Hanging with the homeless has been an experience that I will never forget. Monday night, I found out that Mont, my good friend who kind of looked like Santa Clause might have been selected to go to a shelter and receive some much needed help. I am really happy for him if the news on the streets is true. I have also found out that the larger woman who usually sits by herself and never talks to anyone (even the women) was picked up to go to a woman’s shelter in Germantown. I guess for those two individuals, life was going to be much different for them (and much different for us because we would most likely not see them again).
We set up in our most usual place and began to give out free coffee and sandwiches and all. I felt as though the smaller crowd that we had there was much nicer. We could be a lot more intimate with those we met. Tonight, I met some new guys with new stories.
I met a guy named Joe. Joe and his buddy (I was not introduced to him) were on the streets now for three weeks. For Joe, it was three weeks too long. He told me how he was scared most nights. Scared that perhaps he wouldn’t make it through the night because of what he had already experienced. His buddy just sat there and smoked a cigarette. He told me though that in two days, many churches would be opening their doors for the homeless to sleep on the floors. He already knew the street lingo as well. In just three short weeks, Joe could tell me where to go and where to not go. He knew how to get “smokes” for dollar and where all the prostitutes were if he wanted to have a little fun that night. They were cheap too. For a whole 25.00, you could have a night of bliss and forget what kind of hell you are in. For him, he felt that being with a prostitute was his only option (at least for now). When I asked him if he was scared of getting an S.T. D., he just laughed and said no. It was scarier to be on the streets itself than being with a girl. He said most of them were “clean” and knew how to keep it that way. With that, he buddy just laughed and blew into his hands so his breath could warm them.
I asked him how he got on the streets in the first place and he said, “drinking.” God wanted him to stop drinking. But drinking took away the pain of life. He had it rough. He hurt himself at work and had two steel rods placed in his legs. His “wife” (who was some girl he was messing around with) didn’t want to wait around for him to heal, so she left to find someone new. He was alone and without money. He tried to make things work out but he found himself so far behind in his bills and deep in whiskey that he ended up giving up on life and became homeless. He regretted that decision now that he had been on the streets for a couple of weeks. He missed his TV and other material things. He wanted to get better though but didn’t know how. All he knew was that he needed to get to this church and everything would “be alright for he and his buddy.” Joe and his buddy went off and began to build a “sleeping place” for themselves over a steel vent that pushed heat from a parking garage. We said goodbye to one another and I was alone to think about my encourager with Joe and his friend.
It didn’t take long for someone else to come along and start up an “interesting conversation.” Juan has been on the streets for 15 years. Judging by the way he looked, I guessed he was probably only in his mid to late 30’s. That meant that he had been on the streets much of his life. He too knew the entire street lingo. He knew the same prostitutes Joe knew and told me that he could get them cheaper because the women love a black man. He told me that he was ready to give up the street life though. He was tired of running from place to place in order to feel safe at night. He said he began filling out applications to different places so he could make some form of living and be a product of society once again. I have to say that I admired his desire to be more than just a object of piety. He really seemed like he wanted to be something more than just a homeless person.
Finding a job is hard when you don’t have a residence he told me. People would not give him the time of day because he was homeless or, as he put it, “in between homes.” Still, he went out and tried. He walked everywhere. He told me he would work anywhere that would be willing to give him a chance to work hard. Dishwasher, burger flipper or whatever, he wanted out of the streets.
As we were getting ready to leave and pray, Juan joined us. I prayed that someone would give him a chance to prove how hard of a worker he can be and how much he wanted to get off the streets. I prayed hat God would look after him as he lived on the streets and dealt with the heartache of being a stranger in a big place. When we were done, he said something I probably will never forget. “Always remember now much you are blessed.” Coming form someone who is homeless, I can definitely say it left an imprint on me. And probably on the rest of those who went down with us. So this holiday, I am going to take Juan’s advice. I will be thankful for all God has given me. I love these people. They teach me so much. It truly is a blessing from God.