Tag Archives: homelessness

displaced, literally.

As you may or may not recall, I wrote briefly about the concept of sweeps awhile ago.  You can refresh your memory here, if necessary (for future reference, any time a word is underlined, chances are it’s a clickable link).

Yesterday I inadvertently came across this news story.   If you have a free minute and a half (which I’m going to assume you do, because reading these posts generally takes longer than that…), please watch it.

Let me break it down for you, though.  There’s an overpass here in town that, to quote the article, has “housed the homeless for years”.  But starting today, that will no longer be the case.  The City Code Enforcement said there has been a rise in complaints against the people living there, so they put up trespassing signs and kicked everyone out.  They also plan on moving more of the homeless on Monday, probably from their camps along the river.

I first watched this with someone who used to live under that overpass.  She was horrified, telling me stories of the people who still live there.  In the video, there’s a shot of a mattress being tossed carelessly aside.  That mattress belongs to a man who has lived in that spot for 2 1/2 years.

The article also says, “this solves the homeless problem here, but likely only moves it somewhere else.”

It seems, though, that moving the problem somewhere else is not, in fact, solving it anywhere.

The easy answer, if someone doesn’t have all of the facts, would be to send them here, to the Mission.  But that just isn’t plausible.

For example, there was a group of homeless teenagers who had banded together there as well.  None of them are 18, so they will have a particularly difficult time finding a new shelter.  The Mission can’t take them in because they are underage.

And even if they were older, we simply don’t have the capacity to even temporarily house all of these people.  I’ve already had to turn one family away because we just don’t have any more room.

There are extreme weather shelters that open temporarily between mid-November and March, but even they can only hold so many people.

I’m trying to figure out what Jesus would do in this situation, and I’m just not sure.  There aren’t really tables that can be flipped over in anger (Matthew 21, if you don’t know what I’m referring to) and even if there were, I’m not sure that would be especially helpful…

So, for now I guess I’ll just keep praying for this community that I love.  I’ll pray that our city would recognize that the open-ended action that they took was unjust.  And I’ll pray that some kind of solution would arise, and that something good could somehow come from what seems like an awful situation.

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dropped off.

On Sunday a woman checked in, and I walked back to the parking lot with her so she could get the rest of her possessions out of someone’s car.  Her mom had kicked her out somewhat unexpectedly, and then had a friend drive her to the Mission.

She stood there, staring at the open trunk for awhile as though at any time her mom would call her and say, “just kidding, I changed my mind, you can come back now.”  After a few long minutes, she slowly began to unload her things.  She moved in slow motion, still hoping to wake up, and when her bags were on the ground around her and her backpack was on, she began to cry. Softly at first, and then harder as reality finally set in.  The person dropping her off pulled her in for a hug as though that would make her feel better about her circumstances.  It didn’t.  She was still crying as the trunk closed and the car drove away.

Her sorrow ran deep, stemming from a lack of hope–she didn’t have a definitive time frame to work with, so she had no idea how long this new stretch of her life would be.  It ended up being less than 24 hours before her mom changed her mind again and came to pick her up so they could work out their issues, but those hours were rough.  She wandered around aimlessly, fighting the inevitable process of checking in, and calling everyone she could think of to try to get them to pick her up.

I’ve been feeling a lot like her lately.

There are days when it is especially hard, when I feel as though Jesus dropped me off here in this life and then left me to fend for myself.  When it seems like I ask question after question about what I should be doing, and I am only offered silence in return.

And I know–oh, how I know–that He meets us in our weak points, in our loneliness, but I get so tired sometimes.  Not fed up, but exhausted, trying to fill those empty spaces with busyness so that I don’t have to feel them.  I waver between desperately wanting to be answered by the Lord and being afraid that He’ll tell me something I don’t want to hear.

I know that I’m not alone in these feelings, that there are a ton of people who can’t figure out their purpose in life and they feel like they’re just waiting around to hear something.  But how long do we wait?  And what do we do in the meantime?

I don’t know the answers to those questions.

I do know that, while the woman in the parking lot had nothing to put her hope in and nothing that told her things were going to get better, my reality is a different one.

I know that I have a hope built on Jesus’ blood and righteousness (how many of you are singing that hymn in your head right now? So good.)

I also know that God is for us, that nothing can separate us from His love, that He has a greater purpose for us and can make something good out of places where there seems to be only brokenness.

And I guess for now, knowing those things has to be enough.


fifty-five.

