A place so regularly teeming with disparate activity the word “chaos” made it onto the welcome sign, Haywood Street Congregation is widely known for all that people do there. They cook, they clean, they eat, they sing, they befriend, they clothe, they welcome, they plant, they shop, they create, they drink, they laugh, they cry, they pray, they dance, they serve, they warm up, they cool down… Haywood Street is unmistakably a place of grace, relationship and faith in action. And yet, for so many, Haywood Street is also a treasured place of rest. Whether actual slumber, getting a private moment to one’s self, or simply feeling safe enough to rest your mind from the troubles of the day for a little while; rest, in all of its inactive glory, is honored and offered here in abundance.
As someone who safeguards her own “alone time” as a shepherd does his sheep, I was humbled when I came to understand what an absolute luxury solitude is for unhoused members of our community. During one of my early Wednesday visits to Haywood Street a few years ago, I decided to make a quick stop by the restroom between lunch and the church service upstairs. When I reached the breezeway, both restroom doors were locked and a man was in line ahead of me. He had an overstuffed backpack over one shoulder and a well-worn ballcap on his head. We waited. We introduced ourselves to each another. And waited some more. In making idle chitchat, I glanced over at the locked doors and said, “Guess we all had the same idea at the same time.” And he said, “Yeah, and a bathroom stall is the only private space you ever get on the streets, so the lines here move slow. Do you want to go ahead of me?”
His insight and kindness touched me. I told him I would just go after the service and to take his time. Now, years later, every time I’m in a public restroom, it crosses my mind – What would life be like and how would I feel emotionally, if the only chance I had most days for quiet, semi-private, alone time was in a publicly used “rest” room? I feel anxious just thinking about it.
And what about sleep? It’s well studied and proven that chronic sleep deprivation can cause and exasperate addiction and an array of physical and mental health issues. Without the security of a home, noise, physical discomfort, weather extremes, anxiety and fear are nightly barriers to sound sleep. It’s no wonder the pews, shady spots and climate-controlled hallways of Haywood Street so often become a brief chamber for our unhoused friends.
I’m thankful for the many lessons I’ve learned and the many ways my mind has opened through spending time and building relationships at Haywood Street. Quiet time, privacy, safety, and good, solid sleep are as essential to basic human health and dignity as food and clothing. Haywood Street values them all, and as a congregation, is in action every day to make them accessible to each and every child of God.
HSC Companion and Board Member