Hope Haven: a place to help or be helped

I have never felt so sad and so angry at the same time as I did last Wednesday.

I had the opportunity to volunteer at Hope Haven, formerly known as PADS, a homeless shelter in DeKalb.

For those unfamiliar with the shelter, it is an average-sized building with a living room, small kitchen, washer and dryer and two bathrooms. There are three large bedrooms which fit about eight beds in each. There’s a small room off of the living room that most of us would call a den with a beat-up old couch, a few torn-up children’s books and some puzzles. There’s no CD player, TV or VCR. It’s nothing fancy, but many call it home.

The night I was there 26 people drifted in from the streets to eat a warm meal and sleep in a clean bed. Some were new to the place, but others were familiar with the routine: all overnight guests sign in on the clip board in the kitchen, put an “x” in the column that alerts volunteers to make a brown bag lunch for the next day. Most don’t have many belongings, but if they do, they are placed on one of the open beds claiming that bed as theirs for the night.

Families come to the shelter with their two and three-year-old children. Single men and women come after a long day at work. Contrary to what we sometimes think, homelessness does not discriminate against age, sex or gender.

That’s what has made me angry.

You might say I know a lot of people who are set in their harsh ways.

“They’re just lazy bums who want a hand out,” or “Why don’t they go out and get a job so they can support themselves?” are common remarks made about the issue of homelessness in America.

But those comments are easy to make with closed ears and eyes. They are a scapegoat many people use to somehow justify why some are not as fortunate as others.

The frightening fact is that jobs and affordable housing are not that easy to come by these days. These are families who once did have three-bedroom homes with two-car garages. These are people who had good-paying jobs, but lost them for reasons out of their own control. These people who come to Hope Haven never asked to be unemployed. They never asked to lose everything they worked for in life. They never asked to watch their children cry because they couldn’t go to the movies like other kids.

The sad thing is, most of the homeless people I talked to at the shelter do have jobs. They did not make excuses for their current economic state. They are out there trying to save and get ahead so that they can support themselves.

They are not the ones complaining that they don’t have the current Air Jordan’s or the latest model of car. Ironic, isn’t it?

Point being, we shouldn’t judge others without knowing the whole story first. We shouldn’t complain about what we have when others who have only a smile are just scraping by. We need to pull together and help those who have taken some hard knocks lately in life.

I guess what I’m trying to say is help, volunteer. It will change your life.