There are a lot of misconceptions about the homeless. There are those who believe people are homeless because they are a bunch of alcoholics and deadbeats who could care less about them and society. Others believe the homeless are a bunch of money-grubbing, waste of tax dollar investments. Still others find the homeless to be murders, homophobes, stealing thieves, who are constantly running away from the law, sleeping in back alleys, drug addicts, who are forced to live the way in which they do. Well, I have met a lot of homeless people over my past 21 trips to Love Park. There are those on the streets who fit these categories – some more than others. These are, in my experience, a minority of people who I have met. The majority of those who I have been blessed to know throughout my 21 visits to Love Park are people like you and I. Some are black and some are white. Some are old and many are young. Very few still have their teeth but have no problem giving you a smile if you make them laugh. Some are handicapped while others are vets from wars past. Many have fallen into bad times and some have lost major investments, which have forced some to live on the streets. Some are mentally retarded and have no hope in making it in “the real world”- at least without some help along the way. Before you assume a homeless person is on the streets for a certain reason, try talking to them first. Listen to their stories (even if they seemed a little fabricated). Each person is on the streets for a different reason. Each person has a different story. That is why I take so much time to write about their stories. That is why I hope you read them and pray for them as I do. That is why I go and love on those who are considered the unloved of our society.
We had thirty-five lunches tonight and no clothes to hand out. Tonight we were hoping to do a lot more talking than giving tonight. When we first showed up, there was a man in a wheelchair who called after us. His name was William Lake. He was hoping that he would see us before we made it to Love Park so that he could get a lunch. His leg was bandaged up and seemed to have trouble articulating what he was going to do for the night. We soon found out that he was going to wheel himself eight blocks to his cousin’s house to sleep for the night. It would take him at least thirty or so minutes to get there. With a lunch in his hand, he smiled and thanked us for not running off. We wished him luck and ran to meet up with the rest of the group who were a distance ahead of us.
It was still light out when we made it to Love Park. We were amazed to see so many people out and about. I knew that we would soon run out of lunches before long. All we could do was to set out our stuff and wait until people came to hang out with us. The person I thought was Daniel last week I found out was actually John. I told him that I accidentally wrote his name wrong in my journal and he laughed. John helped us hand out lunches and pour coffee tonight, which I thought was really cool. Here was a homeless guy serving the homeless. I knew that we had to have had an affect on him in order for him to care so much for his brothers on the streets.
There were many familiar faces that I saw coming up and grabbing lunches and talking with other people. A guy named Joe came up and said that he remembered me. He had apparently been in jail for three months for hitting some guy for stealing his clothes. He never forgot that we came out on Monday nights though and handed out food. He said that thinking about us made it easier for him to deal with being in jail for that period of time.
As Joe left, I turned around and saw Aaron. He is the guy with the long, long hair I have written about several times over in the past. As I looked at him, I noticed that he had shaved his face. He actually looked, from the front side anyway, like someone you wouldn’t mind talking to if you saw them reading the paper on a park bench. His uncut, unkempt hair though continues to grow. As I later found out, Aaron has some serious issues with his scalp and head, due to his hair. One guy named William told me that he offered to pay for Aaron to have his scalp fixed and his hair cut. Being homeless, William wanted to befriend Aaron and help him out. Aaron simply was not interested in receiving help though. As I looked at the back of Aaron’s head, I could see where the nits had been eating away at his scalp and the puss and scabs had been opening up over time. It was very hard to stomach. Here is a picture of Aaron from the front and his hair from the back. If you look at the one picture, you can see the hole where the nits had eaten away at his scalp and his hair no longer grows. Needless to say, it is pretty crazy.
After talking to Aaron and William for a little, I saw a man in a yellow hoodie in the Love Park fountain gathering coins as quickly as he could before the cops came. Had they come and caught him, he would have been arrested and put in jail for the night. When I went up and talked to him for a little bit, he saw that I had a camera in my pocket and told me to take a picture of him picking money out of the fountain. He said that I should post it and share it with others who might read this site and tell them that this is what the city of Philadelphia has done for him. Spending nearly 40 minutes in the fountain, his feet were cold and he was sopping wet. He wanted others to see what he had to do in order to eat some kind of a meal each day. Though he would probably only find a dollars worth of change in the fountain, it would be enough for him to get a burger or something to rest his stomach.
After spending some time talking to this guy, I saw a younger white guy with a goatee hanging out with our group. When I went up to see him, he was kind of startled and just looked at me. I introduced myself and he told me his name was Bob. He had just gotten out of jail for check fraud issues and was trying to figure out what he was going to do. I asked him if I could pray for him for anything and he said that he was hungry and wanted to eat. Upon hearing this, William came over and offered Bob a sandwich that he had received from us earlier that day. Bob was taken off guard and extremely thankful for something so simple as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was truly awesome to see how God was working in this situation.
As I looked over to my left, I saw a guy by a pant holder looking around while two other men “kept watch.” Curious, I continued to watch until I realized that the man was peeing on the wall! I was completely taken off guard. And, even though it is not proper to do so, I took a picture of it to remind me that being homeless is a lot harder than you or I would expect. Sometimes, you don’t have a bathroom to use so you have to do what you can do. In this case, the man had to go and there was no bathroom. So he peed on the wall as a way of marking his existence as a homeless person, living either in the subway or on a park bench in Love Park.
After taking the picture, I turned around and saw a woman walking with a cane, drinking a cup of coffee we had provided for her. When I went up to her to talk with her, she smiled, showing that she had no teeth to the naked eye. Her name was Cathy and walked with a cane because of her back and her knee. When I asked how long she had been on the streets, she told me it had been five years. Her own family members had thrown her out of the house because they did not want to take care of their own mother. After being stripped of everything she owned, she was forced to live in the Subways. She said she would never go into a shelter because they were not safe for women. Other women would steal your stuff and complain about you, getting you in trouble with the cops and all. So she went to the subways to sleep each night, praying that no one would try and take advantage of her or steal her stuff. She said he cried almost every night because of what her family had done to her but she still loved them. With that, I told her that I would pray for her and she looked me straight in the eye. It was almost uncomfortable for her to do so but I saw that she knew I was genuinely caring about her. She then came over and gave me a big hug and smiled. After walking away, my heart broke for Cathy and I began to pray for her even as she walked down the road.
As I was watching her walk down the road with her cane, a young homeless family showed up with their young son. I didn’t have an opportunity to ask their names but I bent down and played peek-a-boo with their son while they got a few lunches and drank some coffee. He was adorable. As they were leaving, he gave me a “high-five” to which I could only smile.
My final interaction with someone tonight was with a guy I had seen several times before but had not known his name. Bill was a big guy who gave big hugs. The smell of his shirt was rancid but I tried to pass it by and genuinely love him. He wanted to show me his turkeys he had gotten and so I went over and saw them. After we gathered for prayer and left for the night, Bill told me to come over and take a picture of him with one of his turkeys he had gotten. So here’s Bill and one of his two turkeys!
The more I serve the homeless, the more I know I am doing something that honors God. My inner walls break down and I am able to love people that I thought I would never be able to love. God is so good at breaking down wall if you are willing to be stretched by those you would never believe you would meet. Each one of these brothers and sisters are made in the image of God. Therefore, it is no question that I should keep them in prayer. I pray that God will be God in the city and watch over those who we have met. I pray that he would keep them safe and warm throughout the night. Ultimately though, I pray that they would come to encounter the living God and know that they are loved by him. Amen and Amen