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Photo #34: The kindness of strangers
Image by elycefeliz via Flickr

It was COLD on Tuesday night.

One of the questions we have had as a fledgling shelter is, “How do we get the local guys to come in out of the cold and sleep in our shelter?” There are a couple of guys who come regularly, but we believe there are many more who do not come. We don’t know why–maybe they don’t know we’re here, maybe they know but don’t trust us, or maybe there is some other reason.

We have been fortunate enough to have the support of CHOC, the Coordinated Homeless Outreach Center of Montgomery County, since we opened our doors in early December. We are grateful that they have taken us under their wings and “shown us the ropes.” I have been really impressed by the support they have given us: everything from helping us gain familiarity with the system of services, to bringing men into our shelter, to accompanying us on outreach.

“Outreach,” when we are talking about homeless shelters, means that we go out into the community to the places where homeless people live. We meet them where they are, build relationships with them, and try work together to get them the services they need. During a time of such fierce cold, one of the most immediate needs is for emergency shelter.

I was part of an outreach team on Tuesday night. We walked downtown Lansdale at about 10 p.m., watching and talking to people. We wanted to see who was hanging around the train station and the bus stops–we were watching to see if they were still there after the next bus or train. We talked to the night shift at the 24-hour Rite Aid in town. Yes, we were told, there are a few guys who hang around here. Some of them wash up in the sinks in our public bathrooms during the night. We talked to the police. No, they told us, there are no homeless people in Lansdale. No homeless people in Lansdale? We drove past the local laundromat, and through some of the alleys behind the local businesses. No sign of anyone. Perhaps the police are right?

The team from CHOC believes they are out there. “The colder it gets, and the longer people are outside in it, the deeper they go into hiding, and the harder they are to find.” We have to keep trying. It is not unusual to not find anyone the first time out on outreach.

“We will come back next week during the daylight hours. We’ll visit local service providers, walk the railroad tracks, and travel the alleys. If they’re out there, we’ll find them.”

I hope so. It’s COLD out there.

What is outreach like? Watch these ABC6 news stories about outreach in Philadelphia to learn more:

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