As winter sits around the corner, we at Loaves & Fishes are focused on helping our guests get through the last dreary wet months to come. We sometimes find ourselves torn because as much as our environment needs the water, the rain and the chill create miserable conditions for people living outside. Our staff greet people each morning with smiles, hot cups of coffee, dry clothes and hearts full of hope as we long for more stable and affordable housing than tents for people experiencing homelessness.
A few weeks ago I saw a guest who looked familiar walking down the street wearing a bright blue jacket and laughing. It was her loud laugh that caught my attention. When she turned around, I saw that it was B. I called out her name and resisted the urge to hug her. We talked for a few minutes and shared updates on our lives. She then went on her way to Maryhouse to check for her mail that sometimes still comes to our address.
As we spoke, B. proudly exclaimed that she lives in an apartment with her boyfriend now and they are no longer living in a tent by the river. Her dog Trouble is still with her but he is getting old so she left him at home today. She used to carry him inside her clothes for comfort and to keep him warm during the winter. B. said she has been in housing for a few years now but likes to visit because “Loaves & Fishes is always home, ya know?” She laughed as she said this, but her eyes shone with the truth behind those words.
When B. was living outdoors, she used to stay awake on rainy nights because the sound of the rain against the sides of her tent sounded like voices in her head. When rain was forecast, she would stop by Mustard Seed School and ask if we had any leftover coloring books and colored pencils. She never wanted to take anything new away from the children and was insistent that we give her any used coloring book. She would even sometimes flip through it to make sure a few pages were already scribbled on before taking it with her. I later learned that she would color page after page through the rainy nights to keep the voices at bay. Mustard Seed staff kept a few coloring books in the front office just in case she came by.
B. comes to visit and is comforted by the fact that Loaves & Fishes will still be here if she needs our services again. Many of our guests, like B., also return to share with us the paths they have traversed since visiting our campus. It is through your dedicated support that we are able to remain a stable, welcoming place for our guests, past and present. We are honored by your trust in that your gifts mean we may continue to provide much needed respite and survival services to our guests. Sometimes that relief from struggle comes in the form of something as simple as a used coloring book.