It was Monday morning at Penn House. The doors were opened and the window shades pulled wide. A middle-aged man came in, as he had each morning for the last week, to escape from the cold. You could hear him from the next room. He was articulate but loud, and suffered chronic sinus trouble. He didn’t look for clothes because he knew policy only allowed him to shop once each week, but sometimes perused the clothing racks in search of a warmer hoodie.

A few minutes later, a woman and her young children entered. She was looking for new clothes for a job. It was a standard refrain. Penn House staff weren’t certain if she said this for encouragement to look for something to wear, or if she went through jobs quickly. She was polite to staff, knew everyone’s name, and was accepted as a “regular”. She caused no trouble and abused no privileges.

A young man entered and caused heads to turn. He quickly apologized for the way he smelled. He had spent the last several evenings in front of a campfire. He said he would be obliged to us if we could offer him a change of clothes.

A middle-aged woman signed in at the counter. She told us she was from out-of-town. She revealed that she was homeless and living in her truck. She would not have a place to live for approximately 6-8 more weeks, and wondered if the weather will stay warm that long. She saw there was warm clothes to be had on the clothing racks, but was unsure whether to take them as a hedge against cold weather moving in, or to travel light and hope something would be there if she needed it.

A bearded man walked in the door several times before staying inside and approaching the counter. He first asked if he could keep the newspaper on the end table in the reception area. He seemed encouraged when he was told he could have it. He leaned forward and asked in hushed tones if the employees could turn off their cell phones, wary that conversations can be recorded. He feared he was being watched. He noted that the two men at the bus stop seemed too well-dressed to be truly waiting for a bus. He asked for advice regarding bus passes, and wondered if funds were available to provide a quick getaway if he needed to leave town quickly.

They arrive at the door of Penn House, each day. Or, others like them come instead. There are sometimes so many of them, they blur into a sea of faces, at risk of losing their individuality and becoming a statistic. These visitors each have stories that wildly differ, but they are bound by a common theme. Once, a long time ago, they had dreams. They aspired to something more than free hoodies or a bus ticket out of town. The days of their tomorrows were filled with more than simply a place to escape from the cold.

But something went wrong, and the dreams died. Their aspirations are long forgotten, and if asked, it is uncertain if any of these men and women could summon the hopes and ambitions that filled their youth. In its place is the stark reality of survival on minimal terms. They can perhaps tell you what went wrong, but most no longer know how to ask for the help they genuinely need. They no longer think about being closer to their dreams. Existence supersedes all else.

Think what it would mean, reconnecting with the innocence that fostered their dreams. Just imagine offering that hope to their children, and their children’s children. It would mean giving these families a reason to hope.

That’s what Penn House does. It is more than hoodies, or a shelter from the cold. It is caring and solace. And hope. The hope that comes from being there when people are wanting to dream again.

For more information about Penn House and the Ballard Center, its affiliated organization, please visit these web sites.