Here we are in December, a time when we probably think about “peace on earth” more than any other time of the year. And yet, it can feel like peace is getting further and further away from us. It seems that the reality in our world these days is the opposite of peace.
At Central Outreach and Advocacy Center, we also have our share of times when peace seems out of reach. . As people walk through our doors each day, some have roamed the streets all night, others have tried to find a safe place to lay their heads, and some are carrying such intense burdens that peace is something they no longer even consider.
In order to try and offer a place of peace for everyone, we limit the number of people we serve each day. We base the number of guests we see on how many case managers are present to meet with our guests one on one. Sometimes, if we get too many people in our space at one time, it can create a chaotic and unruly environment for everyone, an environment that resembles nothing of peace.
I have worked the front desk several times in the last few weeks, which is something I don’t regularly do anymore. The front desk is the first place where we encounter our guests, so we want it to be a positive interaction, but it can often be stressful instead. At the front desk, we find out what services our guests need and we tell them whether or not we can assist them, which can sometimes lead to disappointment and anger. In my opinion, the front desk is the hardest place to work. It’s the place where we may have to tell someone, “No, we can’t assist you today.” Telling someone “no” is never easy, but telling someone “no” when they are at the end of their rope is even harder.
A week or so ago, a woman came in late in the morning and I greeted her at the front desk. She told me that she had recently found herself in a homeless situation. She said that she was working and was even up for a promotion after the first of the year, but she needed a homeless verification letter in order to keep her children in their current school, rather than uprooting them to another one. She started crying tears that were so heartfelt that I almost started crying with her. She broke my heart. We had already filled all of our slots for the day, but the team was working through the list at a steady pace. I felt like we could possibly see her, but clearly told her that there was a chance we might not get to her before we closed, and if we didn’t, she would have to come back another day. She said she was willing to take the chance. We don’t ordinarily ask people to wait around with no guarantee of being seen, but I wanted so badly to be able to serve her that I was willing to make an exception. She waited patiently and we were able to serve her. I like to believe that the small thing we were able to do for her gave her a peace that she was not able to experience when she first walked through our doors.
When I worked the front desk yesterday, a gentleman came in late morning. He needed a variety of items: reading glasses, a dental referral, clothing, food stamps, and a homeless verification letter. The most important thing he needed was the homeless verification letter to continue his treatment for cancer. We were running behind yesterday and I could not put this man on our list to be seen. He told me a little bit of his story and pleaded with me to help. I told him we couldn’t and explained that he would need to come back the next day and arrive much earlier than he had that day. He fought back the tears, but said he would see me tomorrow. My heart hurt.
Today, I walked through the lobby right after we opened, headed to my office. I heard a guest call out to me, “I’m back!” I turned to see who it was, and it was this same man from yesterday. I smiled and told him that I was glad. He was first on the list to be seen today and I have to believe that he walked away today with at least a small amount of peace that he did not have yesterday.
We can’t do everything for everybody. We have to have boundaries. We have to say no. But, I believe that we also do as much as we can to bring a small amount of peace to those who walk through our doors each day. And for that I am grateful.
My hope for each of you reading this blog today is that you find the peace you are looking for, but more importantly that you find an opportunity to do something for someone else that will bring peace to their lives. This is important and can be done year round, not just during a particular season.
Thank you for the many ways you support the good work we do at Central Outreach and Advocacy Center! Without you, we could not provide the services we provide, services that bring some peace to those we serve.