Although I have watched the homeless epidemic from afar, I have been the first (sadly) to walk a wide berth around one sitting on the sidewalk and look the other way when approaching an intersection with a panhandler. This is not helped by the drug epidemic here (and all over) as some act strange or scary when I pass them on the streets.
I’ve even been a bit judgemental. I’ve seen panhandlers step away from their “post” and pull out a cell phone. I’ve seen those not begging who have cell phones. I’ve wondered “What the heck? Are they not really homeless? They have money for a phone!” (Yes, I know that there are panhandlers working the system and ones who appear to be scammers.) I’ve heard others talk of this cell phone issue and for anyone who has these same questions, I encourage you to read this. It explains a lot.
As nervous as I was, hubs and I volunteered two nights ago at a homeless shelter. My friend Mark Hovarth from Invisible People would be proud of me, I suspect. I usually do step into some type of ministry once settled at a church. Commonly this was AWANA, VBS, Children’s Church or Nursery-often helped along by the fact that I had children. I entered safe ministries, of course. I had to feel safe. Focusing on serving others not only blessed them but had the unexpected benefit of taking much of my focus off of ME.
My children are grown now (although two still hang at home) and as much as I still love interacting with kiddos, I felt nudged a different direction this time. (Disclaimer- this may or may not been initially somewhat influenced by book research).
My nerves ahead of time didn’t make me proud. Hubs announcing “well I’m going to go circulate” when we got there made me more nervous. HA! But I knew these were just people. I already work with some at-risk populations at ARMS and I’ve worked with juvenile delinquents in the past (I would not call them that these days, by the way). Certainly, I could do this too.
So off I went to a table of folks waiting for the dinner call. There were some females there, but mostly men. We talked, I looked them in the eye and I asked for their stories. I left the table blown away. One was homeless due to a layoff and then a severe foot break requiring multiple surgeries. Another, with schizophrenia, was turned down by social security disability and is in the process of appealing. But she had nowhere to stay for the past five months in the meantime.
Throughout the evening, several gentlemen came to introduce themselves. “You must be new”, I heard. And I asked them their story. At one point a man asked me politely for a pen. There was a guy at his table who had work he could do, and he needed to write down the info. Another young man is clean now but had a criminal past and when his apartment situation fell apart due to his record, he had nowhere to go. During the days, he works for the temporary labor agencies as much as possible, but there is not enough income to secure housing quite yet.
I could hardly understand the garbled speech of one older gal. But she had some very specific needs and I helped her throughout the evening. There was an event that terrified her. I quickly saw, understood and sympathized. Living on the street would be terrifying. I would be jumping at every strange thing, as well. She ran. I went and got her, and we tried again, this time with my help. As I walked through it with her, it showed her that she could be victorious. She learned to trust just a little bit that night. Later when I was almost ready to go she was chatting again and I was shocked to realized that I pretty much understood everything that she was saying.
Today at church, our pastor spoke on specifically greeting and showing Jesus’ love to people “not like us” in his message. He has spent time in Kenya and Rwanda and mentioned how comforting it is when he, as the obvious minority in the group, is specifically sought out by them to be welcomed. Because of this, he now makes it a point to find and greet people who are different from he in most situations. He showed us stats about the Hillsboro area. Although over slightly 50% of Hillsboro are white/caucasian (as of 2017), we don’t see those numbers reflected in our church numbers. Attendees are mostly white/caucasian.
This explains why Sonrise has intentionally made very specific programming and ministries to draw minorities, people born outside of the USA, people who have been in prison and multi-cultural individuals. It is a great thing.
I shall make an intentional practice now of greeting and loving on people who are different than me, no matter how nervous I might initially feel. I’m pleased to say that we got a headstart on this two days ago at the SOS shelter. We will return. With a change in my focus, I am getting outside my head, issues, challenges and pain. I am getting outta me.