I have always been somewhat of a humanitarian. I feel compelled by a thirst to do more for others, to encourage people facing adversity, to give away all of the hope and love I receive. It’s overflowing sometimes.
There are some days that I want to stop people as they are leisurely strolling down the street and go “Hey, man! There are PEOPLE sleeping OUTSIDE in the cold tonight! We have to DO SOMETHING!”. I have to admit that even I was oblivious to the staggering number of homeless in my own hometown until I became one. Once I became homeless myself, it was like someone took the blinders off. I saw people crouched in dark corners of buildings, people sleeping in their cars, mothers stealing food for their babies, people so wrought with shame by the end of the day that they could barely hold up their cardboard signs. I saw people beaten down by life everywhere. Some are perfect strangers to me, yet I feel I know them somehow.  These are my brothers and sisters.
Poverty is ugly. Poverty is unpleasant. Unfortunately, that is often manifested as the person is ugly and unpleasant. I used to avoid looking directly at a homeless person when I had nothing to give (which is NEVER true). Tunnel vision is common practice, and I remember adults telling me to look away as a child. Like homeless people don’t already feel an overwhelming sting of rejection from society. It’s the worst thing you can do. I’ve been told many times that just showing them that I’m not afraid is enough to restore their faith in humanity. It has become common practice for me to approach and ask if I can buy them a cup of coffee. I buy them a can of formula or diapers for their baby. Sometimes I just sit and talk with them. I ask questions. I empathize. They tell me who they “used to be”. They tell me about how they became homeless. A veteran of two wars tells me about the kind soul that gave him insulated boots, only to have the insoles stolen when he went to asleep at the shelter. We discuss how a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch. We live with the stereotypes that these people set up for us. It’s unfair, but we have already discovered that life often is.
Many of us aren’t criminals. We’re not addicts. We’re not freeloaders. We WANT to work. We WANT to be successful in life. To be in this position can make you feel like a helpless child.
I had the opportunity to host overnight for a homeless shelter. To experience Family Promise as a volunteer after having graduated the program as a guest created a flood of emotions for me. That night I chatted with volunteers and guests. We talked at length about our kids, the things that suck about shelter life, and the obstacles that people living in poverty face daily. Despite the subject matter there are smiles and laughter. There is a sense of relief and comfort when someone can truly relate to your struggle. Even though the other volunteers couldn’t understand being a homeless parent, conversations like that can provide some clarity and insight, making it easier to empathize with our plight and perhaps help unlearn any preconceived notions they may not realize they have. They don’t know it, but we can see the change after a volunteer has a moment with a guest that teaches them something.
The morning is brimming with the quiet strength of the weary. Families up at the crack of dawn, making sure that they have everything they need for the day before having to leave that week’s church at 6:30 a.m. Resilience in action. Let’s talk about that for a second. Resilience isn’t a trait. It’s a process, much like forgiveness. You have to condition yourself to navigate around multiple crises while finding a healthy way to cope with whatever trauma has resulted from said crises. To resist strong impulses that may not be in your families best interest. Resisting the urge to throw your hands up and say “Screw it!”. The presence of resiliency signals the potential for growth. What these families do is HARD. To claw your way out of the depths of Hell is not an easy task. Hopefully what you are left with is your dignity and restored faith in yourself and others. I grow as a person every time I visit Family Promise. It is the gift that keeps on giving.
Later that same day, a volunteer sees me at the gym and asks me how we are doing since Family Promise. This wasn’t a “How are you? (please just say fine and move along)”, this woman was genuinely curious and interested. I tell her just the cliffs notes on all of the blessings I have received. I get to tell her that the other families I graduated with are doing well and that we are still close and keep in contact. I’m able to tell her about my first night hosting. I’m excited to tell her these things because it demonstrates that we are part of something very good, and it WORKS. We are all living proof that this program is profoundly important. I am proud to be a part of something that believes in redemption and faith in the human spirit