Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bittersweet at Jeff Street

#85: Volunteer at Jeff Street once a month.

This month's Jeff Street visit was...interesting. There were some good moments, some not-so-good moments, and some moments that were just downright weird. I'll start with a good one: Tom and I were in the kitchen, helping with breakfast and handing out toiletries, when one of the guests walked in with this flower, handed it to Tom, and said something to the effect of "you know what to do with this." How sweet! I knew there was a reason why I saved that little jar...

OK, the not-so-good...I spent about an hour trying to help a young lady who's dealing with some really tough stuff right now. For several reasons, I don't want to divulge too many details, but it was one of those things that really tears me up inside, and it was frustrating for me because I felt like there wasn't very much I could do besides sit with her and listen. On the other hand, this is the kind of thing I've been hoping for ever since we started volunteering at Jeff Street. It reminded me of why Tom and I go every month: to be there for people when they need help, and to show them Christ's love through the help we are able to provide. Sometimes a listening ear is all you can give to a person, but sometimes that's the thing they need most.

And on a somewhat lighter note, here's the weird: There's a certain guest who's there every time we go, and Tom and I are starting to seriously suspect that he's suffering from some kind of mental illness. (By the way, please don't think I'm being condescending; this is a somewhat common problem among the folks who come to Jeff Street. In fact, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, about 20-25% of single, homeless adults in the US have some form of "severe and persistent" mental illness. It makes a sad sort of sense, though, doesn't it? People who are mentally ill have a hard time finding jobs, and in all likelihood, living on the streets without access to proper healthcare makes their illness worse. Sorry, rabbit trail...) This guy is pretty friendly, and he likes to come up to the window and chat with Tom and me when we're working in the kitchen. One of his favorite topics is President Obama, and this time around he actually introduced himself as Obama. (I'm pretty sure he also referred to Tom as "George Bush" at some point, which, I must admit, was pretty funny.) After introductions, he started asking us all kinds of questions about business, when all of a sudden, he reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out...a dead...bird. I kid you not. As if that wasn't enough, he smacked this thing down on the nice, clean kitchen counter. After getting over our initial shock (and thoroughly disinfecting the counter to the best of our abilities), we told him to take it outside and get rid of it. Later on, one of the staff members who was working in the office around that time told us that he walked by and apologized on his way out, and he didn't come back in for the rest of the morning. I really hope we didn't hurt this guy's feelings; he really is such a nice person, and I'd hate to think that something like this might keep him from coming back to Jeff Street. It's the first time I can remember having to be that stern with any guest, but it had to be done. I don't even want to think about the diseases he might be carrying around with a dead animal in his pocket, and I'd hate for him to get himself or anyone else sick. I'm learning that "tough love" is tough not only for the person receiving it, but also for the person administering it.

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