Where Did They Go? (An Elegy for the Shelter) : Old First E-pistle 05.04.18

Where Did They Go? (An Elegy for the Shelter) : Old First E-pistle 05.04.18

Vaya con Dios!

Tuesday morning, the folks of our shelter — Raphael, Country, Matt, Tyra and 25 others — got up early as usual. Got themselves together and got the space cleaned up. Grabbed a bite of breakfast. And then they left, about 6:30 am, before AA started to come in about 7 am. But that day, unlike the 180+ days prior, they wouldn’t be back that evening between 6 and 6:30 pm.

When I lived in the Fox Building at church, I found this a very lonely time of the year. May 1 is the end of our shelter season. When the 30 people who’d been my neighbors and often also my dinner companions since November 1 would suddenly disappear. Over night, my neighbors were gone; my neighborhood evaporated. It’s not that different even now that I have Mr. Fisher and Miss Linda, John and Troy, Starlet and her kids, Jackie and Travis on North 17th Street.

The good folks in our shelter become a part of the pastor at Old First’s life. each year. And certainly also part of his and the church’s ministry and fellowship. They often get to Old First early in the evening, to wait around the entrance to the Social Hall, to sit on the steps outside the office window and catch up,  or to charge their phones at the outlet by the entrance to the Fox Building.  It’s fun to thjnk about it, but for a time, I see much more of them than my parishioners?

I waited at work late on Monday evening to see them before I went home. To thank them for a good season. To wish them luck, and to say goodbye.

And then they are gone! I used to console myself that it was somehow biblical. Like Philip in the story from Acts last Sunday in church: as soon as the Ethiopian God-seeker came up out of the waters of baptism, Philip was gone, carried away by the Holy Spirit! Likewise, Jesus, breaking bread with Cleopas and his companion after walking with them on the road to Emmaus: no sooner were the loaf torn in two and the eyes of the disciples opened to recognize Jesus, then he was no more with them there.

Truth be told, I often see folks around out of season, when I’m walking or on my bike. Someone — sometimes who I can’t remember — will look up and say, “Hey, Rev.; how’s Old First?” An out of town friend visiting once, after we had crossed Center City back and forth a couple times, marveled, “Do you know all the people in town who are homeless?” We see some people from our shelter every week, or at least sometimes, at the Saturday Morning Breakfast and Cupboard.

And some leave us at the end of the season never to be seen again?

Where do the people who have been housed in our shelter go come May 1? Some move over to Bethesda’s year round church shelter at St. Mary’s Episcopal. The others are on their own. A few may have family or friends where they can stay for awhile. But most of them go back to the now warmer streets. And sleep in doorways. And those underpass walkways. And in parks. Wherever they can find a place really. As a society, we really should do better, shouldn’t we?

Of course, one realizes from time to time that someone has gone from one’s life. You may have expected or you may be surprised, but either way, some one turns up gone, and you don’t know where.. People are always coming and going from our lives.

And we have to entrust them to where they find themselves, the people around them and the communities they are in that we don’t know. And behind or under or over all that, we entrust them to God. People who are homeless are no different. Except that when we think of where they might be, we shouldn’t forget that their ‘wherever’ well might still be or probably is without a home.

Vaya con Dios!

See you in church,

Michael