Last night I helped with the evening food service at the Bridge, the new homeless assistance center in downtown Dallas. Along with Our Calling Ministries, with whom I’ve worked at the Day Resource Center for the past couple of years, and teaming up with David Timothy, AKA SoupMan of SoupMobile Mobile Soup Kitchen, we assisted the Stewpot staff in serving dinner to several hundred homeless people.
David served as a sort of ‘maitre d’’ to the homeless guests, helping them find seating, and my job was that of ‘gatekeeper’ at the door, teamed with one of the Downtown Dallas Safety Patrol officers who serve as security at the center, letting people into the dining hall in small groups. I liked this job, because, each time I opened the door to the long line of people in the courtyard, SoupMan and I were able greet the people coming in face to face.
There was a steady stream of people through the door from 6 PM until about 7:15, and a trickle of people from 7:15 to 7:30, when the meal ended. From my perspective, the meal service went like clockwork, very smooth.
I had a few random observations of the evening:
~~ The first five people in the door were in wheel chairs and were missing some part of a lower extremity. Three more wheel-chair-bound guests came as the evening progressed.
~~ Four women who came to eat were pregnant.
~~ The Safety Patrol officer I was teamed with asked me to request extra food for the pregnant women who came through. This kind of sensitivity will build good relationships between the keepers of the peace / guardians of the rules at the center and those they are there to protect.
~~ There were three or four women of my age (middle age) that I had not seen before who were dressed as if they were middle class.
~~ A couple of men coming through the line were carrying a portable magnetic chess game and continuing their game as they waited. “I’ve tried to learn how to play chess,” I told them, “but I just can’t remember how all the different pieces move.” “Repetition,” one of them told me. “That’s all it takes.” “I’m pretty sure my brain just doesn’t work that way,” I said to him, “My five-year-old granddaughter can beat me.” Good laugh, but sadly true.
~~ There’s a library at the Bridge. Many people who came through the line were so involved in reading a book that they looked up only to say hello as they entered the dining hall and waited in line.
~~ One of my young friends who is pregnant — I’ll call her Deanna — has already enrolled in the job training program at the center and is very excited about learning to do housekeeping. I have been seeing her on the street for a couple of years.
~~ My ‘street son,’ Tim, who has no family and has been on the street for ten years, has been employed for two months at a local downtown ministry near the Stewpot and is within a month of earning his way into an apartment. Please send him your thoughts and prayers. He’s making an heroic effort to get his life together and to help others to do the same. In the past, he has sometimes protected Deanna when she was on her own on the street.
~~ Inside the Welcome Center, two friendly volunteers were answering questions for homeless guests and signing up volunteers. In offices beside the lounge, workers were still conducting interviews with homeless individuals at the time I was leaving, about 8 PM.
~~ There were two medical transports from the main building during time I was there, people being taken from the Welcome Center on stretchers.
~~ The atmosphere appears to be non-threatening and welcoming throughout the campus, but the rules of civil behavior are strictly followed. That’s exactly the balance that is needed.
~~ A comment I heard: “It’s obvious that they care about us. They built these buildings [The Bridge.]”
~~ Another: “Inside these walls you can learn to solve your problems and get your life together.”
It’s a promising start, and it was a joy to see my homeless friends in a safe, clean, beautiful environment.