While I enjoy the spontaneity and the day-to-day surprises that this job brings, there are certain things that happen here regularly enough to make me wonder if there’s not some calendar somewhere that I don’t know about that would help clue me into what’s going on.

It would just be extraordinarily helpful, for example, if I knew when certain kids were going to all of a sudden start screaming in the parking lot.  Or dining room.  Or the middle of chapel.  I’m sure there’s some sort of secret schedule that all of them are on, but I can’t quite figure it out.

Also, if I could figure out which days people were going to run out of their medications (or just decide to stop taking them), I could, in theory, be better prepared for those encounters.  I am sometimes accidentally overconfident when it comes to certain conversations; I assume that the responses to my questions will be rational, and then am caught off guard when someone tells me my dad’s just given them a job (he hadn’t) or they’re being seized by the government (they weren’t).

And then there are the people who come back to the Mission near the end of most months because they’ve spent all of their money.  One would think that I would remember this because it happens so often, but I get caught up in other things and then am genuinely surprised to see them back here.  This creates a pretty chaotic environment at the end of the month, and this month is no exception.

Currently, we have also been inundated with people who have come up from camping at the river because the police are doing what are called “sweeps”.  They go through the camps every so often, looking for people who have outstanding warrants and things like that.  Some of the people who come here are hiding from them, but most of them just don’t want to be relentlessly questioned while having their worldly possessions picked through and examined.  Can’t say I blame them.

Rarely do those last two events occur simultaneously; when they do, though, things get hectic.  Currently we’re in a season like that.  I’m being dramatic by using the word ‘season’; at the end, there will really only have been about 10 days of being filled to the brim.  Yesterday a couple, a single woman, and a family of 3 all checked in, bringing our side of the Mission nearly to capacity.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about the fact that there are several nights a week when I’m the only person overseeing all of these women and families.  Last night I sat at dinner and counted 55 different people in our section–that means 55 different life stories that I’m familiar with, 55 different plans that have to be thought out and worked through, and 55 different personalities that I have to figure out how to relate to in a helpful way.

It’s absolutely worth the exhaustion that I feel, however, when they begin to trust me enough to ask me to pray for them or they tell me the truth about something even though they’re not sure what my response will be.

I’m learning to listen both to what is being spoken out loud and to what is actually being said; it’s necessary for all relationships, not just the ones with the people I’m working with.  People can tell when they’re being genuinely cared for, as opposed to simply being dealt with or managed.

So even though there are times when it feels like I can’t even keep track of my own life, let alone the lives of friends/family members/coworkers, I’m reminded of how important it is to even just remember small things–to ask about things that they care about, even when I have no interest in the topic.  If we all listened to others as much as we want to be listened to, I think the world would work a little more efficiently.  And I think Jesus would be pleased by our efforts; after all, he created us to love…so we might as well do it, right?


one year later.

As of late, it’s rare for me to write two posts in a month, let alone in a single week.  But as of yesterday, I’ve been working at the Mission for exactly a year, so I thought it might be fun (maybe not the right word, but the one I’m going to stick with) to look back at how I got where I am now.

Last year, I was a campus missionary in training, trying to figure out what in the world I was supposed to do with my life.  I knew that I wanted to be in a place where I could love people and tell them about Jesus, but I wasn’t sure which people I was supposed to love.  The obvious answer, of course, is “everyone”, but that seemed too broad…

So I prayed for a more focused answer.   Then I talked to my parents, my friends, my roommates, the girls in my Bible study, co-workers, other campus pastors, random people I met on campus, etc.  And then, I prayed some more.

After a few agonizing months of indecision, I realized that it didn’t really matter where I landed.  As long as I was following the Lord and earnestly seeking His will for my life, I was probably going to end up in a good place.  Once I realized that, things became way less stressful.

Around that same time, one of my best friends told me that there was a job opening at a Mission in my hometown.  I laughed at her, because I knew there was NO WAY I was moving back.  I was headed for bigger and better things.

But those bigger and better things kept falling by the wayside, as I was quietly reminded that it wasn’t about what I wanted at all.  The adventures that I wanted to take were, in a strange way, safer and more comfortable than going back home.

Because for me, heading home meant that I would have to fight against people’s perceptions.  I would have to prove to those who knew me that my years away had changed me, that Jesus really had done a good work in me, and that was something that I didn’t feel up to doing.  I wanted to go somewhere new where I could reinvent myself, where I wouldn’t have to deal with silent judgement and the constant questioning about whether or not I was really any different.

