Dakota County Crisis Shelter – When Scrooge met ignorance and want

i-existI’m not sure this story is going to have a happy ending. Then I realize a story isn’t just the beginning and the end, there are moments of happiness in the middle too. Just when I wondered what holiday characters I had yet to see operating this pop up crisis shelter for homeless Dakota County residents, after receiving Emmanuel, a pregnant Mary and a teething baby Jesus, in walks Ebenezer-and he was angry. Oy vey, was he angry.

The first thing he asked for? A cane, naturally. You can’t make this stuff up. I had met Mr. Scrooge a few days previous, after receiving a community call about him panhandling outside a Dakota County big box store Saturday. I drove to see if he knew of the shelter and would come inside. Dakota County has minimal street outreach for single adults who are without shelter, (they could use more), and they were not working that day. As I approached Ebenezer, he gave me a sideways glance. The weather was so cold, he’d given up on holding the cardboard and had just hung it around his neck. One arm was dead, he said, lifting it with the other to show me its lack of use. He was as cantankerous as his namesake. Slowly, he got in the car and rode the few blocks to Grace Lutheran Church in Apple Valley with me (happiness). He complained the whole way that nobody helps him. I reflected on Mother Teresa’s words about encountering Jesus in all his distressing disguises rather than the manual on personality disorders. He had a lot of pain, this septuagenarian, Bah Humbug came readily from his mouth. His sign still hung around his neck, Homeless, as if that defined him. He got out of the car to enter the church (happiness).

Then he met ignorance and want, the children of our shelter and A Christmas Carol. His voice softened (happiness). I think he felt deserving or resigned to our simple shelter space but was surprised that children shared it. In the book, Scrooge believes that ignorance and want belong to one person but the Ghost of Christmas Present tells Scrooge that they are all Man’s.

Wretched, frightful, hideous, miserable, ragged, scowling, all words to describe this person who was miserly with his own self-care, his greed of offering kindness, his meanness and any opening for another. But he stayed at our shelter (happiness). While people lack an address, they also lack connection, Scrooge more than most. Often, untreated trauma brings with it a personality disorder that makes treatment increasingly unlikely. As the story goes, “Where angels might have sat, devils lurked and glared out menacing. On his brow, I see that written which is Doom.” And then he got angry at another and left us.

Though this could have been the end of the story, I received a call a few days later. Ebenezer was at Grace Lutheran in Apple Valley looking for me (happiness), but our time was up there and we were now in another city at Prince of Peace in Burnsville. I asked if he wanted me to pick him up. He said nobody helps him. I said he knew where to find me. Then he showed up (happiness), this cold-hearted miser who would appear to despise Christmas in all his suffering. And he stayed. He asked for warm clothes and the ghosts of Christmas present, the volunteers, encircled his want with their ignorance (kindness). He asked for a nurse and she came. He bah humbugged through the entire conversation and when they rose to leave, her ignorance that her patient was Scrooge allowed her to hug him. He lifted the dead limb and returned the hug (happiness). And then he got angry at another and left us.

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