These Moments of Humanity
by Val Green, Walk-In Center’s Epworth Summer Intern
When I arrived at GLIDE at 6:30 a.m. last Wednesday, the building was already alive with chatting, laughing, shouting. It was my first day making shelter reservations entirely alone, and I was nervous. What if there were no beds? What if I had to turn people away? What if clients got frustrated with me? The night before, I asked my co-worker Jasmine to sleep with her phone turned on in case I needed her for information or help with the reservation database. When I arrived at the Walk-In Center Wednesday morning, I placed a Post-It with her contact information next to the phone and plopped down at the desk.
Just five minutes after I began making reservations, I was finished because there were no more beds available, and I realized I had nothing to worry about. The morning was calm. And as I sat in the Walk-In Center with Jerome, the security monitor, a couple of remarkable things happened.
A regular case management client walked in around 8:00 a.m. and looked around the room for Ana, his case manager. Though I have learned bits about his story throughout my internship, I have never directly worked with him. I told him that Ana would be in later on and I suggested he come back in an hour. For my first four weeks in the Walk-In Center, he ignored me when he came for meetings with Ana. Last week, he called me, “Whatever-Your-Name-Is” and dismissively waved his hand at me. But that morning, he greeted me with a smile and said, “Hi, Val.” Then he left.
Ten minutes later, another familiar client dashed in asking for Angela, who normally makes the morning shelter reservations. I apologized and explained that Angela was on vacation, and asked, “Is there anything I can help you with this morning?” He ran out. About a minute later, he came back into the Walk-In Center and stood at my desk. He looked me straight in the eyes and he said, “No, thank you, I am okay.” Then he left.
I worked with a smile on my face for the rest of the day.
As I finish my nine-week internship at GLIDE, I do not feel ready to leave. I have finally learned the ropes here—I have a group of clients I frequently work with, I feel I am becoming a part of the Walk-In Center’s tight-knit team, and I am finally developing a handle on the unique sense of community and core values here. I will miss San Francisco, the Tenderloin, GLIDE, my friends and co-workers, and the wonderful clients I have met. But most of all, I will miss these moments of humanity. Although I never directly worked with the two men I described above, I watched as they fought for truth and love when they walked through the doors at GLIDE. Last Wednesday, I became a part of their fight.
You might be thinking that remembering someone’s name is not all that important or popping back in to say “no thanks” only takes a moment. But last Wednesday, those two clients both offered me an invitation to join them and to connect to them. Those interactions were the two biggest compliments I received all week.