Living on the Streets: How to Start Helping the Homeless
It’s 4:58 am. You wake up disoriented, looking for your alarm clock to hit snooze and turn off the buzzing noise. Then it hits you. There is no alarm clock.
The buzzing noise is the same delivery truck that backs up each morning a couple feet from the dumpster you sleep near. You have to go to the bathroom-but there’s nowhere to go. You’re starving-but the nearest shelters and churches won’t open for breakfast for another couple hours.
And you’re not alone-your 5-year-old daughter is still asleep next to you. You are homeless. You’re also a mother. And it’s been eight days straight on the streets. Well, reader, what would you do?
… According to the Almanac on Policy Issues, on any given night in America, anywhere from 700,000 to 2 million people are homeless…
Most of us react in one of three ways to the homeless:
Number one: They should get a job. Here’s a fact: The Almanac on Policy Issues reports that 44 percent did paid work during the past month. Thirteen percent have regular jobs.
Number two: They freak me out. I don’t know what they might do to me. Here’s a fact: 22 percent of homeless men and women have been physically assaulted. Seven percent have been sexually assaulted. And 38 percent say someone stole money or things directly from them.
Number three: There’s nothing I can do about it but give them a couple dollars and hope they don’t spend it on drugs or alcohol. Here’s a fact: There are things we can do and we’re going to look at some of them-right now.
…Forty percent are families with children-the fastest growing segment…
|Shelter’s 25th Anniversary Logo|
Here in New Mexico, Joy Junction is our largest homeless shelter. Beginning in 1986 with 52 acres, the shelter’s mission is to provide a “hand up, not a hand out,” to the homeless guests being served.
The founder and CEO, Dr. Jeremy Reynalds, described the openly Christian shelter, “We have a faith-based life recovery program which is basically built upon the Tyndale House Life Recovery Bible – of which we always needs more. (The homeless) want to know somebody cares. They want to know their life has meaning, value, and purpose.”
… According to the “Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress,” 23 percent are veterans (compared to 13 percent of general population)…
Reynalds said, “And that’s what we try to tell them a relationship with Jesus Christ does-gives their life meaning, adequacy, purpose, and fulfillment. If you’re a non-faith-based ministry or agency you have to replace the booze or the use of street drugs with something. These substances were filling an emotional vacuum. If you’re just saying ‘Get off this’-well why? For what? Having a relationship with Jesus is the core of everything that we do.”
… Homeless’ lifetime self-reported abuse problems: 62 percent alcohol and 58 percent drugs …
But how effective is this really? I mean, you’re homeless. You’re hungry. You’re depressed. You’re wearing the same clothes for weeks. How does Jesus fit into this picture?
Reynalds continued, “We’re very selective about who we have to come and teach the salvation message, the recovery message. They want to know how Jesus can help them cope with ten people in line for the restroom: how He can give them patience. They don’t care about the Greek exposition of a word. We’ll teach for about 20 minutes, just so they can have something to get through that night, that day, that week. It’s all about building a relationship where they can trust you – to hear what you have to say. It takes time. It’s messy. It’s not always rewarding. We do what we have to do: make Bibles, prayer, and food available. We’re open seven days a week.”
… 28 percent have more than a High School education…
Reynalds added, “Most people don’t realize we have two Albuquerques.”
He explained, “We have one Albuquerque comprising those who have, individuals who more or less have what they need and for whom the economic system is not a daily nightmare, and then we have the Albuquerque with someone struggling to make his way from one minute to the next.”
Reynalds continued, “All of us-when we woke up this morning-we had places to go and people to see. A homeless person can wake up not even knowing what time it is. You’re hungry; you stink a little bit. Any feelings of self-esteem you had go down the toilet (which you don’t have). If you’re outside, your life revolves around the daylight. You carry all your belongings on your back. You have no hope and it’s not enough for Christians to come along and go, ‘You need Jesus.’ They know they need Jesus because they want a friend. They need us to be a physical manifestation of Jesus, not an annoying voice that judgmentally tells them they need Jesus.”
“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’” (Matthew 25:34-40).
But how can we help? I mean, besides handing out a dollar. Or spending an afternoon at a homeless shelter just so we can ease our consciences back into our own comfortable corners of Christendom. How can we really help?
In a recent interview, Kathy Sotelo, Joy Junction’s Outreach Coordinator, offered some practical tips.
She said, “We have a great volunteer program. If you’re under 18, you have to have a guardian with you, but you can do almost anything at Joy Junction. You could serve food, serve drinks, read to the children, lead an arts and crafts class. You can get creative about what you want to bring to the shelter and offer our residents, be they adult or children.”
|Jeremy Reynalds stands with Joy Junction’s Lifeline of Hope mobile feeding unit.|
She added, “On a bit of a different track, the homeless (we meet on the street) want eye contact. They are no different than us. A simple hello and acknowledgment.”
“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17)
As Dr. Reynalds reminded me, “It is a literal mission field in the South Valley (of Albuquerque). And people forget. They want to go to Uganda, Mexico, Israel. While that’s not bad, we need them also to come south to Joy Junction.”
THREE THINGS TO DO THIS WEEK
1. Purchase a $5.00 gift certificate for McDonald’s. Place it in your backpack or car. Give it to the next homeless person you encounter-with God’s blessing.
2. Look through your closet. Pick out one blanket for a homeless man or woman and bring it to a homeless shelter.
3. Take $1.00 from your paycheck. Take it to the Dollar Store or somewhere similar and buy a lip balm, can of soup, a bottle of water or even a travel sized deodorant or bottle of shampoo. Donate it to a homeless shelter.
Rebekah Hanson was born and raised in the North Shore suburbs of Chicago, where she competed as a national champion in figure skating. After graduating with a J.D. from The Ohio State University, she moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is an editor and writer, and the mother of a beautiful daughter.