When someone dies in our shelter?

Dear Ryan, I work at a homeless shelter. Do you have any advice regarding the death of clients in a shelter? We have had 3 in the past month. I know it is part of the job, but I would like to better support my staff as well as our guests. Michaela Michaela, Unfortunately, that […]

No one will ever break your rules again…

“None of what you taught will stop people from shooting up in my bathrooms.  How do I stop them?” I had just finished a live training with an international fast-food company.  The manager’s voice was somewhere between frustrated and frantic. I explained—again—how to talk to someone who has broken a rule. He interrupted me.  “I […]

ABC News story on homelessness and libraries

“Can you do a live training within 2 hours of New York City?” This was my first conversation with a producer at ABC News. She had seen a story in The Guardian that I was featured in. “Oh, and we need it within three weeks.” After a few frantic emails from me, the staff at […]

“Old man Jenkins is drunk and swinging on people.”

It was 9:00 pm in the second largest homeless shelter in Illinois. The only employees were me and Chris, who was brand new. It was a quiet night with a relatively low number of residents in the shelter (“only” 150 or so). A resident (a middle-aged Hispanic man with a handlebar mustache) approached Chris and […]

People who choose to be homeless

“What do we do about people who choose to be homeless?” A lot of people have asked me that question lately. Maybe it is the explosive growth of tent cities popping up around the country. My answer is simple: Nothing. We shouldn’t do anything about people who choose to be homeless because no one chooses […]

Jack the Jerk?

It was early in the pandemic. I had been living at the shelter for about a month. The shelter had an outbreak. I didn’t want to bring it home to my immunocompromised wife. It was 3:00 in the morning and I was in a deep sleep. I had worked 12-18 hour days for 30 straight […]

My heart grew two sizes

Last month we hosted the “Pennies in the Cup” 28-day challenge where we committed to preventing conflict with the vulnerable folks we serve. I was blown away by the number of folks who signed up for the Challenge: There’s one story in particular that I want to share with you because it embodies “Pennies in […]

Homeless Tip: Lion King in the shower

(This is an actual entry from my diary on July 6, 2011. It is edited for length) Dear Diary, I slept at Hesed House last night in bed #29 in the men’s shelter. I almost hadn’t followed through on spending the night. As usual, it was my wife, Krissie, who set me straight.  I had […]

“Get a job, bum!” someone screamed from a passing car.

Jake carried six bags of crushed aluminum cans down a busy street. He wasn’t walking very fast. The bags were heavy and tearing in several places. “Get a job, bum!” someone screamed from a passing car.  Jake kept his head down and continued walking. He didn’t want a confrontation. Eventually, Jake reached the recycling center. […]

What color is that rule?

3:00 a.m.  The darkest part of night.  The first big thunderstorm of summer.  Rain poured off her straw-colored hair. She struggled to carry her three children by herself—a newborn and twin toddlers in car seats.  She shuffled slowly along an urban bicycle trail.  The incision from her C-Section was infected. Can you imagine what that […]