There’s something about helping those who are homeless that I have come to understand recently. The more you do it, the more you feel inclined to do it. Maybe that is something I have written before or something but the fact remains that up until this point of the journey, I haven’t considered myself one to actually help anyone. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but I still really struggle sometimes if we are actually doing anything at all significant. There are so many different groups in the city. The “City of Brotherly Love” has plenty of food options for the homeless and one can get clothes anywhere. What makes us different? What makes us any different from the 100 + organizations or volunteers out there that essentially do the same thing we do on a Monday night? The more I go to Philadelphia, the more I am convinced that I need to figure that out. In any case, here are some highlights from Monday night.
Last night was a different night. Jathan from Wisconsin was bringing several of their youth kids to hang out in the city with us. I am glad they were here. When we met up, we began walking over to the Free Library – a place we have gone now for awhile. As we were walking up, there was a man asleep on the sidewalk in tattered clothes. I am not sure the youth with Jathan would be prepared for what they might see. The man had no shoes and smelled. I felt like the Priest in the story of the Good Samaritan or something because I ended up just walking by the man who probably could have used a lot of help but I was unprepared to help him out. Convinced I should at least see if he needed something, I returned to him, or where he was just at, only to find that he was asleep. We left a lunch and a pair of new underwear wrapped in a lunch bag for him when he awoke. As I walked away, I looked back. Still asleep I thought to myself.
The “Food not Bombs” people were set up as usual. They had a lot of people sitting there, eating the vegetarian food. I could sense that a lot of people did not like what they offered but I saw that they were eating it anyway – I guess they were really hungry. I walked up to two guys and began to talk to them about life and the street. The one guy Ray told me that he was actually in real estate. I had to laugh and then he realized why I thought it was funny. I have never met a homeless real estate agent before. I asked him what the problem was. He just looked at me and said that the market was tight and people are harder to work with. He was from Baltimore and was hoping to find something better up here in PA. With no luck, and the inability to pay rent, he found himself on the streets for the first time in his life. After talking for a while, I gave him a lunch and told him that it wasn’t much. He just smiled and said thank you. With that, I allowed him to go on his way and do his thing.
I wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Free Library for a little so ventured off to a spot I had gone before – just a couple of blocks away. This is where I saw all of the makeshift homes people made against a factory building and met a guy named “Black.” Seeing all the “homes” made for the night, I saw a man on a beach chair by himself. His name was Art, and he was stoned beyond recognition. He must have asked me at least five times what my name was. To make him feel comfortable, I did the same. We talked about New Jersey for a little. He said he wanted to get his SS card but couldn’t stop taking drugs. He wanted to work but no one would probably hire him. I told him that I would pray for him and gave him a lunch. As I sat there, I realized he feel asleep on me. I guess all that he had taken today made him tired. And, judging by his face and his age, he must have been.
The coolest thing about our night was the prayer circle we had. It was such a large group. A couple of people prayed and we left. The more I realize what we are doing there, the more I realize that we need to do more. It isn’t enough to just hand out sandwiches and leave. I am convinced that we need to share more than just a PB and J with people. We need to dig deeper and invite ourselves in to their world with hopes of being accepted and wanted by them. As I said, there are a lot of groups doing what we are doing so we need to be intentionally different. How we are going to do that, right now, I am not sure. What I do know is not going and not doing anything would be the worst thing we could do. So – I am going to keep going.