Remembering the homeless shelter
In seventh and eighth grade, I was completely infatuated by this beautiful young lady named Melissa. She had it all with angelic features, a warm personality and a sincerity that I adored.
Melissa and I were in the same school and attended the same church, Embry Hills United Methodist Church in DeKalb County.
One day our youth pastor scheduled a trip for some of our church teenagers to work all night at a homeless shelter set up in a Presbyterian Church in downtown Atlanta. It was in the dead of winter and the temperatures during that period of time were cold during the day and below freezing nearly every night.
I did not know anything about homeless people other than we could spot some every now and then when driving through downtown. To be perfectly honest, they never crossed my mind.
I volunteered to work at that homeless shelter and I even got my father to drive us and be a chaperone. On my part, it was an act of pure selfishness, wanting only to go because Melissa was going, chasing the object of my love-struck desires, not caring in the least about the task of keeping the shelter going through another frigid night.
We arrived at the shelter, composed of the austere basement of the church, a make-do kitchen and a restroom, which included two showers, just before night fall. This was a men-only shelter and they were huddled outside in front of the door, bouncing up and down, waiting to reach the warmth of the church basement.
There was one shelter manager and seven volunteers with Melissa being the only female.
The manager knew the homeless men well and had their respect and attention. He checked them in one by one. I stood there and said, “Hi,” as each man shuffled through the door.
A few of the men pulled large knives out of their coats and pants and handed them over to the manager to be placed in a box, a condition of entrance. One handed over a small revolver. Now for a young teenage boy from suburban DeKalb County, this was a major eye-opener. It was also are real sinus-opener as most of the men smelled horrible.
The manager counted the men entering, “47, 48, 49 and 50.” He shut the door and bolted it after number 50. Around five minutes later, men began pounding on the doors yelling, “We’re freezing. Let us in.” The manager went to the door and yelled back, telling them to try to make it over to the city-run shelter about three-quarters of a mile away.
Seeing the perplexed expression on my face, knowing we were leaving the men out in sub-freezing temperatures, the manager told me not to worry and that they would make it to the other shelter.
We made a meal consisting of whatever was about to go bad at the local grocery stores, donated to the church. There were some separate, nicer prepackaged things for the volunteers to eat. I felt ashamed to eat the better food and said I was not hungry.
I sat at the dining table and had small talk with the men. Some were addicts, some ex-convicts, some psycho cases and others just fell on hard times. I was definitely not accustomed to the tales they were telling. Some had been beaten and abused on the streets, some frequently went in and out of Grady Memorial Hospital and others hoped for better days.
The men slept on the cement slab of the basement cushioned by a blanket folded three times. They remained in their clothes on the hard floor with another blanket to cover them. The men were two and half feet apart from one another on the crowded floor. One man in his sixties wept in his sleep.
My father and I stayed up all night talking about what is really important in life while Melissa lay asleep behind us on a cot in the kitchen.
That was the night I stopped going to church as a weekly ritual and began a journey as a living Christian.
I can tell you from my own personal experience that if you want to grow as a person, help the downtrodden and watch your focus change, giving your life more relevance. There is real power in serving others in your community.
If you are stuck in a lifestyle where you cannot possibly reach out to others because you might miss your favorite football team’s game or some other irrelevant event that consumes your time and imagination, you are missing out on the relationships of a lifetime, relationships with your fellow man, a relationship with God.
I have found the one thing that always pulls me out of a rut or relieves despair is letting go and serving others.
Yes, there are malicious forces that will produce unpleasant circumstances for us, acting out of greed or hate. The answer is maintaining faith in God while working just as hard for good and building a community where people care about one another.
There some citizens of Fayette County who are deservedly angry about some important things. To them I say do not give up and work to change things for the better. Count on incoming Commissioner Allen McCarty and me working right by your side.
Melissa, the last I heard, is living in Houston, Texas.
Fayette Commissioner-elect, Post 4
Peachtree City, Ga.