Over the years, we've made a few improvements to the sleeping facility. We now set up a folding chair beside each mat that helps define personal space, provides a place to hang belongings or sit away from the eating area. And starting this year, we also offer each guest a pillow. Dianne scrounged a dozen or so from a local hotel and each guest gets their own pillow that's theirs for the season. We seal each pillow up in a bag with our guest's name on it each each morning so they're ready for the next night. Pillows offer our guests a comfortable sleep, but also a level of dignity they all deserve.
For the awake hours, we've added a TV (thanks, Vic) and it's great to see our guests chilling in front of the tube, catching up on favourite shows like Coronation Street (who knew!?). The TV does tend to squelch conversation so we don't bring it out every evening, but when we do it's a special treat.
Marcella generously donated a laptop and this is always popular, although the first night it was mostly used to check out bizarre YouTube videos of a Russian fellow demonstrating weapons, including a fully automatic shotgun. I learned later that this wasn't as obscure as I thought: that shotgun video has been viewed over 23 million times on YouTube... Since then, the laptop use has settled into people looking for jobs, connecting up with friends and family on Facebook and watching the hockey game on nights the Canucks games aren't broadcast on TV. And coincidentally, a young Russian guest was skyping with his family back in Russia.
We have a few other ideas to make the shelter more homelike, such as adding a shower, but is this where our efforts should be focussed? Would we be better off working towards permanent housing for our guests, by finding willing landlords, lobbying elected officials etc?
I think we need to do both: improve our shelter, including more services and shelter space open year round, plus lobbying for more affordable housing and finding ways to transition our guests into this affordable housing.
Ralph Nunez says that "people don't like to hear it, but shelters are going to be the low-income housing of the future". Our shelters are no comparison to what they have in New York city -- fantastic "Family Inns" with enrichment programs for the children, job clubs. Here's a link with a short description of some of their services: Family Inn services and the main link to his website Homes for the Homeless. The scale of homelessness in Richmond also has no comparison to New York city, where 10,000 families and 15,000 children live in shelters, and up to 100 new families apply for shelter each day. But our problem should be more easily solvable.
Perhaps when your head nestles into your pillow tonight, you could give some thought as to how we could help create more homes for those who need a place, either by making our shelter more homelike, creating more shelter space or making more real homes available. Let me know your ideas.