Dinner – Pork Chop and Mashed Potatoes
Today was my very first experience at the community drop-in. Throughout my posts, I will include a stereotype that most people including myself have against the homeless.
Stereotype #1: The homeless are rude.
As I turned the bend around Starbucks, I noticed a bunch of cars outside the church. I was a little confused because homelessness and cars don’t exactly go together. Outside of the doors was a group of smokers and people drinking. It was a little intimidating to be honest. Do I say hi or do I mind my own business? What if they say I don’t belong here – then how will I complete my project? Or even worse, what if they attack me?! All these thoughts and emotions of nervousness and fear were running through my head. I walked past them and one of the men kindly opened the door for me.
As the door opened, a whiff of stale, unwashed clothing with a mix of smelly feet and body odour swept right up into my nose. Gross. Not the most pleasing smell to be… smelling. Beyond the door at the end of stairs, I could hear noise seeping through the cracks. I walked down the set of stairs and opened the door and the noise of people intensified dramatically. At first I peaked in slowly, noting about 50-60 people in a cafeteria setting. I was a little shy to walk in, but someone behind the door stuck his head out and waved at me. I had no idea, but that alone softened my nervousness. I walked in and the smell really hit me hard in the face along with the general scene of the drop-in. In the center, there were six tables with people having dinner. At first glance, it reminded me of a bar in the medieval times where people would feast minus the alcohol and swords. Along the sides, people were conversing with one another. At the back was the lounge area where a few individuals were resting. The mood level was great, everyone was talking amongst each other and a few welcomed me as I entered and walked past them towards the lounge.
Stereotype #2 – The homeless are dirty.
I met up with Joe (the founder), who welcomed me to the community and told me to wait by the side until I was called for dinner. I stood by the drinks station. At first I didn’t know the drinks were all placed there, until I noticed how I kept getting in the way of people. I figured I might as well grab a drink to give me something to do as I waited. I saw the cups in the rack on the side and I was a bit hesitant because I’m a semi germaphobe. However, my thirst got the better of me though and I broke that fear [for tonight only]. I grabbed my tea and took a step back to where I was standing before.
Stereotype #3 – The homeless are uneducated.
An older man with a cowboy hat, scruffy beard and novel in his left hand came up and stood beside me. He looked right at me, paused for a few seconds as if he knew me and then introduced himself.
Man: Hi, you look new here. What’s your name?
Me: Yeah, I am new. My name is LS, what about yours?
FYI – For privacy concerns, all names that are disclosed in this section of the blog will be changed to an alias.
John started talking about cowboys and vampires. He named a few shows from the 60s of the South West which I was completely oblivious about. I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about but I think he could tell from my facial expression as well. He summarized the movies for me so I can get the general idea of what he was trying to tell me. As he talked, a worker interrupted us and told him there was a seat available. John tipped his hat and said it was time for his dinner.
The worker quickly assured me that there would be a seat for me soon. Just as she said it, a seat by the drinks station became available. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to sit beside John to hear the rest of his story. I was really looking forward to it because of my own self interest, but also because I felt comfortable talking to him. He showed me a sense of inclusion in his circle which was also a step closer to the acceptance of the community as a whole. He didn’t know it but just the simple hi dumbed the fear I initially had.
At my table, there was a mix of people – mostly men. Come to think of it, most of the people at the drop-in were men. There were three Native American men, a young Caucasian guy, 2 older Caucasian gentlemen who were minding their own business and an 80-85 year old woman in a wheelchair. The loudest of the group were the Native Americans but they were also the only ones who were intoxicated at my table. The Native American sitting beside was the only one of the three that wasn’t.
I asked him how his day was, hoping it would spark up a conversation, but I was too hopeful. His day started off with his sleeping bag being stolen, thereafter he got into a few conflicts and now he has nothing to keep him warm when he is back on the streets after dinner is over. With the weather continuing to decrease from the present -10 Celsius, the idea of him being on the streets without something warm frightened me. I have a hard enough time walking from my house to my car that is barely 30 seconds away, so I can’t imagine how someone can survive the whole night without heat. I expressed worry that he would freeze but he assured me that there are other ways in keeping warm like keeping close with his street family and finding other articles of clothing.
Stereotype #5: The homeless are heartless.
As he shared with me the concerns of the lack of political assistant for the homeless, a fight broke up the table in front of us. A few punches were thrown but within a few seconds, people around the fight got up from the dinner to pull each other away. The workers quickly came in to calm the two men. I am easily affected by seeing physical fights so I was taken back a little. The Native Americans beside me got up to comfort their friend, while the instigator was kicked out for the rest of the night. The environment became tense after the fight, but it slowly simmered as the night went on.