For my one-day story I photographed Shannon Stewart, shelter manager, at Columbia’s only ‘wet’ homeless shelter. Wet meaning residents can be intoxicated or under the influence, but cannot be in possession of alcohol or drugs. Stewart is a volunteer, but he is more than that. As shelter manager, he has spent just about every night since the place opened at the shelter, and even has his own room. He used to be homeless, so he knows many of those coming to stay at the shelter. He knows everyones name and their drink of choice. He understands them and they understand and trust him. And that is obvious. The shelter will remain open until March 12, 2012, but Stewart is getting tired. Tired of the long nights he spends at the shelter after working his full-time day job at Jimmy Johns. Tired of the stress that comes from intoxicated fights of the residents. Tired from giving his all.
Here is the edit I came up with, and a few outtakes at the end:
Shannon Stewart, shelter manager at the Room at the Inn, folds sheets for a cot while preparing a bed for a resident on Tuesday, February 21, 2012. The shelter has a capacity of ten people per night, but some nights Stewart and the other volunteers do all they can to give a bed to everyone who needs one.
Stewart mediates an argument between two residents on Tuesday. The Room at the Inn is the only ‘wet shelter’ in Columbia, meaning residents can be drunk while they are there, but cannot have alcohol or drugs on the property. With most of the residents coming to the shelter intoxicated each night, arguments and fights arise easily, Stewart says.
A sign hangs in the shelter saying “make checks payable to Shannon Stewart.” The building the shelter is located in is the old Total Environments building on Old 63. Stewart, other volunteers and local churches have worked together to transform the once empty building into a comfortable place for the homeless in Columbia to stay during the winter months. Stewart has taken over the managerial role at the shelter voluntarily, and the sign is an attempt to make a joke at his reality.
Stewart takes a moment to himself as residents ready themselves for sleep. Stewart, who was once homeless himself, knows every resident that stays at the shelter. Because he knows their stories, their problems and their tempers, he is able to communicate with everyone on a more personal level, making the shelter feel more like home. The residents trust him and that shows in their interactions with Stewart.
Stewart sits down to watch the movie being played at the shelter on Tuesday night while Jack, a resident, sleeps against the wall. With tight space, Stewart and other volunteers do all they can to fit as many people into the building comfortably, and safely, as they can.
Stewart rests his head and closes his eyes as his night comes to a close. Having volunteered at the shelter almost every night since the beginning of January, Stewart, who sleeps there, is growing tired of the long days at his day job at Jimmy Johns and the long nights at the shelter. The shelter will close for the season on March 12, 2012. After that, the residents will have to find a new place to stay.