Tuesday, August 22nd 2017

The top 20 things I’ve learned working in a homeless shelter


I wrote this after my first day of work at a homeless shelter in Hamilton, ON, a steel-plant city in Canada. It’s an overwhelming job that provides endless opportunities for me to learn about myself, and others.

Our society has a hierarchy, and its currency is called expertise and knowledge. Homeless people are at the bottom of the pyramid because we believe they display neither of those qualities. It’s nonsensical, from a spiritual perspective. These individuals have deeper experiences than many of us who have conformed. Why? Maybe they’ve peered so deeply into the abyss, that it opened them up, humbled them up — or totally transformed them. Here’s what they’ve taught me:

20. That some of the very best storytellers literally live on the some of the worst streets.

19. That my name means cemetery in Spanish.

18. That people will steal anything — even canes.

17. That homeless can drink from a mug that says, I love my job!, without any hint of irony.

16. That “Please” and “Thank you” go a long way.

15. That toothpaste smeared all over someone’s face is pungent.

14. That even the police have a sense of humor.

13. That it feels really good to hear You go girl! from a client after facing my fear of telling someone to move to the back of the lunch line.

12. That people are capable of sleeping, while standing.

11. That I can be pick-pocketed . . . like, when I’m at work.

10. That even if you have a home, you may not have food, furniture or clothing.

9. That 12-hour shifts aren’t the end of life as I’ve know it.

8. That there are never enough socks in the world.

7. That a condom can be turned into a hair elastic.

6. That Lakeport Brewery, a Rotary Club-boosting, beer-maker in town, is unwittingly clothing many of our clients with free, promo T-shirts.

5. That some people REALLY like to talk. A LOT. ENDLESSLY. (And sometimes I wonder if I’m hearing pure fiction.)

4. That there is more than one way to carry a two-four on a bike.

3. That the universe never, ever has enough BIG towels.

2. That practice makes perfect when it comes to doing coded handshakes — especially when the only person who actually knows the code is your counter-party.

1. That the saying, people are only human, applies to everyone. Even me.

    Morgan recently graduated from the Social Service Worker Program at Mohawk College, and is glad that she gets to put her Top 20 on-the-job lessons to daily use.

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5 Comments on “The top 20 things I’ve learned working in a homeless shelter”

  1. I have read that in Australian Aboriginal tribes, everyone is valued equally for what ever they contribute to the well-being of the tribe, be it hunting, story-telling or collecting dung chips for fuel. As you so wonderfully point out, wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone on the planet was valued equally for what ever they bring to the human family.

    Thank you for this!

  2. Dear Morgan, I worked as a journalist, and met many people who may now be arriving on the doorstep of your organization. I wrote about alien smugglers, crack addicts, traffickers -- criminally and economically marginal people.

    What I love about your chronicle is the innocence of the people you meet who are in need, and the intensity of their experience.

    What moved me most is your generous spirit of acceptance of them. You wrote your list with love and humor. Thank you

  3. morgan, your clients are blessed to have you working with them!

  4. Loved your article!

  5. Such profound observations for someone who's been in the field such a short time!

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