Every homeless person will have to spend some time sleeping on the streets – most likely on the hard concrete of a sidewalk. This, of course, make your average homeless person more grateful for the opportunity to get into a shelter, regardless of the condition of the shelter.
Being that I am currently staying at the “Tent”, it would behoove me to avoid talking about the negatives of the place. Every shelter has some negative aspects. Now, some people say that a person should never criticize a place that is offering you help. But I’m the kind of person who doesn’t mind taking the good with the bad. I like the whole story. You can’t really grasp the reality of a place unless you look at all sides of it with equal honesty. Still, I don’t want to upset anyone and cause them to kick me out.
The ‘Tent’, operated by the Alpha Project is the most bare bones shelter I’ve ever stayed at. The Tent is just that, a huge tent in which some 220 homeless people stay each night. It is currently a winter shelter program, but attempts are being made to turn it into a year round shelter.
The Tent is located in a parking lot so asphalt is the floor. In an attempt to get as many people into the tent as possible, (or so I assume), the beds are placed very close . The bunk racks are military style, painted grey with about 50% of that grey paint chipped off and replaced with rust. Each person much supply their own linens (sheets, pillow case and pillow – a lot of homeless people don’t have linens and so they just do without), if asked for the shelter will give blankets. All the mattresses are covered in plastic, and make noise every time people move around on their beds. Everyone must store their possessions under the beds on the asphalt. There is long term storage available for those who need it, back behind the tent in plastic storage bins.
Everyone must be in their bed at 8pm for a bed check. Anyone not in bed at that time will be kicked out. No need holding up a bed for someone who isn’t going to be using it. Lights out during the week is at 10pm. People are allowed to stay up as long as they wish, and are not required to stay in their racks (it’s not prison). But no one can leave the fenced in tent area after 8 pm. The earliest a person can exit the facility and not get in trouble is 4:30am. Allowances are made for people with jobs. People are required to not disturb others, day or night, and there is plenty of room outside the tent which is always open. There are tables and chairs underneath a tarp cover outside the tent entrance. There are electrical outlets as well for those with laptops and phones. Outside the tent on the opposite side from the tables and chairs, is a row of portajohns and a portable shower trailer. There are three small shower stalls for the men and three for the women. That doesn’t seem like much, for 220 people, but from what I gather, many people walk up a few blocks to a homeless day shelter to take care of most of their hygiene needs. The tent and the day shelter are run by the same organization.
The best part of this facility is the freedom it allows the homeless. As long as people are respectful of each other, and take care of their personal possessions, keeping the tent area as neat and orderly as possible, and obey the curfew rules, then the homeless people staying there are free to do whatever they wish with their time. During the day, there are people from different agencies who visit the tent, and offer services and information to the homeless. So far, though, I haven’t stayed during the day, opting instead to leave early in the morning to take care of my own needs – and return just before the 8pm bed check.
There are pros and cons to running a shelter this way, but for me and my current situation, it works best. After a certain amount of time of getting to know the city and homeless services better, I will probably move on to another shelter. But right now, I’m good where I’m at.