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Some scenes from a disaster shelter

Over the past couple of weeks, I spent some ~60 hours of personal time (on top of work) at a disaster relief shelter here in the SF Bay Area for those affected by the heavy rain and flooding. Most were homeless prior to the rains, or were directed to us by hospitals or mental health facilities who could not handle them any longer. During this time, I had many encounters, conversations and interactions that left me reeling, contemplative, inspired or depressed. I am using this post to put a number of these interactions down in writing.

1. A young woman, perhaps 18-20, by herself, well kept and exceedingly chipper. She claimed to be homeless and fleeing rising creeks, was articulate and excited to have a place to sleep, and asked many questions about the shelter facilities. Getting ready to walk her to the gym that had been turned into a makeshift dorm, I let her know a nurse would be by later if she needed any medical help and she smiled and promptly asked me if the nurse could perform an abortion for her later that day. I was stunned by the casual tone of the question and simply advised her that the nurse is available to talk to. She said "okay thank you that's great!" in a completely upbeat tone. A few days later in the shelter log I learned that she had been evicted for fighting with another shelter resident.

2. A similarly young man, latino, could not speak a word of English. Using Google Translate on my phone I was able to communicate with him. While I cannot recite Google's exact translation of his circumstances, it was roughly as thus: "I have not eaten in 3 days. my stomach hurts. my bones hurt. I want to die. is there a bed to sleep?" I showed him to a cot, got him a blanket and some dry clothes, then took him to the makeshift cafeteria where there were some simple hot meals. He broke down in tears, making motions of prayer to myself and everybody else, since he couldn't otherwise communicate with us.

3. An elderly woman with a dog. She was in poor medical condition - largely unable to walk, chronic diarrhea. She and the dog - a tiny one, mouthy and loud - were inseparable. She was articulate but kept claiming that she needed to be connected with the mayor with whom she had been evacuated. Every two hours she had to be wheeled to the bathroom then to the makeshift kennel to spend time with her dog--even through the night. She told me that she and her dog had been together for 2 years on the streets and the dog was feisty because it had been attacked numerous time. She told me that she and the dog are each other's family because the dog would wake her when someone approached with intentions to rape her. She gave me contact information for a brother-in-law who was a "provost" at a major university and would come pick her up. None of it was real. A few days later, she left with her dog, leaving all of her belongings.

4. A family arrived - mother, father and two very small children - one perhaps 7 with a small phone on which he constantly played games, and the other a toddler. The father checked in but was rarely present. The mother frequently left the gym/dorm with the toddler, leaving the slightly older son in the dorm by himself. Both the mother and father appeared to use aliases, we later learned--during various sweeps to confirm names to cots, each often provided a new made-up name. My wife, at the shelter with me, often had to keep the ~7 year old company as he was left unsupervised in a large shelter with mostly adults. Later, the mother approached us to say that her husband abused her and she wanted us to evict him from the shelter so they would be separated. We explained that we were shelter workers and this was a police matter--and we could let her contact police if she wished. She was reticent. When I next returned for a "shift" her husband had been arrested--she called the police and he was wanted on multiple felony charges, as it turned out.

I have perhaps a dozen other similar snapshots of interactions in my mind and I'm struggling to process them all. I live a largely privileged life, I suppose, and I try to expose myself to other situations, people, struggles to contextualize and have perspective. Our brains are remarkably flexible, and I take pride in my ability to adapt, but being hit with so many interactions outside my domain of experience in such a short period of time--most of which I was impotent to "fix"--has left me... pensive... processing.

Anyhoo, just needed to write this. Thoughts appreciated, or we could talk about pesto sauce as well.
 
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HIP56948

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Interesting writing. Seemed a little like the start of a great sci-fi story. I wanted more.
Years ago, I had a house in Pacifica. Left in 85 for personal reasons. .divorce ...Back to Sydney for a while.. Still miss the west coast terribly.
 

Checkerboard Strangler

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Over the past couple of weeks, I spent some ~60 hours of personal time (on top of work) at a disaster relief shelter here in the SF Bay Area for those affected by the heavy rain and flooding. Most were homeless prior to the rains, or were directed to us by hospitals or mental health facilities who could not handle them any longer. During this time, I had many encounters, conversations and interactions that left me reeling, contemplative, inspired or depressed. I am using this post to put a number of these interactions down in writing.

1. A young woman, perhaps 18-20, by herself, well kept and exceedingly chipper. She claimed to be homeless and fleeing rising creeks, was articulate and excited to have a place to sleep, and asked many questions about the shelter facilities. Getting ready to walk her to the gym that had been turned into a makeshift dorm, I let her know a nurse would be by later if she needed any medical help and she smiled and promptly asked me if the nurse could perform an abortion for her later that day. I was stunned by the casual tone of the question and simply advised her that the nurse is available to talk to. She said "okay thank you that's great!" in a completely upbeat tone. A few days later in the shelter log I learned that she had been evicted for fighting with another shelter resident.

2. A similarly young man, latino, could not speak a word of English. Using Google Translate on my phone I was able to communicate with him. While I cannot recite Google's exact translation of his circumstances, it was roughly as thus: "I have not eaten in 3 days. my stomach hurts. my bones hurt. I want to die. is there a bed to sleep?" I showed him to a cot, got him a blanket and some dry clothes, then took him to the makeshift cafeteria where there were some simple hot meals. He broke down in tears, making motions of prayer to myself and everybody else, since he couldn't otherwise communicate with us.

3. An elderly woman with a dog. She was in poor medical condition - largely unable to walk, chronic diarrhea. She and the dog - a tiny one, mouthy and loud - were inseparable. She was articulate but kept claiming that she needed to be connected with the mayor with whom she had been evacuated. Every two hours she had to be wheeled to the bathroom then to the makeshift kennel to spend time with her dog--even through the night. She told me that she and her dog had been together for 2 years on the streets and the dog was feisty because it had been attacked numerous time. She told me that she and the dog are each other's family because the dog would wake her when someone approached with intentions to rape her. She gave me contact information for a brother-in-law who was a "provost" at a major university and would come pick her up. None of it was real. A few days later, she left with her dog, leaving all of her belongings.

4. A family arrived - mother, father and two very small children - one perhaps 7 with a small phone on which he constantly played games, and the other a toddler. The father checked in but was rarely present. The mother frequently left the gym/dorm with the toddler, leaving the slightly older son in the dorm by himself. Both the mother and father appeared to use aliases, we later learned--during various sweeps to confirm names to cots, each often provided a new made-up name. My wife, at the shelter with me, often had to keep the ~7 year old company as he was left unsupervised in a large shelter with mostly adults. Later, the mother approached us to say that her husband abused her and she wanted us to evict him from the shelter so they would be separated. We explained that we were shelter workers and this was a police matter--and we could let her contact police if she wished. She was reticent. When I next returned for a "shift" her husband had been arrested--she called the police and he was wanted on multiple felony charges, as it turned out.

I have perhaps a dozen other similar snapshots of interactions in my mind and I'm struggling to process them all. I live a largely privileged life, I suppose, and I try to expose myself to other situations, people, struggles to contextualize and have perspective. Our brains are remarkably flexible, and I take pride in my ability to adapt, but being hit with so many interactions outside my domain of experience in such a short period of time--most of which I was impotent to "fix"--has left me... pensive... processing.

Anyhoo, just needed to write this. Thoughts appreciated, or we could talk about pesto sauce as well.

You're a good man @phoenix2020, proud to know you and I think we may draw some inspiration from you and try to work the next situation that pops up around our neck of the woods.
We want to be more like you.
 
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