A couple weeks ago I worked my first Monday morning shift in the church.
Walking to work that early in the morning, especially on a Monday I realized, it is a mess on the streets. The streets were pretty much deserted of people; except for the block our church is on, of course. There was trash everywhere. I had to walk with my eyes glued to the floor to make sure I didn't step on the garbage covering the sidewalks. I am always very conscious of looking out for used needles on the floor; I wouldn't want to step on one of those. I've learned to stay away from clothes and newspapers on the floor; they are most likely covering up feces. The smell on the streets was dreadful. The silver lining of the overpowering urine smell covering the Tenderloin is that it masked the smell of the poop and throw up.
Finally, I made it to St. Boniface. I've never seen the church like that before. The front part of the church, which is never really that crowded with people in the afternoon, when I normally work in the sanctuary, was filled with people sleeping. That morning I saw a different type of sleep and exhaustion. People were passed out! I'm talking about the type of passed out that I always here people talk about; being able to immediately fall asleep, sleep through everything, having that feeling that you can finally relax. I wouldn't be surprised if they got very little to zero sleep over the weekend. It made me imagine the exhaustion that comes from being in a defensive state for a couple of nights and how physically and mentally draining that could be.
As I made my way to the back of the church I started noticing other prices that come with us being closed for two days. I saw blood dripping from the back of someone's head that I can only assume happened due to a physical altercation. One of our regular guests had a black eye; it covered an entire half of her face. I also noticed a difference in the smell and hygiene state of our guests. The smell was a lot worse than what it usually is. So many people wearing clothes that were ripped and covered in blood and mud. At least we are able to provide socks on Monday.
Something else that really stood out to me after standing in the church for a couple of minutes was the sound of sickness. The sound of coughing, heavy and excruciating, just made me want to grab my chest and pray I never get sick like that. Then I heard the sound of puking coming from the back. The horrendous sound of people gagging and throwing up always makes me cringe. One of the more difficult things was looking closely at the guests. Really looking at the feet of those asleep on the pews; or paying attention to those awake and what they were doing. This is when I noticed the infections, swelling, cuts, bruises, soiled pants, and many other things. This Monday morning there was always a line for the bathroom. This is where my pride in The Gubbio Project really comes out. In this particular situation, being able to provide a toilet for the week with no strings attached. Monday mornings is a whole new ballgame.
What a bittersweet feeling it is to be glad it's Monday. Bitter, because no person should be in a position where they have very few places to go or be for two days. Sweet, because at least now we are open for the week and are able to give our guests a sanctuary from the streets.