Our recent “Snowpocalypse” affected Nightwatch in a way that was unprecedented. It caused us to shut down our Downtown Center for an entire week. (Mikaila soldiered on, however, keeping the SE Center open.)
I did the decision-making day by day. But each day, the reports the reports of weather and road conditions continued to be bad. Indeed, on a couple of days there were explicit restrictions by the Department of Transportation not to go out on the roads unless absolutely necessary.
One could argue that serving homeless people in such harsh conditions was itself a necessary task. But here are the things I had to factor in:
- Volunteers. If we opened, would we even have any volunteers? And what about our super-responsible volunteers who might in fact feel compelled to make their way downtown? Would I be asking them to risk themselves on hazardous roads, jeopardizing their safety?
- The actual good we would be accomplishing for our guests themselves. Food deliveries were suspended, so we would have nothing to feed them. And the city had opened warming centers where they would be able to stay all night. If our guests knew Nightwatch was open would they choose us over the warming centers, where at our 11 p.m. closing we would just have to put them outside again? Closing our Hospitality Center might work toward their own safety, directing them to the warming centers rather seeking refuge with us.
This is what reason told me. And it was by following reason that I made my decisions.
Ah, but how my heart warred with my head! I kept thinking of our guys out in the cold and the feeling kept gnawing at me, “Surely, you should be doing something!”
Last Thursday night, it felt so good to be back in the groove again, getting the Downtown Center ready to open again after our forced hiatus. But I have to admit I harbored a little fear too: maybe in having been faced with our closure over the past week our guests would have given up on Nightwatch? Maybe they were mad at us for having left them in the cold. Or maybe it would have taken only a week for them to have developed new Thursday habits.
So that partially explains why my heart leapt when I went out on the sidewalk just before opening and met a crowd of our old gang of guests patiently waiting to be let in. What mostly explains it, however, is that I just felt so glad to be reunited with them. I had missed them.
“Hey, so you decided to be open tonight?” one called out in a good-natured way, obviously ribbing me.
“Yeah,” I said. I couldn’t help sounding apologetic. “But we knew the warming centers were open. We hoped you would all go there.”
"We did,” came the response. “But it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t Nightwatch.”
There it was, the very incarnation of Nightwatch’s Statement of Purpose. You’ll find that Statement on the home page of our Web site where it says:
Whereas other agencies exist to provide services such as housing, food, and clothing to the homeless, low-income, and mentally ill, ONW’s unique vision is that these populations also suffer from simple social isolation. Our simple mission is to reach out to them, nurturing relationship.
If I had only remembered that myself, I wouldn’t have needed to feel so fearful.
For that’s what we do. That’s who we are.
While shelter is important, so is the feeling of “home.”