The Interfaith Hospitality Network logo.

The Interfaith Hospitality Network logo.

About a month ago, I spent the evening at a homeless shelter through Interfaith Hospitality Network out of Rochester. Typically families spend the night in various churches in the area that donate their space to the organization. Each week the families move to a different location on Sunday. When I went, I stayed in an actual house that the church in Eyota owned.

I was extremely nervous about staying there. However, I was not nervous for the reasons I think most people would be such as concern for their safety, I was just nervous and anxious because of the unknown. Whenever I am forced to put myself in unknown situations I am worried that things will be awkward or uncomfortable which causes anxiety for myself. For these reasons I asked my sister to come with me for this experience. I also thought it would be something new for her and maybe an eye opening experience. The evening went well, and looking back I should not have been so nervous for the experience! I definitely think going with someone else made things a lot easier.

The organization supports four families at a time, and I was able to observe the families’ interactions. They didn’t communicate much with me, but it was interesting just to see their interactions with each other. I could tell the families appreciated being able to stay in a home vs. a church for a few nights. I arrived around 8pm so I got to see the families coming in from work. They all ate a snack and let the children play with toys before going to bed. It was obvious that the parents were all exhausted. My sister and I were responsible for making sure the house was locked up when everyone arrived.

We slept on an air mattress in the living room, and each family had their own room. At 7:30 the next morning, another volunteer arrived to cook a hot breakfast for the families, which is done on the weekends. Although they were staying in a home, the things they had to use/play with were limited and used. Games were missing pieces; movies were very old and outdated. There were limited options for toys for the children. They also could use new bedding (blankets, pillows, etc.).

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Something important that I think that our general society doesn’t understand is that anyone can become homeless. There is such a stigma attached with homeless people that they are lazy or use drugs. This experience just totally proved those stigmas wrong. At Interfaith Hospitality Network all parents are drug tested before being able to be a part of the organization. On top of that, the four families that were staying when I volunteered were all working as well. It’s unfortunate that that negative stigma is what so many people believe. I think if more people understood that it could happen to anyone, there might be more support and help for those in need.

–Ashley Martin