It was my first official day at the Health Advocacy Clinic in Aurora. While I had visited Hesed House before, I had never been on a tour of the entire facility and seeing it in its entirety with my colleagues in the clinic provided a fresh perspective of what Hesed House is today.
Growing up in Aurora, I had been to Hesed House on many occasions beforehand, as it is a cornerstone in the community and surrounding area. Whenever we had extra food at community events, we would drop it off for the guests there. We would hold drives and collections for the shelter at church, collecting different things at different times of the year. Growing up just down the bike trail from Hesed House, I had many memories of riding past on my bike, always seeing guests outside and sometimes riding away quickly if someone approached me or my brother. In the summers, there were tents behind the shelter, and more people were outside milling about outside in the parks surrounding the shelter. In the winters, you would see people bundled up and in groups in the neighborhoods close to the shelter. The bike trail served as a conduit, linking the shelter to surrounding areas and I would often see people riding bikes and carrying carts full of cans to the recycling center, which was within shouting distance of my front yard.
I had some expectations of what it was like, but I don’t know if I could have prepared for what I was about to experience during the tour, except just to experience it. I was expecting brick walls and room after room of painted bricks to form the inside barriers of the shelter. I was surprised to see the rooms in PADS where families slept in. I was expecting something more permanent, furniture, bunk beds, maybe shelves for storing personal possessions. What I saw were floors. Bare, linoleum-covered floors and thin mats of padding–their temporary placement every night reflected the transient and unpredictable nature of the guests who sheltered there. When I heard the sheer number of people a space could hold, I tried to imagine trying to get rest in those conditions, but was frustrated by the number of distractions. I could only think of the negative things.
While I didn’t speak with any guests during the tour, I gained some perspective of what awaited guests every night at Hesed House. I had worked with opportunity youth who had uncertain living arrangements as an AmeriCorps VISTA, but this helped me understand what some of my clients have experienced. Later that week, I mentioned to one of my friends that I was working with the shelter and he had volunteered there just the day before, working with kids on art projects. He also told me about one of his students who was staying at Hesed House and some of the challenges he faced. The tour was the point where many things in my life had come full circle, bringing me back to Hesed House. Instead of riding by, or briefly visiting, I was joining my friend and hundreds of volunteers in helping bring change to the guests at Hesed House.