Help Me Figure Something Out

Help me figure something out.

Last night I went to one of the shelters here in Asheville that serve dinner. I was already downtown and since it was cold, snowy and windy out, I really didn’t want to make the walk back to the apartment just to turn around and come back to town for a shoot that was scheduled. So I ate at the shelter.

Since I spend so much time in town doing shoots, I’ve gotten to know some of the homeless folks here and I also figured it would be great to have dinner with company instead of being alone and wolfing down a cold can of beanie-weanies with a plastic fork.

Anyways, there were about 50 of us crowded into the little chapel waiting for the call for dinner. The noise was a low roar…nothing loud and obnoxious. Just the hum of 50 conversations going on at once. And then he came in.

One guy — we’ll call him Fred — walked into the chapel and took a seat. I noticed he was a little louder than usual. Not overbearingly so, but kind of the excited loudness when you get an unexpected pay raise and you take your family out to celebrate. You know what I mean? Not loud so as to be bothering others…but just a little louder than you usually are.

I figured that Fred had consumed a beer or two before he got to the shelter.

The way circumstances played out, I was right. One of the shelter managers called Fred to the back office. They gave him a breathalyzer. He blew a .04. Now a .04 on the breathalyzer means that Fred had drunk the equivalent of a 12 ounce beer over the previous hour. No big deal. Wouldn’t even get him a DUI if he had’ve been driving.

But you see, the shelter has a zero-tolerance to drinking. They don’t just say that you can’t bring booze and beer into the facility — which I completely understand. They say that if you’ve been drinking, you can’t come into the shelter — no matter how much alcohol you’ve consumed.

They let Fred get a plate of dinner and then — told him to leave. No where to go…you’re outta here. Did I mention that it was cold, snowy and windy out?

Watching all this play out, it took me a minute to figure out what was going down. By the time my tired ol’ brain registered what was happening and I was able to step out side the shelter looking for Fred, he was gone. Only his rapidly disappearing tracks on the snowy sidewalk. I was gonna tell Fred that if he’d promise not to bring any beer into my apartment — other than what he already had inside him — he could crash at my place tonight.

Disgusted with what I had just witnessed, I couldn’t even go back into the shelter and finish my half-eaten dinner. I lit a cigarette, bought a cup of coffee at The Hot Spot and contemplated what just happened and why it had just happened.

In the scenario I had just witnessed, I have no idea of who was “right” and who was “wrong”. Yes, the shelter has a zero tolerance alcohol and drug policy. Yes Fred had the equivalent of one beer in him. Yes, Fred knew the rule of zero tolerance. Yes, the shelter has the right to set their rules as they see fit.


Somehow I have a hard time picturing Jesus telling someone that since they had been drinking the fruit of the vine that they couldn’t come break bread with Him. Maybe. But you know what? He saved his condemnation for the religious leaders who set all types of rules for folks to live by.

Perhaps it’s hypocritical of me to say Fred getting kicked out might not have bothered me so much if it had’ve been July 2nd instead of March 2nd. Maybe I wouldn’t have given it a second thought if the sun had’ve been shining and there had been some warmth in the air.


Did I mention that it was cold, snowy and windy out?

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5 thoughts on “Help Me Figure Something Out

  1. Capricious dilemma, such as it seems. I’m reminded of my own response to stealing something vs. getting it for free as I encounter, daily, those who are homeless, without a cent for one reason or another and not just because of todays economy.

    I found myself being judgemental, unable to wrap my brain around just exactly why one would steal. A sense of entitlement? Because they can? Pride? A lack of moral standards? I admit I wondered who am I to judge?

    Then one day, a homeless man said; as I voiced my concern over what I considered the unjustified action of stealing: ” for now, they’re just humans of this earth.” I took that home with me and ruminated. Humans, of this earth.

    And then, with that door opened, came the realization that ‘they have their reasons.’ Be it right, be it wrong, the need is there. And where there is an opportunity to help, there is as well the ability to do harm. I too would have left, disheartened by the act of rejection on that cold, snowy windy night. To whom is the lesson of an ability to give and take away in an hour of need?

  2. I just found out about you and your journey. If you were coming to Bellingham WA I would have tried to meet you.

    I guess the church has to make examples out of some people. It is sad though.

  3. It’s a shame that churches can’t accept people where they are.

    Please be sure to stay in touch on the trip!


  4. An ethical dilemma to be sure. For the sake of discussion, let’s say the shelter let Fred stay. And then, a second man walks in, and his blood level, alcohol content is .6 or .8 or whatever. Well, we let Fred stay, so we might as well let Carl stay too. And so forth, I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

    And then, on the other side of the room is old Sam who really, really wanted a drink that night, but he too knew the policy and chose not to drink because he wanted to stay there. But, then, here come Fred and Carl who chose to drink and they got to stay anyway. Hmmm.

    Again, I’m not necessarily defending the choices of the shelter, but I also understand the line in the sand.

    Truthfully, the better solution would be to have an alternate place for people who can’t handle the line in the sand. That would come with all kinds of challenges, but it would have helped Fred, for sure.

    And then, maybe that moment was for you. We’ll never know.

    Peace be unto you.

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