Street Pilgrimage Pt. 11: One of the Best Days of My Life

On my sixth day of living on the streets of New York City, I didn’t expect it to be one of the best days of my life. It certainly didn’t start out that way…

I woke up that morning in the New York City Rescue Mission emergency shelter and my talkative bunk mate below me wasn’t so talkative. He was sick as a dog and looked feverish. Throughout the night many men throughout the 100-person bunk room were coughing. As you can imagine, the health of those struggling with homelessness is very poor and when it gets cold outside things get even worse. The man I was about to meet at breakfast was an absolute physical disaster.

His name was Jim and he had just spent his first night at the shelter. He was thin, gaunt, scruffy and a little hard to understand. Jim had just arrived from Boston on a bus the night before and his physical condition broke my heart. He looked fragile, like he wasn’t going to make it long on the streets. Jim asked if he could partner up with me for the morning to learn the ropes in NYC.  Read the full post>>>

How do you teach someone to have hope?

Quite often my commute home is through tear filled, streaky light, eyes.

Tonight was no different.

On the way home from every outreach, we have a debrief to talk about what we saw, felt, or experienced out on the streets that day. This helps us as a team to grow by seeing something we had at first only seen from our tiny perspective. Seeing it from each other’s eyes is so great because we are all different. How I see things is different from how my friend Michelle, for instance, sees things because of our different life experiences…Tonight, during debrief, one of our volunteers, Michelle, posed this question that I love and is so much at the center of what we have the opportunity to be a part of each day we go out.

“How do you teach someone to have hope?”

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Street Pilgrimage Pt. 10: Brotherhood of the Broken

I woke up that morning in the shelter operated at The New York City Rescue Mission. It was amazing having a pillow under my head and a mattress under my body. Boy, did it beat a plastic chair at the drop-in center! I got up and put on a brand new pair of socks I was given at The Bowery Mission. They didn’t match, but I didn’t care. They felt great! The old ones were so sweat soaked and gross! For the first two days I didn’t have a toothbrush, but now I had a whole hygiene kit (see photo below) thanks to the mission. Being able to brush my teeth and wash my body felt great after being so grungy for days. It was my fifth day of living on the streets of New York City. I paused to consider why I was spending time away from my family, my friends and the comfort of home. I did this to understand what my homeless friends are going through, but mostly I did it to meet God. I felt that this spiritual pilgrimage was what he was calling me to do. Maybe he wanted me to experience just a taste of what Jesus did when he put aside the privilege of His position and made Himself nothing. Read the full post>>>

5 things to know about our neighbors experiencing homelessness

I’ve worked at New York City Relief, a Hope for New York affiliate that serves men and women living on the streets, for seven years now. In that time, I have talked with countless individuals struggling with homelessness, addiction, mental health issues, and every kind of physical and emotional trauma you could imagine.

But I have also been astonished by the movement of God in the lives of my neighbors who are homeless. I have learned from them and their experiences, and I have come to know and love God more fully as a result of knowing and walking alongside of those who many of us would consider “the least of these.”

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are five things I’ve learned over the last seven years about how to best love my neighbors experiencing homelessness:

1. Sometimes all you can say is “I’m sorry.”
When someone is detailing the horrors, challenges, and circumstances that have led them to a place of homelessness, sometimes there really isn’t much to say other than, “I’m sorry.”

Most homeless folks are dealing with trauma that the rest of us could hardly imagine, let alone empathize with. Yet, my experience tells me that if we have the courage to follow God into a space that we don’t understand or feel equipped to handle, there will always be others who meet us there to make up the difference.

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Street Pilgrimage Pt. 9: Refuge and Relief

After spending the last three nights sleeping on a subway car, a wooden pew and a plastic chair, I was desperate for a real night’s sleep. Because of what a courageous man named Jerry McAuley did back in 1871, this night I found refuge and relief…After a chilly day of panhandling, I decided to head to the Bowery Mission to have lunch. My insoles in my boots weren’t cutting it, so on the way there I bought some cushion pads to relieve my painful blisters. It actually caused it to hurt even worse and on top of that my back felt very stiff and sore. Living on the streets really does a number on your body. Living on your feet is physically grueling.

As I entered the dining hall at the Bowery, I discovered a young man who was losing it right in the middle of the crowd. Supposedly someone took his coat and he wasn’t going to leave without it. He was out of control, threatening and cursing the staff member who was talking to him. Read the full post>>>

Street Pilgrimage Pt. 8: Friends In Strange Places

One day while I was living on the streets last March, I encountered two men who, although they were strangers challenged with homelessness, went out of their way to 1. keep me out of jail, 2. help me find shelter and even 3. give me a job. Learn more about my unforgettable day discovering friends in strange places. After a brutal night of sleeplessness at a drop-in center (see No Chance In…-Part 7), I headed out to find a soup kitchen where I could get some breakfast. Using my booklet I was given at the drop-in center listing all of the places in the city to find free meals, I made my way to St. Bartholomew’s Church on 50th St between Park and Lexington Ave. St. Bart’s, as they like to call it, was a very popular place to eat. Read the full post>>>

The Opposite of Poverty: It's Not What You Think

A toothless, one-eyed man named Billy who lived on the streets offered me his last gift card. My own self-centeredness was assaulted by the reckless kindness of this stranger with a scruffy beard. Who was this man and why would he do this? I was learning lessons on true wealth and doing justice from what appeared to be the most unlikely of teachers during my week living on the streets of New York City. Talk about not being able to judge a book by it’s cover… In the book Just Mercy, author Bryan Stevenson says, “The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Poverty is not just the simple absence of wealth. Poverty is the social condition of being disfavored.” Being poor isn’t just being broke. Read the full post >>>

Street Pilgrimage Pt 7: No Chance In...

It was my third night living on the streets of New York City as a part of my spiritual pilgrimage. I walked up the stairs of the drop-in center called The Main Chance that was supposed to be a temporary oasis for those challenged with homelessness. I was exhausted from walking the streets. I hadn’t bathed in days and was hoping I could get a good night’s sleep and a hot shower. Unfortunately, The Main Chance turned out to be “no chance in…” At the top of the stairs I found an open room with women sitting in plastic chairs. I looked at them and felt uncomfortable, so I quickly looked away. These ladies had no privacy here and probably didn’t want some strange man gawking at them. I turned around and found the stairs up to the next level where the men are kept. Read the full post >>>