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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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. 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 >>>

Street Pilgrimage Pt 6: The Trauma of Homelessness

While I rested alongside many other people challenged with homelessness at Grand Central Station, I saw a mentally ill woman who wore white makeup like a mad clown. She had bright red lips and crazy eye makeup. She talked to herself and gestured with her hands to no one. How did she end up that way and was there any hope of escape from the torment of her own mind? Sadly, the streets can drive a person to madness…After panhandling that morning in the falling snow, I headed over to a drop-in center to see if they would allow me to sleep there that night. A drop-in center is like a shelter, but with chairs to sleep in instead of beds. I thought, “Anything has to be better than sleeping on a moving subway train.” I was dead wrong. Read the full post >>>

Too Many Bad Days

"Too many bad days" said the former wall street businessman as he sat with his shoulders slumped, melted into that plastic folding chair, on the streets of NYC where he now makes his bed.

Too many bad days had left my friend of nearly 5 years in a void of nothingness that I had never seen in him before...

And this scares me.

The average life expectancy of someone dealing with homelessness is 47 years of age. 47! 
Compared to the rest of us that are expected to live to the age of 77, those among us that are lacking a home live an astonishing 30 years less!

Obviously, it's not just the home itself that leads to this large of an age gap. Read the full post>>>

Be Available

For me, this day is filled to the tip top of the cup with the expectation of all the good things that will happen as I go throughout the next 14 hours of my waking life.

The people that I will encounter, encourage, or at a minimum smile towards - which hopefully, in turn, will set off a life-giving smile inside of them as well.

The information that I will get to be a part of learning about, the relationships that I will deepen, the observations of the world that will continue to deepen who I am and how I process each day's happenings.

Like I said, good things. Hopeful things. Exciting things.

But, that's me.

Within all of that goodness, I am also very aware of the incredible hurt, pain, and weight that so many of my fellow people are waking up with (if they even were able to sleep at all under such a heaviness), the piles of baggage they are loading into their car or strapping to their back as they embark of the treachery of the point A to B, or C, or L of where this life drops them today. Read the full post>>>