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A Night at the Homeless Shelter: From the Eyes of a Volunteer

| January 18, 2011

sheltering tree

Cot stories. (© FlaglerLive)

By Charlie Ericksen Jr.

Last week during the cold wave, I received a call from The Sheltering Tree, the cold weather shelter in Bunnell, asking me to come in early, as three members of the supper team had called in with the flu, and we’d be short staff for the evening. I agreed immediately.

While walking to the building—which doubles up as the main meeting room at the First United Methodist Church—a  a car of modest design drove up to me, the driver rolled down his window and asked if I was part of the shelter. I told him I was. He said he had read a recent article in FlaglerLive and wanted to help out. He handed me a $100 bill and said: “Hope this helps a bit.” I asked his name, but he preferred to stay anonymous, and left after saying he “appreciated what Sheltering Tree was doing.”

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I figured with that start, that the evening would go well. Next I came upon a few local “guests”—as we prefer to call those who have no home and need shelter—from the Flagler County area, who are there most days awaiting a meal and a place to sleep. The shelter opens automatically when night temperatures are forecast to hit 40 degrees or below. Once inside, we started to transform the meeting room into the meal room and bed area. All the locals took the cots from the arranged stacked formation (the room had been used by the church for a meeting that day) and placed them around the room. In most cases, the beds had a “Taken” sign on them from the previous night. The guest in charge of the beds, whose name is “D,” was celebrating his 30th birthday.

While this was going on, more volunteers arrived, and went to task. Spaghetti and meatballs were on the menu for the night, along with bread, green beans, salad, cakes and desserts: all you can eat. We set the tables up, signed in the locals, and awaited the bus from Daytona Beach, which was to have 16 guests on it, half the occupancy limit of the shelter. Those guests arrived at about 5:45 p.m: 12 men and four women, one of them pregnant. For three of the arrivals, it was a first-time visit. All were hungry and eager for a good night’s sleep. As soon as everyone found their bed, they started to get in line to eat.

Charlie Ericksen Jr. (© FlaglerLive)

As is the custom, one of the regular volunteers gives a rousing welcome and explains the rules of the shelter, and then asks if anyone wants to say a blessing. That evening a young man who was about 12 years old, the grandson of two volunteers, stood up, and spoke for a minute, and received well deserved applause. Thirty-six guests, including a few locals, who come just for the evening meal (no one is ever refused), then enjoyed a well balanced dinner. Many returned for seconds and thirds. We sang Happy Birthday to “D.”

Some of the more note worthy guests, were “D”—not the birthday “D”—who was a construction worker in Palm Coast . Apparently, earlier this week, he fell off a staging at work and broke some ribs. Since he is a recovering addict, he can take no pills to relieve the pain. He was in a lot of pain. One of the Daytona guests was awaiting Race Week so he could see all the cars coming to town. It was his wish to be able some day to go to a race and sit and watch it. A couple with their 3 children stopped by for a meal, as they were told of the shelter. They were homeless and hungry.

The Live Commentary

Cleanup followed, and since the dishwasher is broken, all dishes were washed by hand. While cleanup was continuing, those guests who needed clothing were allowed to go to the storage and display room where all donated clothing and shoes are awaiting them. Socks and coats were once again the biggest draw, followed by pants and shoes.

Most activities then start to slow down, with some guests already on their beds, worn out or asleep. One guest inserts a DVD into the player (“The Rock”). Some watch. Some sleep. The supper volunteers depart. It’s lights out for all at 10 p.m. two new night staff volunteers stay with the guests throughout the night and get everyone up and ready in the morning with a h a healthy breakfast at 6, as the bus to Daytona returns there at 7 a.m. Another group of volunteers come in to prepare the meal.

As a volunteer, once you see the need and experience the group effort to help out, it’s a great feeling. There is no shelter for this evening as the temperatures are to be above 40 for the next three nights (though 30s are in the forecast for Saturday night). It won’t be much warmer: night temperatures will be in the 40s. And just where will these guests eat tonight?

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6 Responses for “A Night at the Homeless Shelter: From the Eyes of a Volunteer”

  1. Pierre Tristam says:

    Most important line of the piece, on those nights when only the temperature–not the county’s conscience–is warmer: And just where will these guests eat tonight?

  2. Diana says:

    Thank you for this follow-up piece. On the night that this writer is speaking of…my youngest son and I were preparing a few items to take to the shelter. I had planned to do this several nights before, but managed to talk myself out of it and blamed it on being too tired or something equally lame. That night, my young grandsons were extrordinarily whiney and started to complain about parting with their never used super hero comforters and having to make the trip out in the cold. At four and six years old, gramma decided that this was a good time for her grandsons to understand about just how lucky they were. Yes, it would have been much easier to just give in and let them keep the blankets that they used for 2 days and then decided they liked their old ones better….$50 down the drain. Still, I couldn’t escape this thought….”You need to take these blankets and clothes to this shelter….tonight!” So, dark and cold as it was…..we took them. A pleasant middle-aged man met us outside of the church and thanked us. We didn’t linger….but as we left, a volunteer came outside and after seeing the “drop-off” exclaimed…”Oh Thank God, miracles DO happen!” And now I know that the reason we absolutely HAD to drop these things off on THAT night was because they were full to capacity….long on the love….but terribly short on blankets! LIfe Lessons 101…..give when you can….and even when you think you can’t.

  3. Anonymous but smarter than you says:

    Hey people… Newsflash!! Most (Not all but definitely most) of the “guests” are BUMS!! You people treat them like they are in desperate need of help when they blatantly choose to not help themselves. You give them $5 and what the hell do you think they spend it on?? Food?? Clothing?? …. Nope!! Try crack, beer, pills or prostitutes!! You need to stop giving these BUMS a reason to come to Bunnell! Leave them in Daytona or st Augustine! Why do you think Bunnell is so run down? Why do you think people are disgusted by Bunnell? … It’s because of the B…U…M…. BUMS!! Someone needs to get a school bus and drive these BUMS out of town! These aren’t poor Vietnam vets that have had a tough break… These are (Break into your house/Take a crap on your lawn/Panhandle for enough change to buy a can of Busch Lite/Low-life piece of crap) BUMS!! Wake up!! They deserve to live, just like anyone else, but they don’t want to contribut to society like the rest of us… so get the the F out of Bunnell!! Thank you!! God you people have no clue what’s going on out there! You feel so bad for them until you find them camping out in the woods behind your house or eating your garbage or taking a dump on you porch then using their underwear as toilet paper and leaving that in your friggin mailbox!! Use your heads and ship these BUMS out of FLAGLER COUNTY!!

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Anonymous, these bums, as you stupidly call them, have more self-respect and dignity than your cowardice. Why not put a name to your hate?

  4. Willy says:

    Hey Pierre,

    If these bums have so much dignity and honor why don’t you let them sleep at your house.. You can bus them in and have them drink beer on your front lawn.

  5. Willy – for the sake of volunteers like Charlie, I hope you never find yourself in circumstances where you’d be forced to seek shelter from the cold and comfort of a warm meal and a clean bed. So much hate and disgust for those less fortunate than you must come from somewhere… I hope no one too close to you ever has to feel like a bum in your eyes, then again, I doubt you have anybody truly close to you. Karma has an interesting way of working things out though.

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