Yesterday at the drop-in, I was sitting with Ken, one of our volunteers. Ken’s been volunteering with OIM for years and he has a real heart for helping people. He has a rare gift for working with people who others may think are “lost causes”, as he is able to empathize with them and show a great deal of patience. It surprised me when Ken told me that he himself was having a difficult winter, as he has been struggling with depression. He said it was even hard to get out of bed in the morning.
I told Ken how impressed I was that he was able to continue volunteering when he was feeling so down – but just then, Gord, one of our street-friends, joined our conversation.
Gord was not his usual bright and happy self. When I asked if something was wrong, he told me he was going through a rough bout of depression, something he struggles with now and then.
“It’s been really bad this week”, he said, “It’s been hard just to get out of bed in the morning.”
I couldn’t help but think of how this conversation was mirroring the conversation I had just had with Ken. Similarly to my reply to Ken, I told Gord I was impressed he was able to get to the drop-in.
“Good for you for getting the energy to come to drop-in. That must have been hard.” I said.
“No, it wasn’t hard.” He paused and then said “Coming here is like coming home. I know everyone here. I can be myself, no matter how I’m feeling. People really care here. It’s not like they’re staff, they actually care. It’s like a family.”
Ken and I were both touched.
Then Ken said “I feel the same way. People here just get it. They understand.” Ken then shared that when he is feeling down or depressed, people at the drop-in show him a kind of compassion that is rare in other parts of society.
Here at OIM, we strive to make our drop-in feel welcoming, like a home for our street-friends. And Gord describing the drop-in like a home made me feel like we had succeeded in our goal. But it occurred to me today that Ken and I, and I’m sure other staff and volunteers, also feel at home at the drop-in. And that has nothing to do with OIM at all..…..instead it has everything to do with the level of compassion, inclusivity, and understanding that is so common among our street-friends.