Drop-In days provide basic needs

Those experiencing homelessness have access to meals, showers and clothing items

Written by Tony Schneider, community engagement specialist

Last Friday I pulled into the parking lot at the Men’s Shelter five minutes before the start of a Drop-In day. I was greeted by 30 individuals waiting for the doors to open, breakfast to be served and services to begin. I never really know what I’ll be experiencing when I come and interact with guests.

Drop-in days occur every Tuesday and Friday from May 1 through October 31. The purpose of Drop-In days is to provide resources for men and women in the community. Sometimes it’s a healthy meal, a warm shower, laundry services or basic needs items such as clothing, hygiene items, and backpacks.

Everyone who enters must sign in, disclose their name, where they slept last night and sign up for any services offered throughout the day. Following sign-in, guests make their way to the gymnasium where dedicated volunteers have been preparing breakfast since 7 am. Breakfast and lunch are staples on Drop-In days and sometimes the only meal(s) many of the guests receive throughout the week.

Homelessness is a complex issue and food insecurity is just as much part of the problem for neighbors struggling.

While waiting for everyone to eat, a guest that I had gotten to know waived me down. “Tony! You have to try these burritos man. They have eggs, bacon, cheese, peppers, and I think hashbrowns inside of them. These might be the best burritos I have ever had!”

I took his advice. That morning I did have a breakfast burrito and my goodness—it was delicious.

Like any high school cafeteria, guests sit with people they know, friends and sometimes family they are comfortable with. Those that come in alone, or don’t know many others, find open seats and join in on table talk with those around them. Throughout the morning many often make new friends to sit with for next time when they come in. The conversations generally consist of current events, the day ahead, their personal lives and sometimes gripes about barriers faced. One thing that dominates the breakfast conversation on this day is positivity.

“I have a job interview next Monday,” said Terrell when asked what brought him in today. “It is the first interview I’ve had in 4 years. I am hoping I can find some nice shoes, shirt and slacks to make a good first impression.”

Fulfilling the basic needs of guests is just one reason Drop-In days exist. Through donation vouchers, visitors may request items like shirts, pants, shoes, and socks. Things like toothpaste, combs, shampoo and soaps are just as important. Seasonal items like winter coats, boots, long johns, and gloves are usually requested once October comes around. It is our goal at St. John’s Ministries to continue to honor the dignity of guests by providing basic items from community supporters like you.

As I was making my way out of the dining area I spoke with more guests. One lady stopped in her tracks, started to tear up and said, “I need to have my laundry done so I have clean clothes to wear tomorrow at my mom’s funeral.” She struggled to speak but made sure to thank us for having drop-in services available. “I don’t sleep here because I don’t feel comfortable sleeping in group areas. But I use the showers to wash up, do laundry once a week, and of course, I like the food on Tuesdays and Fridays. Thank you for having this open. It really helps.”

Those are moments when I, other staff and volunteers are humbled. We hear so often the real struggle many of our brothers and sisters are facing daily. Sometimes we hear comments and stories that make us wonder about the difficulties they face.

During the summer months, a lot of guests choose to sleep outside, for various reasons. Regardless of where an individual sleeps at night, we want to make sure services are available to assist and guide them however they need. When guest engagement drops during the summer months, our touchpoints can be far and few between, and one way to engage is through the services at Drop-In days.

Each person experiencing homelessness is going through their own struggles trying to figure out their current situation. Today the conversation could be about housing and employment. Tomorrow it might be about sobriety and relationships.

No matter what is being discussed, it is always about connecting those experiencing homelessness with services and resources to help them move forward in life.

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