I slept at the homeless shelter where I work last night. I try to do it once or twice a year to keep perspective.
I almost hadn’t followed through on spending the night. As usual, it was my wife, Krissie, who set me straight. I had been complaining to her earlier in the day that I didn’t want to sleep at Hesed House (I wanted to watch a movie in my bed at home). Krissie didn’t scold my weakness—that isn’t her style. She simply asked, “How many of the people at the shelter want to be there tonight?” She made her point, and I quit complaining.
I drifted into sleep relatively easily, only jolting awake once when one of my neighbors accidentally rolled onto my pad. He moved quietly back onto his own real estate, fortunately, without me having to ask.
At 4:00 a.m., the orange Kool-Aid from dinner hit bottom and my bladder nudged me to get up. At home I would have just fumbled to the bathroom in the dark and climbed back into bed without ever really waking up. From the middle of the men’s sleeping room, though, I had to gingerly step around dozens of sleeping bodies and wait in line for the bathroom. By the time I got back to my pad on the floor I was wide awake.
I got my towel and made my way to the showers. There were four individual stalls—each with a new curtain, I was happy to see. I had been warned that some have good water pressure and some don’t, but three were already occupied, so I took the one that was left. Obviously, the other men knew which ones were the good showers, and I got what was left. The water was relatively warm, though (I had been warned that you have to get up pretty early unless you wanted to take a cold shower).
One of my three shower buddies was playing music on his cell phone—a manly song with a good beat and completely unintelligible words. A few people sang along, and I might have tapped my foot along to the music. When the first song was over, the next song on his playlist was the theme song from The Lion King (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight” by Elton John).
The men stopped singing and the room was eerily quiet except for the trickle of water from four showers. I waited anxiously through the first verse to see if the other men would protest at the Disney intrusion.
Quite unexpectedly, out of the shower next to mine came a single voice “And can you feel the love tonight…” I have heard that everyone’s voice sounds prettier in the shower. This man was the exception.
Then another gentleman—this one with an accent—joined in, “It’s enough for this wide-eyed wanderer that we got this far…”
Feeling sheepishly out of touch with our inner-Simba’s, the rest of us picked up the remainder of the chorus, “It’s enough to make kings and vagabonds believe the very best…”
I finished my shower before Elton John and The Homeless Shelter Shower Band were done singing, fearful of what the next song might be. I quickly got dressed and headed up to the dining room for breakfast.
Belly full and body intact, I finished off the last gulp of coffee before the clock said 5:00. I headed down to my office, fresh and eager to start the day’s work of ending homelessness.
Peace (and justice!),