Monday, December 29, 2008
what you do unto the least of these
There's a verse in the Bible which has been on my mind a lot lately. Jesus is telling a parable about the Kingdom of God and what things are going to be like in the end times. Jesus tells his followers, as recorded in the book of Matthew. In the story, the righteous are puzzled because Jesus thanks them for feeding him, clothing him, and taking care of him and they say they have never done this for him. He answers, "Truly I tell you, just as you did to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me".
I am so blessed to have a job in which I am able to provide things for people. I able to feed the hungry, give clothes to those who have none, shelter to those who are cold and give hope to those in pain. My job is awesome. The problem, of course, is that I cannot do this for everyone who needs it, or who wants it.
Saturday night I was shift manager which meant I had to spend the whole night in the shelter as well as answering phones and the window and such (no escaping to the drunk tank for me!) Thankfully I didn't have to kick anyone out, unfortunately I had to turn 20 people away at the door. That is the most people I have ever had to turn away in one night, and to say they were unhappy about it would be a HUGE understatement. I had to get the police to remove one of them because they were banging so hard on the window.
I found out that the shelter across the street was referring people to us even though I had told them already that we were full. I called and got lectured by them about how they don't accept intoxicated people so what else were they supposed to do (we accept people in any state of intoxication as long as they're not disruptive). I told them I didn't know, but they asked them to please stop sending us people we couldn't take. They called the police about a client, so then I had the police inside the shelter looking suspiciously at the empty mat of someone in the bathroom, so that they could put someone there the other shelter had kicked out. I had the hospital phoning getting upset when I couldn't take someone who was done in emergency - note, just because they use us as a mailing address does not mean there is a guaranteed mat for them, we are an emergency shelter.
I was able to get one person a ride home, and someone else a cab. Why would you want to sleep in a shelter if you have a home? In this case, they were too tired and drunk to want to walk there so thought they'd sleep it off on the province (we get some government funding for the shelter). So that's 2 out of 20, the police took the 1, and 2 others wound up in the drunk tank after they went back to the shelter who referred them to us and got annoying. So 5 out of 20. I have no idea what happened to the other 15.
We started taking turns turning people away, I couldn't take it anymore and neither could anyone else, because the same people kept coming back and just begging me to let them in, and I couldn't. We were already five over. And they screamed and pleaded as they stood outside shivering. Imagine being at the point where you have to beg and plead to come into a homeless shelter. If these aren't the least of these, I don't know who is.
Now rationally, I know that we have to set limits. I know that it would have been impossible for us to be 25 people over and that it would have created fights, chaos, and a standard we couldn't live up to in the future (people need to know that the full sign means full). I know that homelessness is a far larger systemic issue then I can tackle alone or quickly. I know that other people's housing crisis are not my crisis and I don't make them that no matter the guilt trips they use. I am not responsible for their shelter. They had plenty of time to look for a place to stay, it's been cold for months, 2AM is not the time to scream at me.
But then, as I stood in church singing Christmas carols it was like that verse was haunting me and I started cry. I really couldn't handle crying right then, so I bit my lips and quit the tears, but the verse was still there. "What you did for the least of these..." What did I do for the least of these? I turned them away to freeze in the snow. I shut the blinds so I didn't have to look them in the eye as they screamed at me and pounded on the window (this is a last resort for us, we really like to treat people as people, but once the screaming starts...) I told the least of these to go away, even though I used much nicer words.
I came home and cried. I think it's a good thing I have five days off.