Walk into the Homeless Services Center at 2020-A 14th Street N and one immediately feels the good cheer. A large Christmas tree stands to the left of the lobby next to the eating area. A wreath sits in the middle of the reception desk. Ina Gonzalez, administrative assistant to Kathy Sibert, president/CEO of A-SPAN said, "Kathy is big about making it feel like home here for the holidays."
Sibert said, “We have a lot of community partners and try to have activities with community groups during the holidays. People can feel vulnerable during this time. We have a full production kitchen with a chef and assistant so there are a lot of special meals for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Chef Glenn Jahnsen says on Christmas Day he is planning honey ham, turkey breasts and pork loin as well as sweet potato puree with nearly burnt marshmallows for extra flavor. And his green beans with curry béchamel as well as bread pudding with mangos and hot apple cider.
“We're hoping to get a choral or instrumental group to add to the festivities. But also some people are not Christian so we really celebrate the holidays in general,” Siebert said.
One of the conference rooms is stacked with brightly-wrapped shoeboxes of toiletries prepared by the eighth grade religion class at St. Louis Catholic Church. Gonzalez opens a box and pulls out shampoo, a toothbrush and toothpaste, razor plus a couple of snacks. "Oh, here is a good one. It has a hat and gloves, too."
Emily Scott, one of the caseworkers, adds that yesterday some churches had also provided a big lunch. "And tomorrow will be the client holiday party for 80-100 people who will receive a nice lunch as well as gifts provided by their Secret Santas from the client's wish list. Of course a lot of clients would like to be in their own place for the holidays, but it is the same process."
Christopher Rucker, currently occupying one of the 25 hypothermia spots, said, "I feel like the staff are doing everything they can to be compassionate at Christmas. You know, they are respectful. You're not just anybody." He added, "The shelter is giving me the chance to be successful. Everyone of us has an individual plan, and they monitor you." He hopes to move upstairs soon to one of the 35 men's beds.
Danzell, a woman here alone from China, said, "I love it here. My case manager drives me to a church. I can play the piano well." In halting English she explains she has taken classes in making jewelry and drawing and pulls out her phone to show a picture of a person she has drawn. "I stay warm; I go to the doctor. They give love from the heart. This is the best country."
Anr unidentified homeless client said he tries not to dwell too much on being homeless at Christmas. "They give me an opportunity to regroup. I'm not just a misfit in society." He says, “It gives you hope you can achieve your goals and there is a tomorrow if you want to do it. But you have to do it." He just got his first job on Monday and is working his way toward housing. "Everybody has a different mentality. I'm a hustler and you finally get that one gig."
Sibert reminds that the Homeless Services Center is a temporary thing. "We want it to be as warm and inviting as possible but it is not the end. Moving the clients to housing is the goal where they create their own lives."