It’s a damp 45 degrees and dark out at 5:30 on a mid-December evening. Other than lights from the warming hut the camp seems gloomy in the fog. Nathan Showers sits in the hut on a beat-up rolling office chair, the door wide open to the elements, and gives me a hearty greeting when I enter the door frame.
A big man with a bushy, full beard, at 47 Nathan seems perfect for the job of Camp Manager at Nightingale Hosted Shelters. He’s approachable, confident and seemingly impervious to the chill air. And, he’s a man on a mission.
I ask him how he got to this time and place and in short order it’s clear to me that this is a man who knows what he wants for Nightingale and will most likely get it. He wants a fence around the cluster of Conestoga-style huts so that the residents feel more secure. He wants a bath house so that the residents can enjoy the simple necessity of a shower. He wants a hook-up to the nearby power pole so residents don’t have to rely on the few solar panels and the gas generator that only runs a few hours each night. Given what his perseverance has gotten so far, and what his dedicated board of directors have accomplished to make Nightingale what it is today, it seems only a matter of time.
Because of the efforts of Nathan, his friend and co-founder Tracy, and the board, Nightingale has wifi, a couple of computers and a printer so that the residents can find jobs, fill out applications and send and receive email – all simple things that most of us take for granted. They have a kitchen, run mostly on propane with help from the generator, so that the residents can store and cook food. Because the city-owned parking lot the camp sits on slopes toward the kitchen, they have double-thick rubber floor mats in the kitchen to keep their feet dry as water flows through. They have porta potties and a warming hut. They have a hand washing station and even a TV. And most importantly, they are surrounded by neighbors who are happy to have them.
It was a battle to even get Nightingale started. Nathan and Tracy badgered city officials, moved from location to location and worked with the neighborhood association. When they first wanted to move to their location near 34th and Hilyard, they went door-to-door in a three-block radius and met the neighbors, both homeowners and businesses. They explained that they planned to run a tight ship. There’d be no panhandling, no dumpster diving. They’d keep a clean, tidy camp. In short, they’d be model neighbors.
Model neighbors they are. All residents are fully vaccinated against Covid. They all participate in camp clean-up and camp meetings. And they all have the dignity of people who are on their way to fuller lives.