The second floor of First Light houses the emergency shelter. It is a dorm-like environment with 36 beds, a family room and a volunteer room. A metal locker accompanies each bed which allows our guests to remove all their possessions from the typical carrying case… a large plastic garbage bag, to secure them in a neat and clean place.
When a woman "arrives" in the shelter, she opens her locker door to find clean linens, a pillow, blankets and a towel. Her first action is usually to make her bed, fluff the pillow and place any special items she has on the bed to make it her own. This might include her Bible, a photo of a loved one, or stuffed animals. She is now settling into what may be her "home" for several months. Next, she goes to the overnight volunteer to request laundry detergent and whatever hygiene products she needs. All of these items- the linens, the towels, the hygiene products, the toiletries- have been donated for her by complete strangers. These strangers are the lifeblood of First Light.
This first night may be a woman’s first shower in days, maybe weeks. Depending on her bed number, it might be her turn to wash her clothes. She will very quickly learn the routine that necessarily exists when living with so many other women in shared space. It is not unusual for a woman to come to First Light with nothing. Literally nothing but the clothes on her back. We have witnessed this and learned that by morning, she will have gathered a very basic wardrobe. Women in need will assist other women in need. If I have 4 blouses and you have 1… I will share with you.
The woman can now give a sigh of relief, lay her head on the pillow, and sleep in a safe and secure environment. Morning will bring a new light, a new day.
A new day has dawned. The new guest is awakened by the volunteer. She gets dressed, goes downstairs, eats breakfast and does her morning chore. Then it is time to begin- "How did I get here? How did I get to this point in my life? My life was not supposed to end up like this." These and other questions will be asked and addressed in her many sessions with her Social Worker.
The following days and weeks may involve appointments with doctors, filling out applications for public assistance, searching for employment and obtaining proper identification. The goal of a Social Worker and the guest is to look at her past, face the present and reach for a healthy and independent future. The overall goal of both the Social Worker and all of First Light’s programs is to equip this woman with skills, resources, ideas, and hope so that she can reach her fullest potential.
This cannot be done quickly, which is why the average stay at First Light is months rather than weeks. It is a process, not a quick solution. The woman and her Social Worker assess her situation, identify her needs, and prioritize areas needing immediate action. From this point forward, a woman is on a path of setting and achieving goals.