We were all hurried out of the cafeteria. I told Jay that I would wait for him outside. The Union Gospel Mission’s (UGM) exit doors lead straight into the alley. I waited for about five minutes until he came. We started having a conversation while finishing our meals, when we were interrupted by a phone call. Jay walked off to the side to get more privacy leaving me to myself.
A UGM staff member, named Connor, came out and started talking to me. Right away, I complained about the insufficient time allocated for our dinner. It was Christmas Eve after all. In retrospect, they did give me a meal and I should be thankful for that. Ironically, a few minutes before this conversation, Jay and I were discussing how people on the streets were treated like kings as well. I came here to make life hard on myself, but I haven’t been through any hardship yet. There were no signs ahead of that either. We continued talking about why we deserved to be treated so nicely in this world. Have we been good in our past lives or something? Then his phone interrupted us.
Connor told me that they were constructing a larger building next to the current one. They will be moving locations in the next few months. Maybe then the impoverished people can sit around and discuss the meaning of life and have debates on God. For some reason, I am still skeptical for that to occur. I told Connor about my week-long mission. He gave me two tinfoil emergency blankets to keep me warm at night. He also offered me to take advantage of the shelter that they provide.
When my conversation with Connor ended, I went up to Jay to tell him that I’ll be waiting at the front for him. As I walked up to Jay, I noticed that both of his eyes were filled with tears. At this moment, I do not know what happened to me. I did not know this man, but just as if I was looking in the mirror, my eyes started to tear up as well.
When he finished his phone call, Jay and another person waiting for the shelter to open, convinced me to stay here for the night. They were saying that lots of beds were available and they reassured me that I would not be taking a needy person’s spot.
So I went inside. They made us fill out a short form. “Reason for being homeless”: I filled in “by choice, raise-awareness”. The other two questions on the form were much more interesting. What are my religious affiliations and religious beliefs? Jay and I asked how complete this form should be and the person working at the desk asked me what my religious affiliation was. I told him that I was Gnostic. The staff member asked if I had meant Agnostic, I replied with a No. Gnostic is written without the “a” prefix. An Agnostic is a person who is not sure of God’s existence. A Gnostic is someone who knows that God exists. Jay looked at me and said with a smile, “Gnosis is to Know”. He decided to fill his religious affiliation with the word Gnostic as well.
It was 9 pm when we finished checking in. I asked one of the organizers for a hot cup of water. They were reluctant to give me hot water initially, but they eventually got me one. I asked if Jay wanted tea as well. He nodded. It was such a hassle getting that one cup of hot water, so I am not sure how we were going to get the second one. We politely asked the staff member and apologized for any inconveniences we may have caused. So with each of us holding a cup of tea, we walked outside to talk. This place was meant for sleeping only. There were no places to chat and we didn’t want to disturb anybody.
We talked about God, philosophy and life in general. We had two hours to talk before the shelter’s doors closed. There were no ins and outs after 11 pm. At one point in our conversation, I could see one of the UGM representatives stare at us through the window with his eyes wide open. He may have been suspicious of us, and probably wanted to know what we were up to. We were just drinking tea and exchanging stories.
The way the UGM was set up, as I have alluded to earlier, was that there was no room to hang out in, and so it was difficult to host open discussions on God. So to me, the UGM failed their mission. Jay wanted to leave this shelter and go to another one. He could not stand the smell of fermented feet. So we walked to catch the bus on Hastings, with the hope that the Salvation Army shelter would be more hygienic than this one.