Ryan’s weekly tip is emailed out for homeless, mentally ill and addicted patrons of Libraries. I was particularly moved by this week’s instalment. It reminds us that we are very fortunate if we have our own shelter to sleep in each night and enough money for food each day. For more information and to sign up for classes please go to: Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness.
I slept in a homeless shelter last night.
I work at one of the largest shelters in Illinois. Whenever my wife and kids are out of town, I sleep here to get fresh perspective. I figure that I should have some idea what it is like to sleep here.
I jotted down notes of things that struck me:
7:00 pm – Dinner is provided by volunteers who are all members of the Sikh religion. They all, including the children, wear Dastars (turbans). They serve a few dozen pizzas, watermelon and orange Kool-Aid.
7:32 pm – There are way too many kids living in the shelter right now. I watch four siblings (all in matching tie-die shirts) run around a crowded dining room play a game that is a cross between tag and rugby. Dozens of adults—weary from a long day—try to avoid them.
8:46 pm – A man who lives at the shelter is making a balloon animal (a monkey riding on a ball). He taught himself to make balloon animals as a way to calm his anxiety. The four children in matching tie-die shirts stand transfixed, watching his craft. It is the first time they have stopped moving since they arrived.
9:00 pm – The sleeping rooms are full and there are still more people that need a place to stay. The dining room is converted into another “bedroom” by laying out another 40 or so mats. That is where I will sleep tonight.
10:32 pm – I manage to track down a few sheets so I don’t have to sleep on a bare mat. I’m not sure where we got the sheets from, but they are smaller than a twin bed. Maybe they were made for cribs.
10:37 pm – I am assigned a mat in the middle of the dining room. All the “prime real estate” is already taken. The best locations are near a fan or a wall. The noise of the fans block some of the shelter noises, and the walls guarantee that your head isn’t by a lot of feet. I have the benefit of neither a fan nor a wall.
11:02 pm – It is amazing how much noise 40 people can make while sleeping. How does anyone sleep here? Man, I wish I was near a fan…
Around midnight – I finally drift off to sleep.
1:32 am – My full bladder wakes me up. I stumble to the bathroom. In order to get there, I have to step over eight sleeping people, go down a flight of stairs and traverse a hallway. Task complete, I go back down the hall, up the stairs and re-cross eight sleeping bodies. By the time I get back to my mat, I am wide awake. It takes me at least 30 minutes to get back to sleep.
2:15 am – The guy sleeping next to me has a coughing fit and I wake up for a while.
3:32 am – A man getting up for work trips on something, making a clutter. I am started awake. It takes me a while to get back to sleep.
4:29 am – Lots of people are getting up for work. Most are trying to be quiet. A few are not. A husband and wife have resumed their argument from the night before.
4:29 am – 5:00 am – I stare at the ceiling and watch people get ready for work. It is way too loud to sleep now. I really wish that I had gotten a spot in one of the sleeping rooms, rather than the dining room.
5:00 am – The lone staff member turns on the lights. 40 people groggily get up and stack their mats in the corner so the room can be turned back into a dining room for breakfast.
5:22 am –Some mornings there are as many as twenty volunteers and breakfast is pancakes, eggs, grits and toast. Today, there is only one volunteer so breakfast is pastries donated from the local grocery store and cold cereal.
6:00 am – I stumble down to my office. My vision is a little blurry and my head is fuzzy. I sit in front of my computer to type out this email.
Rest of the day – I have to work. I haven’t gotten enough sleep to function. I don’t know how anyone is able to keep a job while sleeping in a homeless shelter. I can muddle through today, but if I had to do this for many days in a row I would be utterly unemployable from sheer sleep deprivation. If I went to the library, I would totally fall asleep.
Please forgive any typos and poor writing. I am really freaking tired.