By Juju Miyamoto,
Not hidden, but forgotten. Past the weaving hallways of the Davis Community Church, behind the squeaky, glass door is the location of the Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter (IRWS) for the night. Christmas lights around the stage, and bright overhead lights illuminate the few volunteers standing behind the stone gray tables, lining up to await dinner time.
Once the frosty weather winter comes, shelters for the homeless crowd up as a way to avoid the cold. These shelters provide a glimpse into the lives and stories of the less fortunate during Christmas time.
IRWS is one example of the winter shelter programs in Davis. The shelter rotates through different religious centers and provide meals, shelter and other amenities.
A guest for a recent night at the Davis Christian Assembly of God gives his name as Dave Mason, although others refer to him as John. Mason has been a guest of the IRWS for two years.
“I get more rest […] It’s hard to sleep outside when it’s cold […and it’s] sometimes dangerous,” Mason said.
The shelters are heated and volunteers provide cots with an array of a rainbow colored sleeping bags to the guests who walk in.
“Being homeless is always hard, but being homeless and cold and wet is even harder. We try and give people a warm and dry place to stay so that they can stay healthier and safer,” said Eric Elton, chair of the board directors for the IRWS.
“Circle time everybody,” said Linda Scott, college intern supervisor for IRWS. Everyone crowds around the table full of steaming food, and a moment of thanks silently engulfs the room of eager guests.
A line snakes around the room. After volunteers dish out piles of food, both guests and volunteers find an open seat at a set table.
“[It’s] pretty amazing how many [volunteers] are involved with this,” Scott said.
Volunteers at the shelters keep the shelter running and maintained. The volunteers also get a chance to sit and talk to the guests.
“Part of [the volunteers’] experience […is also] to talk with people,” said Michael Coleman, the high school interns supervisor for IRWS.
In between heaping bites, conversations with the guests allow the volunteers to get a brief glance into the lives of the less fortunate.
“They’re like regular people who can’t afford a shelter,” sophomore Ianthe Pretorius said.
Pretorius volunteered at the IRWS for the past four years. Over time, she talked with many of the guests and witnessed the different environment during dinner.
“[The guests are] really friendly,” Pretorius said.
During Christmas time volunteers learn about the holiday experience of the homeless.
“Many of [the homeless] feel very alone during that time of year,” Elton said. “There does seem to be some sense of community bonding that takes place with individuals reaching out to others.”
As soon as dinner slows down, volunteers lay dessert out and eyes glance toward the cot awaiting their arrival. Conversations wrap up, but a few remain talking.
“[It’s] kind of sad at times […] I miss my kids and grandkids,” Mason said.
Before arriving at the IRWS, Christmas was a time where Mason went grocery shopping, cooked holiday dinners and had gift exchanges.
The melody of Christmas carols play over the speakers bringing the essence of the holiday spirit into the shelter as the guests start packing up the dinner tables for the night.
“What a great place to be homeless if you’re homeless,” Mason said.