Arriving at the UMOM overflow shelter, located in Phoenix, AZ, I didn’t know what to expect.
This is my first time going to a shelter.
Questions like the following keep running through my mind before I even arrived.
- Why do individuals end up here?
- How long can they stay?
- What do they get to eat, if anything?
- Where do they sleep?
- What do they do during the day?
- How old are these women?
I am soon to find out the answers to my questions.
My anxiety increases as I see the building, a huge ware house, located in the industrial district of Phoenix.
Obviously the location is a great distance from social services, a library to use a computer to seek work, and other services.
At least it is comforting to know that there is no need to sleep on the street!
Meeting Loraine as I enter the shelter, she states that she will be giving me a tour.
So here’s where I gather my answers.
The shelter is a large grey warehouse, with three main rooms.
- A room for families
- A larger room for dining
- The women’s sleeping quarters which appears to be about the same size as the dining room.
The dining room tables have stools or benches attached, reminding me of eating in a school cafeteria.
Families stay in partitioned off spaces, looking something like office space, allowing others to pear over the top and having cots based on the number of family members sleeping in each space.
The women’s room looks different, with no privacy.
Cots are lined up in rows, with little space between each.
All of these spaces have high ceilings, grey cement walls and floors, and industrial lights hanging from the ceilings.
I am soon to learn that there are multiple reasons for the individuals living here.
Among those reasons are the loss of a job, family kicking them out, partner abuse, not having enough funds to pay rent even though they have a job or other income.
My reason for visiting this shelter is to be a volunteer. At first I volunteer on the family side, with the opportunity to provide activities for the children on Mondays or Fridays.
Up to 14 families can be in the shelter at one time, living there until an apartment can be found for them.
Each time I visit, I see the large number of women lined up for dinner, being served after the families.
I can’t imagine having to sleep in their crowded room and sharing the limited restroom.
I soon learned that no activities are being provided for the 220+ women.
That is when I raise my hand to volunteer a bingo night for the women’s side on Fridays. When I am there, I make sure everyone playing wins a prize and feels good about this activity.
Every week the number of the women joining the bingo game increases, with about a third choosing to play.