I get the feeling 2017 is going to be a big year. All around me I see people going through enormous change in their lives. It seems that every conversation I have I am hearing messages of transformation and movement, some coming with excruciating pain and heartbreak but all with a sense of the change being necessary. This sense of change and movement afoot reminds me how important it is that we are a constant, stable anchor for people.
Last week I was helping our team with the afternoon closure of the centre. It’s always a tough task, waking people from their sleep, winding up the day’s Netflix viewing, encouraging people to take their last cup of tea or trip to the bathroom. It’s a process that takes about forty minutes and is one we try to do kindly but with a sense of firmness. Our visitors are reluctant to head back out onto the streets. We never feel great about it. No surprises there.
I was doing a round of the laundry and found a young man, clad in a towel and not much else, with a load of washing in the machine and a clock ticking down until closing time. We chatted and it was his first time visiting with us in six years. He had made his way from out of town to Brisbane that day, with nowhere to stay for the night. I suggested to him he was going to be in a conundrum, with a bag full of wet clothes and clearly nothing to wear. I offered to grab some clothes for him to put on, to put his wet clothes through the dryer and for one of our team to meet him outside after closing once they were dry.
He looked surprised that I would go out of my way for him. When I asked him what size clothes he wanted he didn’t seem to know – which isn’t uncommon. There is a certain look people get when they are about to spend a night on the streets for the first time in a while. It’s a look that tells the story of what’s gone before. It is often accompanied by a slowness and difficulty responding to fairly basic questions. I have become used to estimating people’s clothing size since working here and I selected some clothes for the young man. On his way out the door he said thank you and goodbye. I said “Maybe I will see you tomorrow?” He said he didn’t think so. The next morning when I walked in he was having breakfast. My heart warmed. I had been thinking of him and hoping he would come back and I was pleased to see him. I hope he stays long enough for us to be what we need to be for him.
Later that morning a visitor I have come to know well over the last few years asked to see me. It turned out he wanted to say goodbye. There have been many times over the years where he has disappeared for periods of time. He never said goodbye on those occasions. He told me this would be the last time we saw each other. I asked him where he was going. My question was met with a wry smile and something about “I will be wandering”. All I could do was hug him and tell him it had been my greatest pleasure to know him and that I wished him all the happiness in the world.
One of the most confronting parts of our work here is being comfortable with not knowing. People come in and out of our organisation on their own terms. We care for them without attachment. Often we get to see them transform and watch their lives change. Many times we don’t and we wonder where they are and if they are ok. And so we continue to just be. Be the constant, the anchor, the safe space! Be the place that people can come back to when they need to. Be the people who don’t need to know, but care without hesitation.