The kids at the shelter were much much younger this time.
Saturday I was hurrying over from helping out our friends at the Warming Shelter clean and organize the beds people without homes would sleep in that night. Found out you have to work fast when you operate a shelter people stayed in last night, people who will sleep outside tonight if not for the shelter. We spray-painted lines on the concrete floor, bright yellow, like in the street…lines to let folks know where the beds go. There was math, geometry involved…How can we get the most beds in this room? Are these rows eighteen inches wide? I was working with a local artist to arrange the beds. An artist and a pastor walk into a homeless shelter…there must be a joke there somewhere. Maybe letting us be in charge of math and geometry.
Driving over to the shelter for children, a place where kids go who can’t be with their parents, I was excited. Our son’s soccer game had been canceled, and I was hoping to channel the energy I had charged up for that competition into a football or basketball game with the teenagers who were staying there. Like last time.
But this time wasn’t like last time.
The shelter is temporary. Many of the teenagers who are there are there for a while…several weeks to several months, sometimes longer. I hadn’t been to the shelter in a while, but every time I’ve gone there have been at least a few kids I knew from the last time. We play games, talk, hear their stories, and basically try to be friends to kids in extreme transition, making their way through adolescence without their families. I only recognized one teenager. He had left the shelter, only to come back later, again living in a shelter without a stable home.
After checking in, I made my way to the play area outside where we normally hang out with the kids, excited to play some overly competitive football with a few rowdy teenage guys. Instead I saw someone from Hopesprings pushing a three-year-old on the swings. They were surrounded by a group of young children, all in elementary school, hungry for a push on the swings. Hungry for attention. Hungry to be heard and seen.
It was the same hunger we experienced before, but there was an intensity to hanging out with children the same age as the two who live in my house, kids who aren’t able to live with their parents. Questions ran as I pushed the kids who were the same age as the two we are raising, as others waited for a turn…
How does a three-year-old go to sleep in a shelter?
How does a first-grader cope without a daily connection with his parents?
What will happen to these kids?
And, really…how does a three-year-old go to sleep in a shelter?
This is our city. These are our neighbors. Some of them are sleeping outside. Others in makeshift cots packed in tight. Others are three-year-olds trying to go to sleep in a shelter.
-Michael Amman, Lead Pastor