Five Things I’ve Learned About Homelessness

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It’s Friday and you know what that means! It’s time for Friday’s Fave Five Things. This Friday is going to be a slightly different departure from my normal Friday posts. I’m writing this from Canada, while visiting my son and daughter-in-law who work with the homeless and addicted in the Vancouver area. This trip has been a real eye-opener for me, stretching me WAY beyond my comfort zone and taking me into areas I never would have gone in the past. So this Friday, I want to share with you five things I’ve learned about homelessness on this trip, realizing that I’ve only scratched the surface of the problem.

1. Every homeless person has a story. Whether they are on the streets because they’ve lost their job or because of drug or alcohol addiction, they didn’t start out living on the streets. Taking the time to listen to their story can give you some real insight into what caused this turn of events and it also gives them the dignity of being listened to.

2. To truly minister to the homeless, you have to reach out to them. There is great loneliness on the street. Most of us, me included, when confronted with a homeless person, just avert their eyes and hurry by. But think of Jesus. When he’d pass beggars, the crowds and his own disciples would walk past but Jesus would stop, meet their eyes, and reach out to them. He’d connect with the beggars before he met their needs…..not their wants, but their true needs.

3. While many homeless are victims of their own addictions and poor decisions, they are also victims of unscrupulous landlords and businesses. Here in Vancouver, there are SRO’s which are hotels that rent out rooms to the homeless. These rooms are the size of a closet with one bed and one dresser and that’s it. They aren’t allowed to cook in these rooms. There is generally one bathroom for everyone on the floor to share. Thefts are a big problem as are rapes. Many homeless prefer to sleep on the street, thinking it safer than sleeping in a SRO. As soon as it was announced that Vancouver was going to be the site of the Winter Olympics, owners of the SROs raised the rents which were already high. Check-cashing businesses take advantage of the homeless, charging high fees to cash their government checks. Day laborers might work long hours with little or no breaks and then be paid below minimum wage but have no recourse to protest if they want the chance to be hired again, and this is in the U.S., too.

4. Getting admitted into a rehab facility can take a long time because there is often a wait for the good facilities. There are ministries that are stepping in after seeing this need and trying to help those who are really committed to getting off drugs or alcohol, giving them a place to stay and be mentored while waiting to be admitted to rehab. You could call it pre-hab. It’s a risk. You are investing yourself in someone who might backslide before they ever get into rehab. Yet doesn’t Christ take a risk with us every day? How many of us have never sinned once we admitted our need for salvation? Don’t we fall again and again and yet as we seek to follow Christ, we slowly become more Christ-like…..are slowly molded into His image. He waits, like the prodigal’s father, with open arms.

5. Working with the homeless can be lonely. These are America’s untouchables. Their problems are exacerbated by the additional problems of addiction and mental illness, in many cases. Progress can be more backwards motion than forwards motion some days. It is not easy to find supporters who will understand why you’d want to invest your time and energy working with people who seem to have created their own problems, in so many of these cases. The very people you are reaching out to aren’t always particularly grateful. Relapses are common. Living incarnationally in areas where the homeless congregate can cause you to be shunned yourself. If you know people who are working with the homeless, offer them some encouragement. It could be just the lift they need that day.

  • I was homeless with two children here are my 5 Things:

    1) Anyone can become homeless at any time. Common causes of homeless include: domestic violence, health conditions, financial crisis, lack of affordable housing, and unemployment.

    2) Homeless people are PEOPLE worthy of love, respect and care.

    3) We, as individuals and as a community, can do alot to make a positive difference. In alot of ways the system and government fails. We–as a people–can make a change. When the county shelter was full, it was school that put up room for families to sleep on the floor, on gym mats. Volunteers made sandwhiches and played with our kids. It was an amazing act of generosity.

    Look for ways you can help– Volunteer, Write your elected officials, Donate to free stores or charities, Get a group of people (friends, church, family, social groups, etc) to help or take up a project, Get more information on what you can do…

    4) There is always hope

    5) Children who are homeless need special care and attention. They are at risk for abuse (or are escaping abuse), and suffer emotionally. They lack stability, and often don’t develop close friendships. Runaways and foster children who grow out of the system are also at risk. These children deserve our love and care.

    My blog has stories and photography about abuse, homelessness and poverty. Some of my story is posted here:
    http://www.shadowwings.wordpress.com

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

  • A truly thought-provoking post.

  • It really was thought provoking like Barbara said. You opened my eyes about a few things. I had no idea about the SRO’s or about the lower than minumum wage pay. Praying for your son and daughter as they give of themselves in the Vancouver area.

  • Thank you so much for this post. Very informative and thought provoking. Your point about Jesus stopping to connect with the beggars everyone else passed by particularly touched me.

    God bless your kids for reaching out to this group of people.

  • When we lived in Oregon we volunteered with a ministy called Blanket Coverage. Then we moved to inner city Los Angeles and for 4.5 yrs we ministered with World Impact. So many times I was out of my comfort zone… thank you for sharing your heart and experience.

    Happy Easter!

  • That was really good, there are a lot of homeless in San Francisisco where I am living now, its sad to see and we need to see how to help them

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