It has been a while since we last communicated with you, our friends and supporters; the pandemic has managed to throw all of our lives upside down. We are going through a trying time, of course, because of Covid. But, we are also experiencing a period of transitional celebration as we welcome on board our new Executive Director, Jeremy Johnson.
During this time of illness and uncertainty, it is of extreme importance our shelter continues to thrive as we give all assistance possible to those who come through our doors wanting to work their way out of the abyss of homelessness holding them captive. Pandemic or no pandemic, the trials facing the homeless are always there. Their struggles go on and so do our efforts to help.
With the pandemic in full swing, a decision is needed to be made. Would we close the shelter? Would we cut the number of guests to half capacity? Would we continue to operate normally while taking as many steps as possible to protect our guests and staff?
After much thought, the conclusion reached. Closing the shelter or limiting admission would only serve to leave large numbers of our homeless on the streets to fend for themselves and their families. Rather than protecting the homeless from Covid, we would, in effect, be leaving them exposed to disruptive living arrangements and dangerous weather, both aggravated by poor nutrition and insufficient means of protection from the cold. The decision was made to remain open to capacity.
The next question, a BIG one, was what steps we would take to protect those within our doors. The answer to this question came as a consequence of learning from experience. Some months back, two of our staff members came down with Covid as did two of our guests. Staff members quarantined at home while guests were sent to a hotel, paid for by another organization in town. Since that time, and with the decision made to remain open, Mama T’s has installed ultra violet sanitizing lights on our HVAC system to keep the air as clean as possible. Additionally, we have a hand-held fogger which is utilized every day to spray the entire shelter with a concentrate that eradicates bacteria and viruses. On a daily basis, bathrooms are sprayed with Lysol and door handles are sanitized with Microban. On October 20th, we held a vaccination clinic at the shelter. Sixteen of our guests received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. In addition, all guests and staff are being Covid tested once a week. Since the small initial outbreak mentioned above, we all continue to remain negative. Thank you, Lord!
It brings us joy each time we see one of our guests efficiently working their way toward true independence. Yesterday, for example, one of our almost “graduates” obtained full-time employment at a local company building septic tanks and storm cellars. He starts at $15 an hour, moving up to $17 an hour after three months. Soon he and his significant other will have sufficient funds to pay outstanding bills and move out of the shelter into a rental home they will be able to financially sustain.
Another guest obtained employment with a local soft drink company; he has signed a lease on a home and is now just waiting for the utilities to be turned on. Still another of our guests was worthy of a complimentary call from his employer who wanted us to know, not only is our guest dutifully showing up for his part-time job but is working until the job is done irrespective of quitting time on the clock. His boss tells us he will have soon earned himself a full-time position. Way to go guys!! These are just a few of the stories making our hearts sing.
Winter draws ever closer, and we are commencing the collection of coats, jackets, and sweaters to distribute to those in need. On Sunday, November 14th, we will welcome anyone who needs protection from the cold to visit our facility, take what is necessary to keep themselves and their family members warm, and if they are homeless, to determine whether Mama T’s is a viable winter option for them.
We understand there are those on the streets who, for one reason or another, will not set foot inside a shelter. Perhaps the addiction to drugs or alcohol is simply too strong – they cannot envision moving into a facility where they will be randomly screened and where sobriety is required. Perhaps they don’t want to work, and they know searching for and maintaining employment is a requirement at Mama T’s. There are rules that come with living at the shelter and there are people who don’t like, and won’t follow, rules laid down by others. Perhaps an animal is the only family this person has and there is no way s/he is going to leave family behind; it is often the case the homeless will feed their beloved pets before they think to feed themselves. Perhaps the person is suffering from PTSD as a result of having fought in one of America’s wars. Mental health issues may be holding them prisoner, so they trust no one.
There are a myriad of reasons for not coming in out of the cold, some understandable, some not. You may ask why we should help those on the street who don’t want to stay at the shelter. Consider that we are unable to access the thinking processes of every homeless person on the street, and we do not know the circumstances that brought them to where they are today. It should cross our minds that there, but for the grace of God, go you or I. When we see fellow human beings in need, we should try hard not to pass judgment. Judgment is God’s business, not ours. Ours is to apply the Golden Rule – to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Perhaps you see a person on the street asking for money. Perhaps you are walking your dog on Ada’s lovely, forest-lined, bike trail when you see a blanket crumpled on the ground. It looks lumpy. Is there a body under there? An animal, trash? It moves, and a head pops up. “Hey Bro, do you have change for a cup of coffee?”
Should you donate some spare cash? Is money the best way to be helpful? It’s important to not presume what people’s needs are and to understand, if you give cash you have no control over how it is spent. Does giving money realistically and unconditionally show a respect for humanity in general? By giving cash are you enabling the purchase of another drug hit? Maybe it is better to give a gift card to be used at a restaurant or a grocery store. This could be an opportunity for you to engage with the person on the street, to simply ask him or her how they are doing, what it is they need. Perhaps the greatest gift you can give is simply to talk – to acknowledge the person as a fellow traveler in this world – someone who is worthy of your time and attention.
We, at Mama T’s, struggle with many of the same questions you do regarding homelessness. Some of those questions may never be answered, and homelessness is not going to magically disappear. Given the reality of this depressing landscape, the question becomes, “Do we care?” And if we care, what can we, in our limited capacities, in our limited areas of the country, do to help our fellow human brothers and sisters who do not have a safe place to lay their heads at night and who may not have any idea from where their next meal is coming? Can’t we at least gift them with hope?
Hope is what we provide for those homeless who choose to stay at our shelter or the affiliated sober living houses. Guests at Mama T’s have the luxury of knowing they are in a safe environment where beds are bug-free; where there are showers, washers and dryers, a playground for children, a communal relaxation area as well as nutritious meals. Their basic needs are provided so they can relax and concentrate on how to make use of the assistance we will provide to help them work their way to a better life.
For those on the street who will be there during the winter to come, we will provide Blessing Bags containing handwarmers, mylar emergency blankets, gloves, socks, snacks, jackets and/or coats, a flashlight, and perhaps a small pillow.
When it comes right down to it, we remember the words of Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta who gave her life to the poor and suffering. “We cannot all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.” That applies to us all.
Bread & Blessings from Mama T’s to you and to all who care.