Tuesday, November 25, 2008

if you build it they will come

Every night we keep a record of everyone we have to turn away from the shelter. I'm a huge fan of this record, for me it serves a few purposes, but mainly, I just really appreciate the fact that the documentation records each and every person. The fact that there was 1 or 5 or 12 or 15 people that we were unable to give a warm place to sleep to. That each and everyone of them is real, and exists, and has a story. But I digress.

The thing of it is, we were averaging about 10 turn-aways each night during the beginning of the winter. This is not good, this number means that each night 10 people did not have a place to stay, because many of the people we were turning away were not our regulars, but rather people coming to us as a last resort (the people we should, as an emergency shelter, house, but again, I digress). So, seeing this trend, we tore out a wall, got ride of some storage and added 10 more mats to our shelter. This sounds awesome, right? Now we have a place for everyone!

Except, we don't. The thing of it is, we're still turning away somewhere around 10 people a night. Granted, it's gotten a little colder, but really, not much colder and the shelter is still filling up just as early. By adding more mats, we seem to have created more regulars. 10 more people are using the floor of our shelter as their home each night. It seems that if we build it, they will come.

My city has actually been surprisingly decent about adding shelter beds, although there are still not enough, but situations lie this make me wonder if there every will be. Even if we built 1000's of shelter beds, would there still be more homeless to house? Would there still be people for whom sleeping in a shelter is the safest most desirable option?

Makes you wonder, doesn't it.


Caroline said...

I should think it's the hardest bit of your job, watching someone walk away and knowing you cannot help. I don't envy you that.

cb said...

I think keeping records is remarkably useful. I suspect there will always be some people who sleep rough or use shelters because, from what I have seen here, in London, there is some kind of community in homelessness that sometimes is not considered but can be as much of a community as any. I worked with a man who had been homeless for decades and was settled in a nice flat. He was so utterly miserable there - all he wanted to do was go back and stay in the shelter. He missed the community of it. It really struck me at the time. What I think might be best for a person, isn't always what that person thinks for themselves. Of course, this is a specific incidence and I am sure almost everyone wants to be housed permanently but for some people it might be a lost way of life too.