a special message from the director of
Upper Room of Erie, a homeless shelter

A Not Uncommon Friday Afternoon

Americans love a success story. Working with the homeless doesn’t always end with a success story. Here’s one that has several endings . Choose your favorite.

It’s 3:45 on a Friday. At the Upper Room we’re in cleanup mode, preparing for tomorrow. The phone rings. It’s the receptionist at one of Erie’s foremost helping agencies. She’s the only one left in the office…and she has a big problem and hopes maybe we can help. Sitting across from her in the lobby is a 23 year old woman in tears. Next to her sit her children ages 4 and 2. Mommy is crying so they are crying. The receptionist sounds like she too is about to cry. The problem? This small family has no place to go. They are tired, hungry, and scared. I tell her I’ll see what I can do.

Working with the homeless for a long time, I know that at 4:00 the few shelters that take families will be full. They are almost always full, regardless of time or day. But because I must try, I make the calls. They’re full with waiting lists. Now what? Some one has suggested Project Hope, but I’m doubtful. Lack of adequate funding has forced them to cut staff. Those left must work out of their cars.

I call the receptionist back and tell her how its going. She’s had an idea. She’ll feed them and pay for a motel herself; she couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t. I just have to help these people somehow.

I make the call anyway and get the usual result: phone mail. It’s well after 4 now and I think Project Hope is done for the day, but I leave a message anyway. I’m wrong. Thank you God! She calls back. Yes she can help. Her agency will put the family in a nearby motel. I offer to split the bill with them agency. She’ll get right on it. I call the receptionist with the miraculous news. I felt her relief over the phone.

It’s close to five now, and I can go home. A staff member waiting for a ride with me is all smiles . We had just seen the system work. It was a marvelous experience.

Well, the receptionist took the family to eat and then to the motel. When they arrived Project Hope had been there, and the room was ready. For the weekend at least, the family was safe, warm, and well fed. Come Monday they would have to start again., but perhaps with the belief that something good could happen. Again.

So, which was your favorite ending? The families weekend in the motel? Project Hope being there to help when help was needed? For me it was sharing the receptionist’s realization that she the receptionist and only one on duty ( with a big heart I think) could help solve one of America’s most pressing problems for one family.

That was a Friday I’ll never forget. It’s the kind of memory that has kept the Upper Room going for seventeen years and counting.

Tom Schlaudecker
Nov 5, 2012

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