Chronically homeless can spend between 7:30-11:30 a.m. getting basic needs met at the Carpenter Shelter section for people who literally live on the street. There is another section of Carpenter Shelter that currently offers residence, lunch and dinner prepared by volunteers, access to computers and life skills for six families, 24 single men and 12 single women. They must be substance free and willing to look for work each day.
Photo by Shirley Ruhe/Gazette Packet
It was 7:30 a.m. and Sharon Addison, the Davis Place Monitor, opened the door to Carpenter Shelter on Henry Street in Alexandria. About 14 homeless men and a few women were waiting to come inside. Most of them are locals and she knows them, but in the cold winter months some transients will move in. "This side of Carpenter Shelter is for the chronically homeless who literally live on the street, " she said.
The homeless can spend from 7:30-11:30 a.m. inside where they can take care of basic needs such as eating, taking showers, doing laundry and sitting in chairs lined up in rows to watch TV or doze off. She tries to connect them with mental health services, too. Addison walks into a room with two washers and dryers and a wall of small metallic lockers where clothes or belongings can be stored.
"I wash the towels to get them ready for the next morning when they return. Just a minute I need to go get some soap," she said.
Then she explains that when they leave at 11:30 a.m., the homeless head to Meade Memorial Church to have lunch and later in the day to Christ House to eat dinner. "A lot of them sleep in the parking garage."
Some of these street homeless graduate to next door where they can reside and receive lunch and dinner served by volunteers 365 days a year and where they are also provided life training skills. In exchange they are required to be abuse free and to look for work every day from 9 a.m. -4 p.m. A sign in the common room says "be positive, have faith, it gets better."
Mary Parker Lamm, deputy director of Carpenter House had earlier explained, "When they are ready they can move from the shelter to the residential section, but when they're not ready, it's like banging your head against a wall."
Addison adds that while some of her street homeless people move next door, "I see most of them come right back. I try to convince them to go forward, but most are comfortable here and are afraid of what to expect next. And on the other side they would have to be tested for drugs." She explains that a lot of them really think this is their home. "They have their own chair where they sat yesterday, and consider it their spot." She looks up and waves at a man through the large glass window in her office.
She points to a tall man with a blue shirt and slicked back blond hair mopping the floor in the large room where they watch TV. "He is the biggest panhandler. He calls himself the 'highway hustler' and came in bragging he had made $160 between 6:30 and 9 this morning."
On the other hand, she remembers a guy and a girl. "The man came first and after a while they moved next door, got married and got their own place and now live in Del Ray. They bring their baby back to visit." She pointed to a man with a cap and red jacket. "He is diabetic, and I helped him get food stamps. Every day he says thank you so much. He is on the list to move next door."
"Some days I get discouraged and I take it home with me. A lot of people here have mental illnesses. There is a woman; she just walked out the door. She is on K2 and has blood clots running all through her body. It frustrates me I can't do anything to help her. She says she doesn't care." But Addison says if they come in intoxicated or high she works with them. "I think they respect me. I tell them I may be better off but I'm not better." She says she loves this job because she goes home thinking, "I helped somebody today."
Addison has been here since November but previously was at the Bailey's Crossroads Shelter where she monitored patients. She came to this job by experience. "My father," she said, "got in an automobile accident and accidentally killed two people. Something happened to his mind and he disappeared." She continued, "I prayed he would end up in a homeless shelter and see a kind face." Eventually she found her father and helped him get out of the shelter. She said the homeless keep her motivated. "The struggle is real; this could be me."