By HART Winter Sanctuary Volunteer Rommel Declines
The 2017-2018 Winter Sanctuary season started my first year serving homeless guests in Elk Grove. The program challenged me to look beyond my preconceived notions and current understanding of the state of homelessness in South Sacramento and Elk Grove. Our guests became friends and their stories were all broken pieces stitched into the fabric of our community. Not all stories were the same, but they are all part of the Elk Grove family. Mothers, brothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and grandparents all came for a safe place to sleep and have something to eat. Life events like the loss of a loved one, medical and mental conditions, or dependency issues were only part of the story in their need for assistance. Elk Grove Hart provided a safe community for 12 weeks. Here are the 12 things I learned from the guests in Winter Sanctuary the past 12 weeks.
1. Each person has a desire to be seen and acknowledged.
2. Each person has a name. Learn it. Use it.
3. A smile goes a long way, especially when most people don't smile at our guests.
4. "How was your day or week?" Is always a great way to check in with a friend.
5. Don't assume to know what they need. Ask them and listen.
6. Stop, pause, and spend time with me.
7. Walking around all day or having to move around all day is exhausting.
8. Winter sucks when it is rainy and cold, and there’s no place to stay.
9. We need more affordable housing options in the city and around the county.
10. Everyone—guests and volunteers—needs dignity and respect.
11. There are a lot of wonderful people in Elk Grove willing to give and help others.
12. Guests appreciate it when you truly respect them.
As the program came to a close there was a sadness in realizing that some people may be out in the inclement weather when storms arrived. However, I leave with a sense of hope as I remember those guests who now have employment and transitional housing. The future is bright as Elk Grove HART continues to work in our community to find workable solutions. I look forward to volunteering next year and I hope more people come on board to help. Many hands make the homelessness problem easier to carry. See you next year!