It’s getting cold, I thought two days after the first major storm of the year. I exited my warm car zipping up as I headed for my shift. I heard desperate banging through the snow flurries as I rounded the church parking lot. I squinted through the snow and saw her pounding on the main church doors. She was like an apparition appearing “Can I hep you?” I called.
She turned around and I saw her. A young woman, hair dishevelled, a bit wild eyed, a combination of fear and a bit of detachment. She was wearing pyjama bottoms a fall jacket and inadequate shoes. She had no bag not even a purse. She looked very frail, cold and vulnerable. “I need the Warming Room”, is all she said.
“I’m a volunteer there.” I said, “Doors don’t open till 8:30 but go to that door then and you will be safe.”
I proceed to attend my shift wondering about her story. I’ve heard so many. People forced on to the street with no good options. Often suffering from mental health issues, or addictions, their families or friends had enough of them and forced them out. Sometimes it’s because of abuse and they are forced to leave to maintain their own sanity or safety. So many stories everyone of them sad and ending up with someone on our doorstep. Last resort shelter they call us. First step to a new start I like to think.
I set up beds and chairs for the night and sure enough at 8:30 she arrived shivering, cold seeking shelter for the night. We got her some warm chilli, bread and something to drink. I made some small talk. She had just been kicked out of her place several hours prior. With no where to go she had been wandering the streets. A suspicious man in a car had stopped to talk to her. I told her this area was notorious for prostitution and that might be what he was seeking. “I have no where to go” she said.
“I know but for tonight you will be safe.”
And she was.
The story is not really that uncommon. I would say several people show up out of the blue every week. Later that night a second young woman was dropped by police onto the doorstep. Later I reflected on the encounter.. Really that was all she needed in the moment, to be told she would be safe.
As a volunteer sometimes it seems we are just putting in hours but what we do is really important. No, we don’t make the headlines but I have no doubt that together we prevent tragic stories and yes, tragic headlines.