Something as simple as a chair becomes a place of peace, safety, and camaraderie.
The Pandemic – One Year at Dorothy’s Place
By Jill Allen, Executive Director
“We’re all just walking each other home,”
Ram Dass, author and spiritual teacher.
This phrase literally describes what we do here at Dorothy’s Place,
walk each other home.
The walk begins in the Drop-In Center that is open daily for people who are living in a tent or vehicle. The path from the Drop-In Center can lead to permanent housing. Initially, we provide the basics such as bathrooms, showers, clean clothes, a place to charge a phone, and receive mail. As we get to know each other, and build relationships, our Bridge Project program offers assistance in creating a plan – to fulfill a dream – to move inside and live in a home of one’s own. The Bridge Project program walks with our consumers as they evaluate how to begin, decide on their goal, and determine what will be needed to get there.
Once the consumer has attained some necessary things such as identification and a Social Security card, they are accepted into our Streets to Homes program.
The staff at Streets to Homes supports our consumers as they consider options for income, education, and housing. This is the bridge. During 2020, 189 people were served by the Bridge Project.
As said by Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa,
“It always seems impossible until it is done.”
Dorothy’s Place and our Drop-In Center are surrounded by streets filled with tents and makeshift shelters. Our staff, Community Health Workers and Social Workers, know many of the people who come into the Drop-In Center, though there are always new people. There is no permanence in Chinatown. Before COVID we saw 120 different people each day. This past year the daily average of people seeking services in the Drop-In Center has been 200-250 people per day.
The pandemic forced us to change some of our procedures but we never closed our doors. One of the most difficult things during the past year was that we had to remove the number of chairs for people to come inside and sit down – from 40 chairs, to now, only 12. Space has always been an issue at Dorothy’s Place and chairs are usually occupied. Something as simple as a chair becomes a place of peace, safety, and camaraderie. Some people come everyday to sit for a few hours. Others, for a few minutes while drinking coffee and eating a pastry.
We are looking forward to easing restrictions as our communities become safer from the COVID-19 virus.
The stress level has decreased though we still worry for our guests and also for our staff and volunteers. Over the past 15 months we had brief periods where some members of the staff had to isolate themselves due to exposure to COVID-19. Fortunately, we have not seen illness due to the virus. We continue to follow safety procedures – masks, hand-washing, distancing. People are mostly compliant and grateful that we are here for them.
Sometimes people express anger which we expect and understand. For people who are exhausted from feeling like a burden on society, without options or a future, the Drop-In Center is sometimes a place to express frustration and hurt. It may also be a place to begin in a new direction.
Working in the Drop-In Center provides an experience like no other. Several staff have degrees in Psychology and Social Work and we encourage others who are currently studying for degrees. Some of the staff were inspired to work at Dorothy’s Place because of their experience as caregivers for family members and providing home care for seniors. Many started with us as volunteers and retain the attitude of service to others.
We know this work is not for everyone. I am proud of the staff, the volunteers, and our consumers, who continue to offer the goodness of themselves everyday and follow the safety procedures with acceptance and mostly good humor.