I was reminded, though, of 1 Timothy 1:15-17.

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners —of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

I was shown mercy so that people would see the change in me.  My life is meant to be an example, as are the lives of everyone who is following Jesus.  I was forgiven and changed so that people would look at me and realize that He really does work miracles.  I’m not saying that I’m done being changed, because really, I’m reminded daily (sometimes even hourly!) of how far I have yet to go, of how many things in me still need to be refined.

And so, I came back.  I started spending time with people who’ve found themselves in a tough spot.  And I began to realize just how much Jesus wanted me back here, wanted me to see for myself how much I have changed, wanted me to see how much being here would change me even further.

Because I’ve realized how much I am able to love these people unconditionally.   Even when things are crazy and the shelter is completely full like it has been lately, and so I feel like I can’t give everyone the time and energy they deserve from me, I love them.  Even when they ask me about something that I just spent 20 minutes explaining, or they get gum all over the sidewalks that I then have to scrape, or they for some reason find it impossible to follow even the simplest of rules, I love them.  That is definitely not something I would have been able to say a year ago.

And so, as I head into Year 2 (of many, hopefully), I’m excited for the things that God is going to keep teaching me, and I’m really excited about getting to keep hanging out with and loving on the people here.


faithfulness.

The admission I’m about to make is not for the purpose of trying to gain either your affirmation or your sympathy (really).  It is just something that needs to be written because I think I can often come across as overly confident when I’m talking/writing about what I do at the Mission.

And so, I think it needs to be noted that there are times when I don’t think I’m very good at my job.  For those of you reading for the first time, I should probably explain that I work at a homeless shelter.  Because I work long hours, and because I have the unique privilege of living on-site, I spend a lot of time here.  And because not all of the women who come in have people in their lives to give them solid Godly advice, they often use me as a sounding board for their problems and ideas.

The thing is, though, that a lot of the things that they face on a day-to-day basis are things I have yet to encounter.

For example, I’ve never been married.  I’ve never had a boyfriend who cheats on me or spends all of my money on his drug habit.  I get along–for the most part–with my parents, and I know that I’d always have a place to go back to if things didn’t work out the way I thought they would.

I haven’t ever known what it is like to be hungry because there is just no food to be had and I have nearly always had a bed to sleep in (the exception is on mission trips, where sleeping on cement floors is an adventure).

Because of that, I have to try harder to understand how people at the Mission think.  It’s not easy for me to always recognize the instinct that most of them have in them that causes them to be a little unsure, a little brusque, not always willing to automatically let me into what they’re thinking because they’re afraid of being looked over or looked past again.

I have this sometimes overwhelming desire to try to fix everyone and everything, even though I know there’s no way I can.  I’ve mentioned that before, but I think it’s worth writing again because, despite the fact that I know better, it is still easy for me to get swept up in the unrealistic notion of measuring success in terms of results.

When I can’t immediately find the right words to say to someone, or when I get so tired of having the same conversations with the same people over and over, frustration takes over.  The results aren’t what I want, and so I feel like I’m failing.  Hence my earlier admission of often feeling like I’m not very good at my job.

And so, I’ve had to remind myself that I need to shift my thinking.  I want to share this with you because I think it’s a reminder that we all need:  If we are following the Lord and desiring to do things His way, then success cannot be measured by standards that we make up ourselves.  Neither can it be measured by standards set before us by other people.

For at least two straight years, one of my favorite people in the world beat it into my head that true success has to be measured by faithfulness.  She’s a wise woman, that one.

Success measured by faithfulness is such a freeing concept, when you think about it.  To be faithful means to press ahead in what God has called you to, even when you want to give up day after day after day.  It means sitting and listening even when you know you aren’t going to have a solution to whatever problem is being presented, and trusting that the Holy Spirit will let you know what, if anything, needs to be said.  It means that, if you’re earnestly desiring to serve Christ and to show his love and grace to the people around you, the concept of “being good” at something takes on an entirely new and different meaning.

Is being faithful easy?  No.  Definitely not.  But it is absolutely worth it.


healed.

John 5:1-6 says this:

“Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.  Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.  Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?'”

Seriously?

Of all the opening lines he could have used, Jesus uses that one?

I’ve read those verses a dozen times, but this time I realized how ridiculous it is that Jesus needs to even ask that question.  As though he needed to make sure that the man did, in fact, want to get well.

