Friday, June 13, 2003

It's after 1 a.m. and I'm still wide awake. I have a million things running aorund in my head at once. I'm sure some of it is about the dog and some of it is other things. I came into work this morning and learned one of our current shelter guests shot and killed another former shelter guest yesterday afternoon during a fight. It it was a fight over a woman, who has also stayed with us, and domestic violence. One of the staff called it a love triangle, which sounds so trite. A couple people had serious concerns over safety in the building since he was still at large but most of us weren't as concerned. A police car was positioned right outside the shelter during the time when they opened the shelter last night. I missed it all because of the vet appointment, but the police car would have been enough to allow me to continue like normal. It was extremely unlikely that he'd come back for his belongings anyways. One of the discussions I had today got me thinking. I was trying to explain why I thought some of the concerns were over-reactions and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I've been there nine years. Fights happen in the shelter occassionally, but they are between shelter guests and very rare. The few I witnessed were broken up by other guys as soon as I approached whoever was fighting yelling at them to stop. Everyone knows the penalty for violence or weapons in the shelter is a long time out, usually two years or more. It seems to work as well as our policy of treating everyone with respect and expecting the same in return. People tend to live up to those expectations. Those that fail are usually under the influence of some chemical or unable to because of mental illness. The only time I've ever felt unsafe was several years ago when I was working the door. When I opened it to let someone in, I noticed a couple arguing on the sidewalk a few yards from the door. The next time I opened the door, he was hitting her, so I called out and said we were calling the police and that she should come into the shelter. He must of let her come into the building, because the next thing I remember is standing in the doorway, blocking him from entering. He was over six feet tall and under the influence of crack. He pushed one of our volunteers when he got between the two of us, in some misguided attempt to protect me. I gave way to him at one point when he came in looking for his girlfriend as someone else arrived at the door. I didn't stop talking to him, though, and was able to talk him back outside again. He sat outside the door crying and I stayed talking to him while we waited for the police. I don't think he ever considered hurting me. Another time, we had a drive by shooting happen right in front of the shelter just as we were opening. A car with two young men had stalled across the street and another car drove by and shot both men. The driver of the second car looked at all of the people lined up outside the shelter as the shooting happened. I guess what I was thinking is that my experience has been that most of the threat to our safety has come from outside the building. It used to be a much tougher neighborhood. It's really quiet now and seems to have changed for the better, but it's still much more likely that any danger would be from someone getting into the building that doesn't belong there. It's a big old maze of a building and there's so many places to hide. The way I see it, what happened yesterday should certainly make people be a little more careful when they let people in, but we should always be careful. If we're at risk for this guy who just shot someone sneaking into the building, we're at risk from anyone sneaking in. It probably didn't help my case at all when I said that we've had lots of people staying with us who've killed other people. To be honest, I don't know if "lots" is correct. We have had lots of people with felonies but nowadays it seems like a miracle if someone who is homelessness has made it through drug addiction and poverty without a felony. Of course, the inequities of our criminal justice system and drug laws are a whole 'nother subject.

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