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From Snowy Serenity to Shelter Struggles: An Intern's First Week



I started my internship on January 15th. I was eager to see how Hospitality House operated. During my orientation, snow started following. Watching the snow fall outside the Hospitality House Watauga Housing & Outreach Center's window gave me a sense of calm and beauty. But that sense quickly changed to anxiety when I saw the following weekend how chaotic and dangerous snow storms can be for the residents of the Hospitality House shelter.


I had gotten a text message that said I didn't have to show up on Friday due to the weather but that I could if I still wanted to because they were short-staffed. I didn't want to make up my internship hours, so I decided to show up. The road conditions were horrible; snow had packed the ground, covering up all signs of existing grass. Snow had begun to stick to the road, but thankfully, snow plows had done an excellent job taking care of the main roads during the snowstorm. 


When I arrived at the shelter, snow was still falling at an alarming rate, with no end in sight. As I walked into the shelter, I was surprised by how jampacked it was. It felt like a local bar on a Friday night.


When I approached the front office and introduced myself as an intern, I was given a tour of the facility. I was surprised by the size of the building. It was designed like a small maze with a beautiful courtyard in the center. 


As I was given the tour, I saw that the packed atmosphere didn't just belong to the front area; it belonged to the entire building. I was told that the shelter opened its doors during the day because of the snowstorm, and they usually keep limited access during the days. People were lined up in a row, sleeping on mats and leaning against a wall. Others were in residents' rooms, lying in bed or browsing their phones, and the ones up front were socializing while watching the snowfall.


During the snowstorm, I met many interesting residents. The residents were all pleasant, and Hospitality House gave off a homey and communal atmosphere. One resident even said he didn't know what love was until he discovered Hospitality House. Some residents talked to each other like good friends, with open hugs and loving words. 


An employee told me that snow storms have a particularly harmful effect on the unhoused because many rely on the AppalCART for their transportation needs, so when the AppalCART stops running, it leads to them being unable to get to their job or a grocery store. Being stuck at the Hospitality House shelter facility because of the snow can also lead to an increase in depression and anxiety, which can lead to relapses for some residents. 


With no transportation to a grocery store available, many residents are deprived of essential nutrients, making the Hospitality House Community Kitchen all the more important. During the snowstorm, I helped pack the lunch trays and handed them out. I estimate that we gave out 100 of them in 10 minutes. Dinner time seemed to be one of the more enjoyable times of day for the residents. 


Many good Samaritans donated much-needed supplies like blankets and clothing during the storm. Some residents needed to be equipped with the proper clothing for the arctic temperatures, but luckily, Hospitality House had the resources to give them the required supplies like gloves, beanies, or a winter jacket.


This snowstorm was a mind-changing experience for me. As someone who tends to focus on the positive effects of snowstorms, like the glistening white scenery, staying indoors with hot tea, seeing kids build snowmen, and getting classes switched to Zoom, I was introduced to some of the negatives that a lot of us are lucky enough to not deal with. 


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