Working in a homeless shelter is a stressful job. Our shelter in particular focuses on families with children, which means that a large part (in fact, the main part) of my job is coordinating kids that range from developing toddlers to apathetic teenagers in games and activities that keep them engaged and averts their attention from the state of their living situation. We want families to be safe, have food, have access to the resources they need, and we want to give these kids something to look forward to every day. But I’m obligated to do other things, too. Some basic house keeping, a little bit of paperwork, and rule enforcement. Some days it feels like half of what I do is remind parents about the rules, and that often puts me at odds with the people I’m trying to help out. It’s understandable. I wouldn’t be happy if somebody was constantly telling me what to do, but it’s part of the job.
It wears on a person after a while. I don’t know if I’ll still be doing this after two or three years, because on top of the attitude I occasionally get from clients, I feel like I’m sometimes the office scapegoat for things that are not entirely in my control. But the one thing that makes it entirely worth while, despite all of the confrontations, and chastising remarks, and dirty looks, is the families that come back to visit.
There is nothing else in the world that compares to the feeling I get when a family comes back and asks to see me. They’re there to see everybody, of course, but I get attached to the clients I get to know especially well, and everybody likes to be remembered fondly.
It’s not about the weird high some people get over their own delusions of heroism. Sometimes people volunteer their time with the expectation that they will open some door that wasn’t there before, and that they’ll be made a savior for it. It’s about the connection you’ve made another person; somebody you might never have known otherwise. It’s about knowing and genuinely caring for somebody who’s been through the worst life has to offer, and feeling real happiness for them when the nightmare’s finally over.
It’s taxing, but sometimes I really do love my job.