Palm Bay, Florida – Every Saturday people experiencing homelessness gather in the parking lot of Risen Savior Lutheran Church in Palm Bay. They can get a shower, food and a haircut. But what keeps them coming back isn’t necessarily the services, it’s the conversation with friends and a friendly smile from volunteer Kera Beard.
Beard hands out donated clothing and has a knack for finding the items that compliment everyone’s style.
“Because I’ve been doing this so long, you get to know everybody’s style,” Beard said as she searched through a storage crate full of t-shirts. “One of the ladies, she likes Harley Davidson so as soon as I see something I put it aside for her.”
Beard has been working in the nonprofit field for eight years doing outreach, case management and housing navigation.
“Outreach is my favorite,” Beard said, standing beside the open tailgate of her 2009 Kia. Her minivan is packed with clothes donated to the Mosaic Church where she also volunteers.
“I bring out three of everything and I always, in my head, pick one that would look best on them. Every single time they say I’ll take that one,” Beard laughs. “Everybody is styling and I can take credit for that.”
Ann Stone was one of the first to arrive. Stone said she’s been living in a camp nearby for years.
“I try to park my truck in the shade because it’s so hot,” Stone said, as she waited for the crew from StreetSide Showers to set up the mobile shower unit. “I look forward to it. I come to get a nice shower and for fellowship. They’re nice people, good people.”
Stone and many others here say the chance to see and catch up with friends is just as much of a draw as the services.
“It’s the human side of it. It’s not about any of this stuff,” Beard said pointing to her table full of clothes and food. “I mean you can ask anybody here. Are they appreciative that we’re here? Yes, they are, but I can tell you that’s probably not why they come.”
“We just enjoy the fellowship. The fellowship of seeing everybody come up here. I like to hang around with everybody after we get a shower and just chill.”
“I can’t imagine feeling invisible all the time, people don’t want to look at you. They don’t want you downtown, they don’t want you on the sidewalk,” Beard said. “I think it’s important to have human contact and an opportunity to have a real conversation with somebody who is not judging you.”
Beard says she knows the outreach isn’t a solution but it gives her a chance to suggest other programs that can help.
“This is a band-aid really, honestly, to the big problem. It serves a purpose.” Beard said. “The best thing is when somebody gets to move inside, that’s the best day ever. That’s why we do this.”