My All-Nighter at the Emergency Warming Center

December 26-27, 2008
Friday Night/Saturday Morning

8:00 p.m. – I show up for my shift. I make it clear that I’m here as a worker -bee tonight, and not as the CEO of the Red Cross. People take me at my word, and put me to work immediately helping guests find mats and blankets.

9:00 p.m. – I’m scrambling to find even more blankets, which a fellow volunteer and I retrieve from our disaster trailer parked across the street.

9:15 p.m. – I help serve hot soup and noodles to the crowd of over 200 guests.

10:30 p.m. – People are still arriving, and I help them find a place in the already-crowded gym and answer their questions about how things work here.

11:00 – Lights out, though people are free to come and go and needed. Most folks are already asleep.

12:00 a.m. – I help monitor traffic at the front door, answer tons of questions and calm some agitated guests down a bit.

1:00 a.m. – People are still arriving, and I explain that we’re full – over 225 guests. Unless someone leaves (which the occasional guest does) we’re out of space. Over the next two hours a few of the newer arrivals get in.

1:30 a.m. – I help negotiate disagreements between some guests. It’s been a very long and cold two weeks, and some folks are tense.

2:00 a.m. – Quietest it’s been all night. I don’t hear a peep from the numerous companion animals (dogs and cats) sleeping in kennels next to their owners.

2:30 a.m. – Considerable snoring throughout the gym. What an amazing sea of humanity this is, I think. You name it, we’ve got it here tonight.

3:00 a.m. – I have in-depth conversations with quite a few of the guests. They tell me about struggles with addiction, lost loves and hard times.

4:00 a.m. – The most frequent questions I answer are, “What time is it? How much more time do we have to sleep? Will you be open tomorrow?” Because the weather keeps warming up, the answer to the last question is, “No.”

4:30 a.m. – I help get breakfast ready – coffee, instant oatmeal and slices of fruit.

5:00 a.m. – I’m amazed at the number of people who’ve slept very little all night, and the numbers of guests already up and about.

6:00 a.m. – Lights on. A rush for the bathrooms. Coffee lines start getting longer.

6:05 a.m. – Guests start saying thank you (as they have off and on all night).

6:30 a.m. – Home to sleep.