A Window on the World
This week, we moved our shelter offices out of the shelter and into a street level strip mall on the fringe of the downtown core. The shelter is housed in a beautiful old Presbyterian church, tucked up on the second floor in old Sunday School rooms. As we retrofitted the space from classrooms to sleeping spaces, we tried hard to make it feel more like a retreat center than an institutional shelter. We were intentional about the set up, the flow, and the decor. All spoke to the radical welcome we try to extend. To that end, our directors offices were nested in the heart of the shelter. We had a beautiful room with huge stained glass windows and when we began, the space felt almost holy. Throughout the season the office space held tears, laughter, a fair number of swear words, glimpses of everyday miracles, and some really, really hard moments. As a very long shelter season dragged on, the office began to feel oppressive instead of holy.
Guests who had left the shelter but still relied on us for support were hesitant to come back into the shelter to meet with us. They had moved on and coming back to see us, even if just for an appointment, felt like a step back. Because we were on the second floor in a room with stained glass windows, we couldn't see what was happening outside. We were isolated from our people unless they made an effort to come to us. Our goals of being accessible and available to those we walk with were being stymied by the practical fact that people couldn't get to us and we couldn't see them.
Sometimes, when you feel as though you are in a box, it's time to start thinking outside that box! What would it look like to have office space not located in the shelter? What if we could have day drop in space, and another location that dropped a dose of radical welcome into the world? Throughout the spring we dreamed and wondered. We partnered with the city and county and were able to get a grant to fund a new office location and a new Street Outreach Specialist position.
We moved in last week. Our offices have big windows that look out on the street. We are located between the local Family Dollar and the Public Safety building. In the five days that we have been in the space, I once again feel connected to the community. I have seen so many of our people passing by. I have noted the ones that look pretty rough, the ones we had lost track of since the shelter closed, the ones who are thriving, and the faces that I don't know but I am guessing will be come familiar soon. I can't wait until the space is ready to broadcast a message of welcome and the promise of a hot cup of coffee, a snack, and someone who cares.
I think there is an important lesson we can all learn here. Sometimes the gardens and the seeds we tend grow up so tall around us that we forget there is a whole world beyond the borders that surround us. There is a lot to be said for being accessible, being in close proximity, and being aware. Where in your life do you find that the once holy has become stagnant? Where have you become burdened, burned out, removed? Can you find a new window into the world around you? A new view can make a surprising difference.