Sunday, May 04, 2008


I've worked off and on at the shelter downtown for about four and a half years, full time for the first three, and per diem since I started working at the Big Gay Job. After taking this winter off so that I could finish up school, I started picking up some shifts on Sunday mornings working in the dining room. It's only about two hours a week, and the pay is so low that it's not really enough persuasion to get out of bed at 6:30 on a Sunday morning. So I've been thinking really hard about why I go, and here's what I've come up with:

At heart the reason is selfish--I go because it makes me feel good, because it makes me feel connected to the folks there, it keeps me from forgetting that they exist.

And if I'm being honest, I also like to pat myself on the back for doing something "for the homeless." My two hours are nothing compared to what it's like to be homeless. I mean, I could call in sick to work. Or I could decide I don't want to do it any more. But they're still there, and they're still standing out in the rain from when I make them leave at the end of breakfast until the overnight shelter opens at 1.

I also think it has something to do with my mom, who is occasionally homeless as she struggles with her addictions. It feels like some kind of penance for cutting her out of my life.

I'm not going to quit the job , but I'm feeling conflicted about it. Couldn't it be exploitive in some way to use this job, those people, to work out my issues and feel good about myself? Shouldn't I be doing that somewhere else? Is it a fair trade-off? And isn't all of this navel-gazing just a brilliant example of my privilege showing, and making this all about me? Sigh.


toklas23 said...

ah...we're all privileged at some point. it depends on the space we happen to be standing in at the moment. when we recognize we have it, we ought to do something on behalf of someone who doesn't. which is exactly what you are doing.

every day when i take the #4 bus home, we drive by the soup kitchen on preble street, and i see those long lines of hungry people waiting to be fed. and i worry about them. i'm glad they have someone like you in their corner.

Dawn on MDI said...

Good God, girl! Don't complicate the thing. So you have a spare job that gets you some pin money and does good work for people who need it. Leave it at that.

I could analyze a hundred different reasons why I get out of bed each morning, but the base of it is that I am ready to get up. I may not feel that way precisely, but all things considered, in my life, it is time to get up. You do good things for people. Good for you. Good for you for doing the ugly jobs that so many of us would prefer not to do, or not to even acknowledge were necessary. If it helps to cast out your demons, so much the better. If it does not, that's ok too. It is still work that needs to be done. And I'd rather know that you, a thoughtful, kind, caring, gentle person, are doing it as opposed to some unfeeling schmo who sits with feet up and reads through a shift.


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