It was a lot warmer yesterday. I am glad we were able to wear “normal, decent clothes” into the city without freezing our ears off. I can only imagine what the past couple of days have been like for those who find their homes on the streets of Philadelphia. For me, I could not bare to think that my life would be pushed to the streets in order to find some form of a “home” to lay my head. I hope I will never lose the gratefulness I have for all God has given me. With that attitude in mind, I entered once again, the subway I have come to find as a place to meet new people and enter their story.
As usual, we placed our stuff in the main area. People with familiar faces emerged from the dark shadows of the subway and all at once, the smell of those un-showered filled the area in which we stood. I don’t know if I could ever “get used” to the smells of the subway but I try so hard not to allow it to effect my heart for those who live there. I really do not know how we do it though.
As I looked around, I saw my friend, Larry standing over to the side of a tall, white pillar with a smile on his face. As he saw me, our eyes met and we embraced. Wearing several layers of clothes, Larry began to tell me his good news: He would be leaving to live with his sister in New York next week. He had been estranged from his sister for several years but has recently reconnected with her. As he saw it, it would be ridiculous if he did not stay with her and she felt the same way. So, he would go to New York, live with her, help pay the rent and fix up her place and get a meaningful job to save up and hopefully, one day, move out on his own. He was so excited. He had goals and most importantly, hopes that these things would happen. All he had to do is get his stuff in order here in Philadelphia and he would move there by the end of the week. I hope it works out for him. It would be one less person off the street and into a loving family. After talking to Larry for some time, he had to go. I gave him one last hug and told him that I would be praying for him. He just smiled and walked away.
Once again, I began to look around and found another guy whom I have talked to several times before. Greg was a guy I met who was struggling with his faith. He has since come to know Jesus in a powerful way. Greg told me that he was baptized this past Sunday and was joining the church that he attended. I was so thankful to hear he was doing so well. He was dressed in a pink shirt with a gray vest; dark black pants and dress shoes to match. He was so thankful to have seen me tonight. I was thankful as well. He had shared with me earlier that he had a son that was around 4. The good news is that his son was doing quite well. He has been saving a lot of money from his new job and hopes to be reunited with his son within the next couple of months. He just smiled and continued to tell me how he had bought all the kind of clothes he and his son would need to make it on their own. As I thought about Greg and all he was going through, I could not help but think of the movie, “The Pursuit of Happiness.” Greg is doing all that he knows in order to take care of his son and their future together. He is doing his best. That is all I could ask of a father.
I left Greg to talk to a couple of other people who were there. As I left him, I saw a couple of cops talking to one of the guys from our group. When they were done, I inquired about their conversation. From the cops’ perspective, we were not helping the poor. We were enabling them to stay on the streets and try and make it on their own. We were giving them a hand out, not a hand up. Since they knew we would be there on Monday nights, they would count on us for their food and would be able to save their money to buy crack and other drugs. And, the other problem that exists happens when we leave. The trash that is left behind has to be cleaned up. This happens apparently each night after we leave. I never thought about that aspect of our ministry. We do not want to leave behind a mess or a message that we do not care about the aftermath of our mission. We want to leave a great message that we care about those in whom we minister to.
I personally do not know how we could make any changes to that mission. I do not want to enable people to live on the streets and not desire to find jobs and become apart of society once again. I also do not want to have trash left behind from our food/offerings to them. However, I do not want to allow the government to “fix the problem” as it were and leave it up to the shelters. If the shelters were so good, why aren’t all the homeless people banging down the doors to enter them? Could it be that perhaps there is a lot more going on in the shelters than the police or those who work with the outreach programs are telling us? Yes, I believe there is. I know for a fact that in most shelters, things get “misplaced” and fights happen more often than in the boxing ring. Though there are places like Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, most people would not enter a place like that because they are not Christians. They do not want to hear a message about God in order to get a hot meal and a bed for the night. There is also the problem with how many beds that are available. In many cases, you have to be on a list in order to find a place to sleep because there are simply not enough beds for the homeless to sleep. So, how can we be a blessing and not a curse to the city of Philadelphia? I am not 100 percent sure. That is an issue we will have to deal with though. This Sunday, we are going to talk about the ways we can be active and not counter active in helping the homeless. Do you have any ideas for us? Let me know. Thanks for your prayers. God bless