Without shelter and without options

December 8, 2020

Here at Catholic Social Services (CSS), stories of strife flood in from the community on a weekly basis. This is a particularly difficult one to tell. It happened today.

This morning, at our St. Francis Center in Portsmouth, the center’s Director, Barbara McKenzie, heard the usual Wednesday morning ruckus of the garbage truck collecting its tow. She was used to the sound of the great mechanical arm lifting the dumpster overhead and heaving its haul into the back of the truck with a resounding crash.

To her surprise, somewhere mid-heave, the noise suddenly stopped, followed by a lapse that was odd enough to further draw her attention. She peeked out her office window and then headed outside to investigate.

Once outside, she immediately understood the reason for the pause. The garbage collector looked down from his driver’s seat and shared that as he was lifting the dumpster in front of him, he was stunned by the sudden appearance of two heads popping out the top of it. Fortunately, the driver was able to gently set the dumpster back down once he spotted the individuals inside it.

That peril had been avoided, but the fact remained: two people had slept in the dumpster— the only shelter they could find— overnight. Barbara was shocked.

A dumpster should be neither bed nor shelter. We all fundamentally know this. And, yet, the “should’s” of life too often fall prey to the reality of it. On a cold November night, these two were without shelter and without options. They made do. But their sudden appearance in a dumpster should stop us all in our daily tracks.

At CSS, we help, so Barbara set immediately to work this morning, doing what she could for the pair. As all local shelters were full, Barbara continues to work on finding the two people shelter. In the short term, she could provide them with an array of foods, including crackers, peanut butter, canned fruit, tuna, and meat— and, of course, a can opener. They were given blankets, hats, gloves, socks, and coats. They were given compassion, nourishment, and warmth.

Friends, this happened today. And this is the reality of COVID— in real time, in real people. These are the things our social workers and frontline staff bring to us every day.

As Barbara told us, “It was such a shock. You almost get sick when you think of what could’ve happened. You just can’t believe this is really happening.”

At the St. Francis Center— the only Portsmouth community center open during the COVID crisis— we work to ease suffering like this through connection and care.

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