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 guests "arrives" in the shelter, they open a locker door to find clean linens, a pillow, blankets and a towel. The first action is usually to make the bed, fluff the pillow and place any special personal items on the bed to make feel like home. This might include a Bible, a photo of a loved one, or stuffed animals. This promotes settling into what may be "home" for several months. Nightly overnight overnight volunteers are present to distribute laundry detergent and whatever hygiene products are needed. All of these items- the linens, the towels, the hygiene products, the toiletries- have been donated by complete strangers. These strangers are the lifeblood of First Light.
This first night may be a guests's first shower in days, maybe weeks. Depending on one's bed number, it might be your turn to wash her clothes. Guests very quickly learn the routine that necessarily exists when living with so many others in shared space. It is not unusual for a person to come to First Light with nothing: literally nothing but the clothes on one's back. We have witnessed this and learned that by morning, the guest will have gathered a very basic wardrobe. People in need will assist other people in need. If I have 4 blouses and you have 1… I will share with you.
The guest can now give a sigh of relief, lay one's 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. Shelter guests get dressed, go downstairs, eat breakfast and do morning chores. 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 many sessions with a First Light 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 the individual's 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 person with skills, resources, ideas, and hope in order to reach one's 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 guest and Social Worker assess the current situation, identify needs, and prioritize areas needing immediate action. From this point forward, a First Light guest is on a path of setting and achieving goals.