By Brett Renville, documentary filmmaker
Like a lot of people, my work demands that I put in long days. Sometimes, due to the nature of video production, it can go long into the night. But it’s just the cost of doing business and I know at the end of the day—whenever it ends—that I have a place to go, to rest and grab a few hours of sleep. Be it back at home, or, if I’m on the road, in a hotel, I don’t worry about it. I can curl up under the blankets, flip on the TV, listen to music, whatever. I’m comfortable, secure and safe.
I didn’t give this a lot of thought until I met Robert Taylor, program coordinator at Compass at First Presbyterian, a 24-hour shelter that opened last month in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood. When I stopped by just after lunch, I noticed a couple of men sleeping in the new 100-bed facility. I figured they were catching up on the exhaustion of living on the streets.
Turns out, Robert informed me, they had just come in after finishing work: the graveyard shift. They were resting up before putting in the next eight hours. The night shift is a ready employment opportunity for the homeless population, yet, it’s also, ironically, a barrier for homeless people trying to access shelter. And like many of the barriers that prevent homeless people from gaining a foothold and finding security, it’s hidden in plain sight.
Shelter in a World that Never Sleeps
Robert walked me through the steps of a 24-hour shelter and how it can have a transformational impact on the homeless population, seeking opportunity, livelihoods and stable housing.
Think about it. We live in a 24/7 world. While you and I sleep the night away, a massive workforce is wide awake, working through the darkest hours. Stocking grocery shelves, packing warehouse boxes, serving meals at late night diners—and a million other things— they are the drivers of our economy. And largely unseen.
But when their shift is over, say 3, 4 or 5 am, it’s time to unwind, eat and grab some sleep before setting out for the next shift. But what if you don’t have anywhere to go? Shelters typically offer a place for the night. So, what does that offer a homeless person who works nights? Not much. No bed, no meal, no shower, no security.
As Robert pointed out, the opportunity lost is two-fold. Graveyard shifts, which offers more money due to the unconventional hours, are widely available but incredibly hard to swing when you live on the streets. This means the prospect for steady employment, at a higher wage rate, is within reach, but beyond the grasp of many homeless people.
Seattle is a rising economic star dimmed by an epic homeless crisis. Diverse employment options must figure into the constellation of creative solutions. Robert pointed to the pillars of Compass’ housing model: Stability, Growth and Community. For the homeless individuals who come to the shelter at Compass at First Presbyterian, there is no mandate to move on at daybreak. They don’t head back to the streets, only to start all over the next day. Instead, they are settling in, getting rest, a warm meal, a shower. They can do laundry and case managers are on-site to help them begin the process of navigating journey toward stable housing.
Enhanced shelter: It’s more than a safe refuge for the night. It’s a launching pad. And the difference is night and day.