Being homeless generally doesn't get to Raleigh Worthington.
He's a positive guy, especially when it comes to the Lawrence Community Shelter.
"There's not a hungry person in this building. There's not a person here without clothes. There's not a person here without a place to stay at night," Worthington says.
"It doesn't matter that I sleep on a mat every night, or the guy next to me is having some gas problems ... or this guy over here's snoring too loud. That's trivial stuff, compared to the fact that I need a place to stay."
But as his sixth Christmas at the shelter approaches, he admits it's hard to stay positive.
"All of a sudden on that day it seems like it all comes down at once, as to where you'd like to be versus where you are ... not being with family, not being with close friends," he says.
While much of the rest of Lawrence is abuzz with holiday energy, it's a challenging time to keep the shelter upbeat, says the shelter's manager, Diane Huggins.
"Christmas is sold as a time for families, and for many, many, many people here there are no families,' Huggins says.
"So we just try to make it as close to home and happiness as we can," she says.
Christmastime at the shelter
There's a Christmas tree up in the hallway. Christmas music on the radio. Christmas lights, garland, homemade decorations and greeting cards up on the walls. Cookies and cakes brought in most days by volunteers.
And today the shelter hosts its main Christmas party. The 76 guests eat a big breakfast — egg casserole, sausage and bacon, fruit and cinnamon rolls — and then open gifts from their secret Santa.
Everybody can ask for up to three items, each under $25, and local churches and individuals sign up to make sure everyone on the list gets something they'd like.
"People ask for anything from warm gloves to backpacks — it's all real practical stuff. Nothing exotic," Huggins says. That goes for even the lists from the families at the shelter, she says.
"But with the families, the people who have been buying gifts will get the practical stuff — the blankets and things like that — and then they'll also get some toys for the kids," Huggins says.
First Christmas with kids
After the Salvation Army closed this year, the Lawrence Community Shelter started taking in families. Currently they have five: two with two kids, and three with one kid, says director Loring Henderson.
"That's a whole new twist for us to have them here any time, but particularly Christmas time," Henderson says.
One of them is Joseph McKinley Williams Sr. and his 4-year-old granddaughter, Keyonna Renee.
"She's just a totally adorable, precious, smart little girl who's kind of got everybody around here entranced," Henderson says.
It's not long before she comes marching through the doors, headed for the staircase.
"Down, down, down the stairs!" she sings over and over again. Her grandfather starts to keep her quiet, but Raleigh Worthington steps in.
"She's OK, she's OK! Come on in the house, girl," Worthing says. "Yes, indeed."
"I think we should have had families here sooner," he says. "Because families bring that family atmosphere, and it can be somewhat contagious to the rest of us. Kids bring everyone back to a sense of real reality, because they don't have that mentality of problems, stress, worry and all that stuff."
Williams and his granddaughter came to the shelter in October. At 53, it's the first time he's ever been homeless. He was evicted from his apartment in Lawrence when his landlord found out that he still had two extra people living with him, despite him telling Williams that they had to leave.
"I was helping my son and girlfriend because they didn't have a place to live. They weren't supposed to be in my apartment with me and (Keyonna), but I was trying to give them a hand so they could get on their feet," Williams says.
Now, he's just grateful to have a place to live, while he works to find an apartment — no easy task despite having disability income for rent.
"You're praying someone accepts," he says. "Once you get an eviction on your record, it makes it hard to get an apartment where you'd want to be at. I'm glad we had a place our family could go, and not have to be out on the streets. I'm just grateful for this place."
For her part, Keyonna's too busy playing with the other kids to be worried about being homeless, Williams says.
"She's said, 'We're not gonna have no house this year, but we're still gonna have Christmas. Christmas gonna come either way.' Kid has a big vocabulary!" he says.
How much more do you need?
This is the first Christmas that Christopher Cotymaier will be homeless, too.
It's also the first Christmas that the 21-year-old is coping with a Kansas winter. He came from Riverton, Calif., last month because he knew getting out was the only way he was going to change.
He was selling and using drugs, and trying to change his lifestyle there wasn't working.
"Nobody knows me here. I can be whatever I want. I don't got homies trying to beat me up or jump me because I didn't go or do what they wanted," Cotymaier says. "It's what I want to do, I can finally be me. This place has helped me do that."
He picked Lawrence because of his uncle, who lives in a halfway house here. His dad is in prison, and his mom died seven years ago. His only other relatives are his two kids, who live in Texas with his ex.
"Everybody out there is broke now, and it just got rougher and rougher as the days went by. I had this undying urge to feed my children, to get them where they need to be," he says of his two boys, who are 18 months and 30 months old.
"My kids give me a reason to get up in the morning. Before them, I'd still be out there doing drugs and selling them until I was 80."
His plan now is to get a Kansas ID card, a Social Security card, a job, a GED and then enroll at Kansas University.
"Might as well — it's a college town. And everything's a lot more peaceful here. I don't have to look over my back," he says. "I can just go. Everything's easy. I like it."
As for being here by himself for the holidays, Cotymaier shrugs it off.
"I haven't had a Christmas in seven years," he says. "There's a feeling I remember from growing up, and that to me is Christmas."
Raleigh Worthington knows there's nothing he can do to truly recreate that feeling for other guests at the shelter. But he says that won't stop him from making the most of it.
"You gotta try to create that spirit, that atmosphere," he says.
"You'll wake up Christmas Eve or Christmas morning and you'll walk in — and you're not singing very loud, but you're singin' loud enough for people in earshot to hear you singin' a Christmas carol, and they look at you and ask you: 'Why you so happy?'" Worthington says.
"Because I'm alive, and I'm breathing, and I'm lookin' at you and I'm talking to you. How much more do you need?"