The Homeless Equation

Last Sunday I teamed up with a local ministry here called Joppa (named after the city in the Bible) and went out with 2 car-loads of people to distribute meals to homeless people in our city.  I'm not sure what prompted me to do this.  I simply saw it in our church bulletin, and decided to sign up for a session.  We met at 1:00 pm at the Joppa warehouse and split up into four different groups that were responsible for four unique routes around the city.  Since I was the "new guy" I remained silent, but I noticed immediately who the old veterans were.  There were two people in particular who help organize these distributions almost every weekend.  Personally, I was grateful to have a guide, and I even hitched a ride in someone else's vehicle for the day.  We finished around 5:00 pm.  What I experienced is not easy to summarize.  In fact I'm not so sure this blog post will be a very focused piece of writing, but I feel the need to write about it nonetheless.  It was easier to feel my way through this experience than it was to quantify it.  I have listed the things I noticed during this outting below. 

Puzzlement for their Plight
I found myself at the beginning of the experience wondering if anyone was doing more than just delivering food and clothing to these unfortunate people.  After all, shouldn't we also be helping them get on their feet?  Soon I found out that Joppa does indeed help many of them clean up and get into housing.  Often times finding them a job as well.  One gentlemen named Al told me that after he had been placed into a job and an apartment, he was back on the street within months.  He told me he could not beat the "demon of alcoholism." 

I was told that some of the people we delivered to actually preferred to live by themselves without the responsibility of a full-time job or a mortgage.  Others asked us to pray for them, so that they could bet back on their feet.  I found myself feeling sad, and at the same time puzzled: they needed help, but only so much help was appropriate.  Some of them (I think) have chosen this as their life.  And whether by way of addiction or personal choice, are destined to end up back on the street at some point.  I'm not sure how to feel about this yet, at this point I'm just recounting what I saw.

God is Still Good
I wondered if these people were being helped spiritually also, in addition to just physically.  That question was answered as soon as I met a man named Dwight.  He lives in a small tent community in the woods behind a bank (insert your own metaphor here).  Dwight told me that he and some others in the tents attend a large church on the West side each Sunday.  He was happy to tell me that they were all Christians in that camp.  He also told me that with God's help, he was able to repair some damage to his tent in only half a day.  Every other sentence out of his mouth was "God is good."  I shook his hand twice and spoke with him maybe a total of 10 minutes.  I will most likely remember him the rest of my life.  No home, no heat, little food ... but God is still good.  I cannot add anything else to this.  His attitude was nothing less than amazing.

Stray Cats and D-Batteries
On one of our last stops we drove over a bridge and into an abandoned parking lot.  Just over the bank in the woods stood two or three tents.  There were only two people living there, they appeared to be a couple.  It had snowed earlier in the week and the man began telling us that the snow was so heavy it weighed down the trees to the point where one of them tore a hole through his canvas.  He was able to repair it quickly, but he wondered if we had any D-batteries so they could keep some electricity going after it got dark.  How I truly wished I had stopped at the store on my way to the Joppa warehouse and picked up some D- batteries.  We had none to offer them. 

A stray cat passing over the embankment caught my eye.  "That is our pet cat," he said.  "The campers who were here before us left him behind, so we took him in."  This struck me for a moment.  There was compassion in the way he said it.  What is it about animals that unites us?  My wife and I took in a stray cat about 5 years ago.  One of the best pets we have ever had.  This man was no different than me.  I live in a house, he doesn't - that was about it.  How many paychecks could I stand to miss before ending up in the same situation?

I hope this article strikes a chord with some of you.  It doesn't have much to do with a logical faith, or how we can know that God exists through reason or philosophy.  We are not discussing atheism or agnosticism today.  No, last Sunday was about meeting people and helping them.  No arguing about religion or denominations - just delivering food.  Jesus says we will always have the poor with us, and surely this is true.  But I don't like it.  I didn't like that this experience produced feelings in me that I couldn't articulate.  The homeless people we met that day don't need our pity, they just need some help.  I am grateful for what Joppa and similar ministries do.  I heard that Joppa was started by only two people.  Now it has its own warehouse downtown.  I asked myself questions like "what did these homeless people do prior to Joppa in this city?"  ... or "why did no one else form such a ministry sooner?"  But then why did it take me until I was 38 years old to volunteer?  Bad enough to admit that I didn't spend much time thinking about this problem until now.  Worse to admit that over time, a certain degree of apathy may sneak back into my attitude.  But only if I let it.  It is a problem that has no simple equation or solution.  It just exists, and we must help when we can.

For more information on Joppa and the things they do in the Des Moines area, click this link: http://www.joppaoutreach.org/


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Comments

  1. Great post! Let me know the next time you volunteer, and I would love to join you!

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