But what if the idea of being healed was something the man was uncomfortable with?  After all, he’s lived broken for years.  Being healed would mean relearning how to do everything, it would mean not having a ready answer to why he does things a certain way, it would mean that he would have to learn how to live whole.

I could very easily compare this to the people at the Mission–and I’m going to–but first, I need to make an admission:  there are certain areas of my life that, if Jesus was standing in front of me right now and he asked if I wanted them fixed, I’d hesitate to say yes.  And I’m willing to bet that you could say the same.

Why do we do that?

Why do we insist on staying stuck where we are, knowing that Jesus would change us if we just asked?

I obviously can’t speak for all of us, but I do it because it makes me feel safe.  I don’t want to trade in my insecurities and shortcomings, not having any idea what I’m going to get in return.  I like having something to hide behind, even if that something slowly and systematically tears me up.

The people that I see here are the exact same way.  So many of them can’t comprehend not being homeless because that label has become a sort of safe haven for them.

They are afraid to try to be anything else because they’re afraid of failing.

The name of the pool in the aforementioned verse is “Bethesda”.  The name comes from both the Hebrew and the Aramaic languages, and it has a double meaning.  Get ready for this…it can mean house of mercy and grace OR shame and disgrace.

So we’re given this choice.

We can choose to sit near the pool of healing, knowing that all we have to do is step in, but finding ourselves too afraid to make that move, to let go of our shame.  This shame and disgrace stems from addictions, eating disorders, an unwillingness to forgive, mental illness, a lack of self-worth, and a host of other things.  We can so easily let these things consume us and cause us to live life in hiding, too familiar with and comfortable in our shame and lack of self-worth to do anything about it.

Or! (I love that there’s another choice!)

We can recognize that the pool we’re sitting by is one of mercy and grace.  It’s one that welcomes all, despite background, financial status, or even perceived level of disgrace (because, if you’re anything like me, you find yourself believing that there are just some patterns of thought or behavior that are way worse than others).  When Jesus asks us if we want to be healed, we can say “yes, please change me!” and let him begin to reshape us and make us whole.  And it doesn’t end there…he promises to never leave a work unfinished, and I’m pretty sure that means he’ll give us the resources and community we need to learn how to live in our new skin.

So I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty neat to me.  I’m getting tired of carrying around all this baggage.

Will you join me in beginning to make this change?


following blindly.

As I may have mentioned before (or maybe I just think about it a lot), I have mixed emotions when it comes to having kids here at the Mission.

I love when they crawl up onto my lap during chapel, I love seeing them run across the parking lot just so jazzed about everything, I even love having to tell them for the hundredth time to stop playing on the stairs.

They draw me pictures of their families, they tell me about everything that’s happening, they pretend like their hands are spiders to attempt to creep me out (it totally works.  every time.), they remind me to not take things too seriously.

When there are kids here, sticks become swords or lightsabers, the cracks in our parking lot become the only safe places to walk so we’re not swallowed up by lava, and everything just gets so much more exciting.

I love them.

At the same time, if they’re here, it means that they’re homeless.  It means that in their short lives, they have already known displacement and confusion and fear about the future.

It means they don’t have their own bed with Spiderman sheets or a kitchen table to sit around or a place to invite their friends to come hang out.  It means they stand in line for meals and attempt to do their homework in a room filled with everything their family owns.

When there are kids here, there is a heightened need to make this as safe a place as possible, it becomes even more obvious that one person’s choices can so easily affect others, and it seems as though reality sets in hard.

But these kids are survivors.

Through them, I am learning what it means to fully trust the Lord.  These kids have been through a lot, but they still believe that their parents want what’s best for them.  In some cases, they’re absolutely right.  In others, the parents don’t actually want that, or they do but they have no idea how to go about providing for or supporting their children.

Whatever the situation, most of these kids trust that this time will be the time that their moms or dads get it right.  They move forward blindly, recognizing that, for now, someone else is in charge of their life.  And they trust that whoever is leading will make the right decision.

The obvious difference here is that the Lord does, in fact, always make the right decision with regards to our lives.  Whether or not we think that’s true at the time, it always eventually becomes clear that what He thought was best was actually way better than what we were thinking.

And so, I am realizing that this blind trust that these kids have been modeling for me is what is necessary to follow Jesus.  He doesn’t always give us the plan ahead of time, he simply asks us to follow.

Stepping out in faith means we don’t always see where our feet are going.