By Joshua De Oliveira

The distinct smell of unwashed clothes and hair begins to fill the basement of our church in Boulder. Men of various ages and sizes trot down the stairs carrying stacks of thin Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow (BOHO)-provided blankets which they spread on the floor. Many of the men bring their own sleeping bags. My mom, brother, and I, along with a rotating volunteer, set up our food station. We offer simple items—sandwiches, noodles, pizza, cookies—along with a variety of hot and cold drinks. Most of the men thank us profusely. Many stop to chat.

One of the men, who wears a surgical mask over his stringy grey beard, presumably covering up some sort of injury, grins wildly and explains that he cut his own hair in a McDonald’s restroom with a pair of broken scissors. He is in an unusually good mood. Usually he rants about conspiracies to kill him. He thinks everything we serve tastes like formaldehyde. He tells stories about toxic sewage sites in the mountains containing huge amounts of radiation. He’ll mumble about a brother taken away by the government for secret testing. He hasn’t seen him for ten years. He sees talking wolves on Pearl Street.

We listen and respond to this man and to all the others who have sad stories, tragic stories, sometimes crazy-sounding stories. We often feel depressed at how little we have to offer. Macaroni and cheese. A hard rectangle of lino on the basement floor. But listening makes me feel good about what we’re doing. Listening is one of the greatest acts of service a human can provide to another. Everyone craves attention, especially when they have nothing else and are so undervalued by society. Churches often talk about the need to serve and that the servants will come first in the eyes of God. It isn’t always easy or comfortable to serve, but I’m glad we make it a priority to try to make a small difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

Boulder Seventh-day Adventist Church is one of 14 hosting congregations that partner with BOHO. It provides shelter every Tuesday for a small group of Boulder homeless individuals with a record of good behavior.

Joshua De Oliveira is a sophomore at Boulder High School. He is co-leader of the Boulder Seventh-day Adventist Church’s BOHO Residents’ Shelter.