Club at homeless shelter builds a community of trust and dialogue

By April 7, 2014Community, Education

Several people at Juneau’s downtown shelter and soup kitchen The Glory Hole are part of a new club. Every Tuesday, they come together on the second floor of the facility to discuss a different topic. The club is helping to build a different kind of community within the homeless shelter, a community not based on need, but on the exchange of ideas.

It’s called The Glory Hole Book Club, but it’s really more of a discussion group. Instead of everyone reading the same book, community outreach librarian Andrea Hirsh says there’s a theme that everyone comes prepared to talk about each week.

“The first day, everybody who was here wrote down five ideas of stuff that they thought would be so neat to talk about and we threw them in a hat, and then we pulled it out. And it works really well because it makes it open for anybody who wants to come,” Hirsh says.

Topics range from philosophy to fantasy. Hirsh says book club members can relate the topic to an article they may have read or a movie they watched. Oftentimes, group discussions stem from personal experience.

“We pulled, like, agriculture once and I thought, ‘That one is going to be terrible.’ But we talked a lot about animal husbandry and, like, growing crops, and most of the people here have worked in agricultural fields. It was a great topic,” Hirsh says.

Six people, who have come to this club session, sit in a circle of chairs. All eyes are on Hirsh as she holds up the book “Packing for Mars.”

She talks about a test performed on want-to-be astronauts:

“They have, like, eight candidates and they keep them all in one room and they’re monitored 24/7. They have no privacy and they can’t leave each other because they’re simulating, like, what’s going on in the international space station.”

The Glory Hole Book Club was a test as well when the shelter paired up with Juneau Public Libraries to try something new.

“I did not think that The Glory Hole Book Club would be a very successful activity but I think it’s really wonderful for people to have an opportunity to not think about the fact that they’re homeless and that they’re struggling and they need to get out of the situation,” says shelter director Mariya Lovishchuk.

Club member Sheila Higgins was a psychic for 25 years out of Fairbanks and Anchorage. She also spent some time working on the North Slope. When she moved to Juneau in 2012 for a different job, things didn’t work out. She’s lived at the Glory Hole for about a year.

Since the club started in January, Higgins has gone to every session. She says those that attend have become closer.

“I think we get to know each other on a different level. We don’t see ourselves as homeless people here. We just see each other as brother and sister.”

The book club also adds another dimension to The Gory Hole. Most of the action takes place in the day room on the first floor, where all the meals are served.

“That’s kind of their forum down there, the people who run the place. Up here it’s ours, OK? It’s ours. This is our club,” Higgins says.

Club members freely share their opinions and listen. After several weeks of this, Higgins says they’re grown to respect and support one another.

“Nobody’s here because they want to be, you know. We’d all rather be in our own homes living different lives, but as long as we’re here, we’re going do the best we can for each other,” she says.

For Kidd Perez, the book club is also just fun.

“It’s spontaneous for sure and it’s just a tight knit group. We all are acquainted well enough here to just let it go, let it ride. You can comment and say pretty much what you think. It gets kind of crazy sometimes, but that’s part of the fun,” Perez says.

Perez is an auto mechanic. He says he goes where the money is. With summer approaching, he has hopes of moving out of the shelter.

“Could be sometime this month, because the season’s coming around and that means more work for a lot of people this time of year, so we’ll see what happens,” Perez says.

But as long as Perez is at The Glory Hole though, he’ll continue going to the club.

As the session on the space program wraps up, Hirsh holds out “The Book Club Hat.”

“Why don’t you pick out our topic for next week,” she says to club member Mark Trammell.

“Oh wow, psychology,” Trammell announces to the group.

Chatter and laughter break out among club members as they get up to leave, their minds already on next week’s club theme.

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