"I stake the time I'm grateful to have, the energies I'm glad to direct." - Annie Dillard
This morning, I went to the ARCH, the Austin homeless shelter for the second time. The first was Saturday for a volunteer orientation. I sat around for a while talking to people before the volunteer coordinator came down to show me what to do.
I discussed how hard it is to learn Chinese with a homeless client who had carefully painted on eyebrows. (I got asked a lot about what I do, so that led to me telling them I'm a teacher, but not currently teaching in Austin....)
I commented on how nice the building is to a guy and he said, "Yeah, but you know some people get too comfortable here, with this life and this place." He then went on to tell me that he wasn't one who was going to get too comfortable with it.
My first job was to check mail for people. Anyone can give out the center's address, and then their mail goes on file until they can pick it up. The clients were mostly so polite and patient as I learned the system and searched through the filed mail for theirs.
My second job was to go upstairs behind the soap and toothpaste counter to hand that out as needed. I also got a few requests for hydrogen peroxide, lotion and razors. We had the peroxide, but no lotion or razors. They give away what they get from donations.
They have an art class that started just as I was leaving. The clients can submit their artwork at the annual Art From the Streets show and earn the money from the sale. One guy commented on his way to the restroom "I know there are no starving artists in here! We might call them the gluttonous artists instead."
It's true that for most homeless the food is not an issue. Finding affordable housing is a problem, along with other barriers to employment that the homeless face. I'm glad that the shelter has made it easy for me to volunteer and learn more about the city I'm living in.