In the Loop

What kind of sleep can you get at the shelter?

Posted at 11:03 AM on June 14, 2007 by Jeff Horwich (2 Comments)

As we're preparing for our show next week at the Dorothy Day Center, I thought I'd find out.

I stayed there Tuesday night. For about two hours before, I did what many of the people who stay there do -- hang out outside, and across the street, waiting for it to open:

(MPR Photo/Jeff Horwich)

Lots of waiting in lines -- the people over there have told us that's a big feature of homeless life. Waiting to get in; waiting to swipe your card in the foyer; waiting for a blanket; waiting for the shower; waiting for a snack before bed.

Many of the residents I'd talked to told me to expect a wild night. Maybe everyone was on their best behavior for me, but there were no major disruptions. (I'm told some of the steam was let off collectively when two women had a fight down the street earlier that evening. Missed that.)

What I did find was an extremely trying environment in which to try to get some rest. First thing, you need to grab a mat and stake out a spot on the floor -- preferably where you won't get trampled. There's nowhere to store your stuff, and people warned me to keep it close by (my digital audio recorder slept in my armpit). You get a sheet to cover your mat, and a blanket to cover yourself. No pillow, unless (like many people) you pile your shoes and clothing under your head. The next guy is literally a foot away. People are chattering softly into the night, but it's the snoring that really gets to you. So much snoring.

I dozed off first around 12:30, I think, after an hour and a half on the mat. At one point someone flipped on the lights accidentally (they're mostly off -- it's still pretty light in the room all night) and at another point one of the staff hollered for whoever left their bike in the foyer to get it out of there. I slept restlessly until 4:30, when the first people start waking up. It's tough to sleep through the footsteps past your head and crumpling of plastic bags as people stuff their blankets and sheets inside -- if they're up, you're up. Everyone needs to be out by 5:30 (when I'm normally still an hour away from my alarm buzzing).

Dorothy Day does the best they can -- they've got a rigid schedule of meals and cleaning to maintain, and the "mats on floor" approach gives the maximum flexibility and ease of set-up (it's do-it-yourself). But one can only imagine the difficulty of trudging off to work or to the job-hunt after a night like that. I felt like I still needed a night's sleep after my night's sleep. I recognize all too well I've got the luxury of returning to my own bed. To really know the experience, I imagine you have to stay there a night, looking up at those suspended ceiling tiles -- and know that it might be the first of many.

Comments (2)

I'm looking forward to hearing your podcast on this.

It's a double edged sword. It's good that there is a place that's likely safer and more comfortable than sleeping outdoors. On the other hand, as you said, it would be difficult to accomplish much during the day after a night like that.

It's a tough situation. Hopefully your show will enlighten some people to take action or, at a minimum, to have empathy.

Posted by Wren | June 14, 2007 12:49 PM

Thanks Wren. Yeah, it's certainly a complicated issue. It seems that being homeless creates many more obstacles than simply not having a home. It makes it hard to get good sleep, to have clean clothes and showers for job interviews, even finding phone and Internet access gets tricky. Places like Dorothy Day are certainly a big help but getting a job and a house is still challenging.

Anyway, we will be taping this show soon. I'm glad you are interested. I hope you enjoy the show when we finish it.

Posted by Sanden Totten | June 16, 2007 11:36 AM

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