last week i finished up my volunteer work for the denver rescue mission. i didn’t have any obligation to work there except for the one i imposed upon myself. you see normally i would have been satisfied to put in my one day, call it an experience and be done with it. however, in this case there are are several reason why i wanted to make this a regular event. the first reason is that i really want to help the homeless. the first day i was more of a liability to them. i didn’t know what to do, how to do it, where things go, or when things happen. i had to ask every little thing. kind of annoying for the people that manage us, but they are used to it i guess. …judging by the way they so gracefully micromanage us volunteers.
after observing round after round of noobs each time i volunteered, i don’t think it was just me that needed minute by minute guidance. back when i did my first day, i naively assumed that the volunteers participated in an egalitarian society, everyone had more or less the same job, no favorites no rankings. after my second visit i quickly learned that filling water cups was for the ‘green”. most first timers have to fill these water cups and place them on a cart, so they can hand them out when the lines starts. funny thing about these cups, they are corporate coffee mugs, left over from the dot com bust. lots of unknown company logos adorn the sides of these ceramic artifacts from a different culture (a culture that i am way too familiar with). one thing that can be said about all the volunteers, is that they seem genuinely happy (unlike the corporate world). it must be because they feel like they are doing something worth while and making a difference.
so as a five time veteran of volunteering i pretty much know what is going on at this place. i know more or less, what needs to be done, and how to do it. i’ve fill the water cups, filled the trays, handed out the trays, cleared the tables, wiped the tables, and helped in the kitchen. there are not many jobs that i am unfamiliar with these days. we had a full staff of volunteers this time, and mike started giving out the assignments. as the new people were given their jobs, i started to wonder if there would be enough jobs to go around. he already handed out all the jobs that i was familiar with, so when it was my turn, i was pretty excited to think that i was going to get something new. he turned and pointed to me and said, i need you to do something for me. he then walked over to me and explained what my new job was going to be.
it turns out that the mission is having a little problem with the homeless leaving at different times. ideally if everyone would eat at the same time they could leave at the same time. however due to the buffet style lines, some people would start eating much earlier than the guys at the end of the line. this would cause some guys to get bore and ask for seconds, or just take off. in order to correct this, the denver rescue mission was trying a “dining room” style eating. everyone would sit down and get served at more or less the same time. this way they could eat and finish at the same time.
the end of dinner was 7:30 and everyone was required to stay seated until that time. so my job, was to be the house security or “bouncer” if you will. i would stand at the door looking tough and keep people from exiting before 7:30. i’ve been to way too many concerts and events where the power hungry ill equipped security guards detour the crowds with terse arrogant directions…”don’t stand there”, “stay behind the line”, “this exit is closed”…etc. today was my turn and i was naively excited to get this job.
the minute all the food was handed out i marched over to “my” assigned door. i was instructed to try and talk people into staying and to not use force no matter what. i was also instructed to not try too hard to keep people in, it might make them angry. so there i stood with an eager look on my face, quite unfitting for the task at hand. with little or no attention payed to me, the first homeless guy walked past my guard. at that moment i realized that i was going to have to look a little tougher.
i looked around and studied some of the other guys doing the same job. these other guys were quite a bit harder than me. they were former addicts and were actually going through the rehabilitation program at the mission. they somehow got off the streets and came into the shelter to get help. most of them were quite tough looking, as they stood there, mad dogging every homeless person thinking about heading their way. hmm…i could do that. i straightened up my apron, rolled up my sleeve so my tattoo would show (note: my tattoo is of a bicycle), and stared off into the distance like i was looking out the bottom of my nose. since i was the only one guarding a door that led to the outside, most of the homeless headed my direction.
i would start out with a cool, “how’s it going man?”
i would follow that with a “so you’re not going to stay till the end?”
…then they would counter my questions, by just walking out. buy the end of the evening i had turned back three guys, and let two go, and only one got out of hand. he was trying to get out by saying he had permission. other bouncers came over to help out, and just made the guy really mad. he started yelling at them…and finally we just let him go. apparently the other homeless guy don’t like this guy either. he is annoying to them as well. we all laughed about it afterward. no matter what the group, there is always at least one ass hole. it’s ok, though it brought me a little closer, to the people i was trying to help.
at the end of the evening i went to the back room to get my stuff so i could go. there were two female volunteers there getting ready to leave as well. i didn’t get a chance to meet them earlier so i introduced myself. after our short intros, they said, “you looked pretty intimidating out there”
i said “oh heh…thanks”. i think it was a complement, at least i took it as one, because i was really trying to look intimidating.
it was a great night anyway. i would have rather handed out the food, but i’m glad i didn’t. most people can not say they were a “bouncer” at the homeless shelter.