04 February, 2009

Home Less

Today, I had the privilege of spending about an hour and a half with a homeless girl. I honestly can't remember her name, so I'm going to call her Carli. She and her friend were panhandling on one of the many steep roads that lead to my college campus. "Stranded!" their sign announced. And then more letters and something about being "...very hungry!" My heart flip flopped, and I pulled over.

I've been reading a book called Under the Overpass, which hasn't changed my views on homeless people, but has strongly encouraged me to put those views into practical application. My policy: I never approach homeless or panhandling men. When they approach me, I'm extremely cautious and never give them anything (except maybe the time of day or directions). I would love to change this policy, but experience has taught me that strangers, and especially male strangers, should not be trusted. Most of the homeless that I've seen are male, so my ability to minister to the homeless is frighteningly small. Ergo I've been praying that God might put me in the path of some homeless females.

Lo and behold, God answered my prayers today! Honestly, I drove around the block several times while wrestling with the duty that called. I had a purpose that didn't include these young women. I didn't know who they were, or what they were doing, or what they could do. A quick call to my mom confirmed that my purpose and questions were disposable, and this is the first time I've seen women panhandling in months. So, I parked and introduced myself to Carli and her friend. I offered a ride, and mentioned food. They jumped at the chance, deciding that Carli would come with me and her friend would watch their stuff and wait to meet Carli's boyfriend. So, my adventure began.

After blasting the heat in hopes that Carli would stop shivering, I drove all around Oakland looking for a parking spot. A grocery store was very close to where I picked her up, but had no parking, so we meandered around (and narrowly avoided crashing into a bus--not my fault!) for a long time, looking for a store with a parking lot. Giant Eagle appeared unexpectedly, and in we went. I told Carli to get whatever she wanted, and she kept her costs around $10, despite my offers of band-aids for her blisters and some purified water. Efficient shopper, that girl!

Throughout this trip, I learned that Carli was a native to this city, but left home at the age of 16 because there was no more home. Her father died, various family members fell ill...so she started drifting. She'd been to lots of places throughout the US, traveling on the Greyhound, which sounded cool to me. She and her friend were living under a bridge in a park near my school, and had made friends with the guy who lived under the other end of the bridge. Do I believe her story? Yes. Do I think she could be living in a more secure place, with a more secure future? Yes to the first part, no to the second. Surely her wanderlust had compounded problems that were already there, ergo her constant wandering and lack of resources. However, none of us have a secure future. If I were in her shoes, I can't say I'd make different choices.

This venture opened up so many possibilities. Forget that I never finished my shopping list. Forget that my wallet is $11 lighter and that I used a lot of gas while looking for a parking lot. Mostly what I'd like to do is learn how to help her more. Sure, what I did might have fed her and her friend for a bit, and the heat in the car felt good, and hopefully our conversation was uplifting, but is that really helping? She mentioned hanging out at a christian shelter called "Connections," but I can't find anything on the internet related to that. I'm really curious about the possibility of volunteering with some such place, though.

Regardless of what I feed her or can do for her physical needs, she needs one thing only: Salvation by Christ alone. Carli told me that she loves Jesus and wants to be like him, but despises organized religion. She went to a Catholic school as a child, and knew some interesting things about the Bible. "Revelations is is WEIRD, man," and "those books--some former generation decided what goes in the Bible and what stays out--how do we know that it's OK for us today?" were two notable quotes. I mentioned that my church was unaffiliated, but couldn't remember the word..."like, non-denominational?" she asked. She seemed cool with that idea, and suddenly changed her opinion and said she likes to go to church and be with people who love each other and love God. Hmm. I regret not asking her to come to my church, but I knew she'd be unable to get there and I won't be at church this coming Sunday, so I am praying that she goes to some church, or that Connections will provide some spiritual guidance, or that God somehow moves in her life so she realizes what she needs.

Why do I write such things? Not to say anything about myself or Carli, but so that you, my dear readers, might be encouraged to see God in this situation and in situations around you. I pray that you and I will be salt unto the earth, that you would see God at work around you, and that you would seek to be part of it.

Please pray with me for Carli, her friend, and her boyfriend.


Laedelas Greenleaf said...

PS: To the Large Family That Owns A Very Long Red Scarf: Carli had the same scarf! Except it was (or should be) white...but it was super long, had pockets on the ends, and was cable-knit. Cool, huh?

Jon Daley said...

We have some friends that volunteer and run Shepherd's Heart: http://www.wfn.org/2001/12/msg00046.html

We also know people who work at Light of Life on the North Side.

From what I hear from my friends, most homeless people already know about them, but don't want to go, since they don't let them stay if their using drugs, etc.

Mentioning those places is a good way to find out if the people are telling you the truth or not.

I talked to Corey on Craig Street a good bit while in college, and it annoyed me that he had a different story each time I met him, different number of kids, etc. But, he was happy enough to take food, so we shared dinner from time to time.

I don't know if the "Mexican" guy is still around - he used to hang around the universities with this gigantic Mexican hat. He actually owns a pretty nice house in Squirrel Hill, but earns enough money on Craig St, and enjoys the people, so thats where he gets his money.

A friend from Seattle told me of a study that discovered the average "salary" of a homeless person there was like 30K/year or something crazy like that.

There certainly are legitimately homeless people, and so you shouldn't avoid all of them (and go on being comfortable in your own life...), but most make their living by being good storytellers.

I liked the advertisement that was posted on the buses a while back about the way to make a real change was to not give people change, but direct them towards a ministry or shelter, where they can train them for jobs, etc.

Domenica Cipriani said...
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