I noticed homeless people from a young age, like I’m sure most people did. Sometimes, especially in a good sized city, it’s hard not to notice.
I grew up during my elementary ages close to downtown and that’s been a central location for homeless people forever. Now I’m living miles away and they’re chilling at the gas station and under bridges everywhere around here.
There’s been several news stories about homelessness lately that spurred this blog post. In each story, they’ve mentioned their mission to help these people with their basic needs and that many people overlook these people – there’s a lack of compassion.
Sometimes it’s scary, really. All these people are living on the street, not protected by shelter unless under the bridge or under a lot of trees off the highway (I’ve seen it). It’s been a few months back, I think, when a man who was living in a homeless camp down the road got into a fight with another homeless man and was killed.
It’s scary to me for two reasons. 1) it’s scary because I want them to have the opportunity to get out of there, it’s scary because I would be scared to be in their position, even though it would be a very real possibility had I made different life choices or God hadn’t provided all the provisions I’ve had along the way thus far. 2) it’s scary because the killing kind of people are also living on the street and you never know who you’re walking past or who’s asking for money on the side of the exit ramp.
I think some of this gives people pause before helping the homeless. It’s uncomfortable. It’s out of the zone of comfort.
My city has been a major hub for homeless people, I’ve heard and experienced. We have several organizations that are here to help the homeless, whether that be providing meals, clothes, blankets, shelter, spiritual outreach and job opportunities.
Last month, my friend asked if I would be interested in volunteering with a particular organizations outreach opportunity on a Thursday evening. I knew she had gone and helped out a few times before and I was a bit hesitant because again, out of that good ole comfort zone! I accepted though – when you feel like you should help when you can, you should.
Why did I accept?
I think I accepted for a couple of reasons. My Dad was never actually homeless but he very well could have been a few times in his life. He talked about it a lot when he saw homeless people and he sympathized for them. A lot of times when he would go through all his shirts and other clothes to get rid of them, he would take them to the day center where they would distribute them to the homeless. I personally also feel bad for them because while I’m not homeless, sometimes I wonder where I’d be if I didn’t have family to live with. That makes me think of where their family is and why they’re not helping them. Did they try?
Being a part of the Bible Belt of the United States should be like the best place to be homeless, realistically. Christians live, historically, by a different set of standards than those in the secular world. Right? Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? Secular world says we should just care about others and that’s a human thing to do. Christians are called to that because it’s not a human thing to do. We’re more prone to just say how sorry we are that that happened or to be the ones to cause homelessness than actually get in there and meet the people that are homeless and invest in a personal way. Right??
What we’re seeing though is that Christians aren’t investing in the homeless, especially now when there’s even more homeless people than usual. Oh my goodness, guys… What would Jesus do?
During our time under the bridge, everyone starts with prayer and they break everyone out into different groups with different missions for the night. Some are dishing up food, some are handing out clothing items like jackets and gloves, others are cleaning the bridge area – picking up trash and sweeping, and others are engaging the homeless in lines or standing around – this is called the hospitality group.
We were in the hospitality group. Not what we had planned to do (they normally have other areas to help out but either because of the shorter days upon us at the time or COVID, those options were not available), but we found that this group was probably what we needed and what God had for us instead. Again, we were put out of our comfort zone. Hospitality? Engaging these homeless strangers in conversation? The horror – my lack of faith in myself.
Walking around we were definitely overthinking it. What to say. Who to talk to. We ended up being guided by what they said to us. They needed a bottle of water. We went and grabbed some and handed them out. Then, one man came up to us and asked us to pray for him.
We stood there and talked for a few minutes. He actually kind of reminded me of my Dad. I felt like maybe that’s what God wanted me to see that night. That these people are just like us, but handed different cards in the game of life. It’s not a game though, it’s real. We all take different journeys with different heartaches, struggles, trials. This man was needing prayer for his health, nothing he knew of was wrong but I think he just needed to stay healthy for his own sake, to continue to provide for himself. He had a job but he wasn’t working much and staying at the shelter because at that present time he couldn’t afford to live anywhere. He was looking into a job at Goodwill and needed prayer for that to work out – or that something better than where he was presently at would come along.
He had a necklace that I recognized at the time but have since forgotten the specifics of, and that spurred us to ask about it. It was something I had seen around Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. This man said that he had 18 years of sobriety! I was proud of him. At Dad’s passing he had over 21 years. A part of me wonders if Dad knew him from meetings at some point. That would have been cool.
He was a great man to talk to – he was kind and ambitious, I could tell. I know that if he had the resources, he would be there with us helping the other homeless people, but honestly, he could minister to those other people with his testimony. So that’s something to think about, too. I hope and pray that this man we met would be taken care of by our community and that God would provide that next job opportunity for him to be able to be on our side of this outreach someday soon.
I guess, it made it easier to know that some of these people just had some struggles handed to them like being laid off due to the drop in economy and eviction rather than life choices like drug and alcohol addiction. Things that you can’t control vs the life choices that cause your misfortunes. It’s easier to talk to them because they understand the goals, the steps and what they need to do to get back to having basic needs provided for themselves. They don’t want to be homeless or struggling. Not that the addicts want to be homeless but they’re caught in a cycle and either don’t want out because of their addiction and all it entails or they don’t know how because people don’t help them – either because they don’t want to or they don’t know how themselves.
Whichever side we’re on, either the helping side or the homeless side, we have choices to make. To help/be helped, or let someone else do it/let someone else get the help we could received.
I also found that perhaps… some of this outreach will be going to people who are only taking the help because that’s what the community should do. Some homeless people just choose to be homeless without much reason behind it – I don’t quite understand but I know that some missionaries are homeless but maybe in a different sense… not sure – just something I’ve heard through the grapevine. Anyway, I do think that some people won’t glean anything from the social aspect or spiritual outreach that’s given. Some won’t be receptive to the kindness. I think going in there we should pray that even if that does happen and these people are not changed in one night, that a seed was planted so that later on they might be saved and they can experience the power of Jesus.
It’s hard sometimes to ask for help. I know it is for me. I’ve struggled with asking for help since elementary school – science was a tough one for sure back then. I’ve gotten better and sometimes I think I ask too many questions, but then I’m like… if I don’t ask enough questions and mess up what am I gonna do??? Balance, my friends, balance.
It was scary being under that bridge, not gonna lie. It was getting dark and some of them didn’t look very nice (I know, appearances are deceiving), and nonetheless, it was hard to engage with people in that situation.
God calls us to not be afraid. He also calls us to be apart of such ministries. These are vulnerable people in our communities – vulnerable to the brutality of others, vulnerable to diseases, vulnerable to lack of nutrition, vulnerable to weather dangers.
If we’re not able to help physically or by donation of funds or material items or food, please remember to pray for these people.
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.Proverbs 19:17 ESV
For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’Deuteronomy 15:11 ESV