A friend’s post has simmered with me for weeks. She serves the homeless community in Springfield, MO, and keeps awareness of needs and issues in front of others.
Yesterday I saw one of my unsheltered friends. His normal big smile was not there… instead, I saw sadness and frustration on his face. This man has been on the streets for eight years and no matter how hard things have been…he manages a smile almost every time I see him. Not yesterday. I asked him what was going on and he fought back tears as he said, ‘I am so frustrated. The city came through where I was staying and they threw all of my stuff away. They took the blankets that I use to stay warm. They took away the food I had planned to eat. They took away the new shoes you just gave me to replace the ones with holes in them.’ I told him I was so sorry but knew that my words were little comfort. ‘I tried hard to hide everything in the tall weeds so it would not bother anyone. I ran a few errands and picked up a job application but when I came back…it was all gone.’ He took a deep breath and looked at me and continued, ‘I am so tired and I don’t know how much longer I can do this.’ He asked me for a hug and I broke COVID precautions to comfort a hurting friend. ‘You try to give us what we need to survive and they come and take it away. Why do they want us to continue to suffer?’ He whispered. I did not have a good answer but I promised him that we would continue to work on finding ways to raise awareness for leaders and community members and continue to try to bring people together to learn to work together to help those who are struggling to survive each day. I asked him what he had left and he showed me his small backpack. With tears in his eyes, he whispered, ‘This is all I have left.’
This is the reality of outreach… often replacing the same items again and again when they are thrown away by various officials, lost to the elements, or stolen by others. This is the reality of being unsheltered in our community—frustration, not understanding, and hanging on by an emotional thread when they have to continue to start all over again and again and again. So many people want to see this group of our community pull themselves up and ‘get it together’…Think about this today…it is hard to pull yourself up and make progress when others keep pushing you back down and dragging you back to the starting line again and again.
The term unsheltered rattles me, because so many people are unsheltered, unprotected in many ways. Without help, without an advocate, so many people are unnoticed and unattended. Even worse, many are judged.
Today’s post isn’t limited to the homelessness in our communities. However, I hope each person who reads this will be prompted to respond in a generous and appropriate way. Make your giving personal and sacrificial. It’s good to squirm a bit when sharing. Some people squirm every day for much more challenging reasons.
Today’s post might cause you to squirm for another reason. I hear a lot of people talk about how damaging handouts are for our communities, that we are fostering dependence on and manipulation of the system. I know there are people who take advantage of systems. (Some of them are wealthy and can afford to find every loophole to take advantage of tax codes, legal precedents, and more. Some of them are people who say they are simply smart to work within the system, and it’s not their fault the system is flawed.) There will always be people who take advantage of systems. Call it not knowing better or knowing better but choosing selfishness. It exists.
To some degree, it exists within every single one of us. We claim handouts are unfair for the working people, damage our economic system and communities, or invite too much government involvement and control. But did you cash the stimulus check earlier this year? Have you ever benefitted as a student who received a grant to attend school? Have you benefitted as a small business, farm, or nonprofit organization at any point because of a grant, refund, credit, etc.?
We gladly accept a handout or program that benefits us or the people we know or can identify with. It is the people we hold at arm’s length, the people that remind us of our own humanity, or the people who we would rather imagine do not exist that we don’t think deserve handouts.
I’m not taking a stand for or against government handouts. I’m for generous living among communities. Help each other. Build relationships—if not with individuals you can serve then with people who do the serving. As Christians, we are to love, give, and share. We are to notice others and take the time and compassion to let them know they are valued and seen.
We want to make so much of life about us. It is so much more. Keep your hand out—to acknowledge, reach, and share.