which have cases. Not exactly the ideal place to live.
While forty men live there temporarily, about sixty men eat there nightly. The dinners come from volunteers that bring food, cook, and serve it to the men. Tonight, the dinner is beef stew, salad, bread, and cookies for desert. There are not enough bowls for every one, so some eat the stew out of a mug, and others on a plate. And some of those who have bowls are eating it with a fork. All of the food was served. Sixty hungry men do not leave leftovers.
While this is a homeless shelter for only men, the Simpson church also supports a women’s shelter at a different location, and helps families to pay for rent. One lady is responsible for the funding. She alone raises about one million dollars a year, and receives another one million from various government funds. With just two million dollars each year, this organization is expected to help hundreds of homeless people. Somehow, it works every year.
Daily volunteers help more than anyone would guess. The majority of the food eaten by these men is brought in by families, other church groups, friends, and anyone who wants to help. While dinner is served each night by the volunteers, lunch and breakfast are served on an individual basis. Volunteers bring in food at anytime that can be eaten later. Many of the men that live in the house of love work, and bring the said food with them to work.
One common misconception of the homeless is that they are lazy. That may be the case for some, but out of the men staying at the Simpson church forty-five percent are working poor.
One particular man falls into the category of the working poor. Six days a week, this man wakes up at four in the morning to take two different buses to a St. Paul steel company, where he works fifteen hour days. Then he comes home to the house of love to eat and sleep. There is no way that this man can be called lazy.
Another fifty percent have some sort of mental illness. Addictions and substance abuse correlates with the mental illnesses, but it can not be said which is a result of which. The mental illnesses of most of these men restrict them from having a job. How can they be blamed for not working if no one will hire them?
These poor men are completely alone. Most of them have no family, and those who do are not communicating with them. These men are so grateful to anyone willing to help. They have people giving them food everyday, and not one of them takes it for granted. They say please and thank you. The looks on their faces when given a warm, home-cooked meal says enough. It is not a burden to volunteer. In this one organization, there are so many ways to volunteer, that every person could find one way that would not interrupt their lives. Just donating a few dollars to a charity event, or giving and old blanket or pillow, or giving clothes that are not worn anymore, food, a game, whatever; any small thing helps.