One of our folks, Thumper, was explaining to me his life. He said that he had raised fifteen children, paid all the bills and maintained a household for decades. After his final child was settled, he never wanted to pay a bill again, so he decided to become homeless. He lives a quiet, very simple life, and generally comfortable.
He helped me out so much a few weeks ago. My car developed a gas leak, and it really shouldn’t have been driven (but I did for a while anyway). The part that needed to be replaced was only available through the dealer and then I would have to pay for someone to repair it in a shop. It was going to be expensive. and I had a dozen people wanting to help me with it. That was fine, but I know from experience not everyone knows what they are doing. One person had a plan, but he warned me that the plan might not work. And he was right. It didn’t.
So my vehicle was leaking a stream of gas now and I was going to have to have it towed as well as the part and the repair in a shop. Thump, however, said that he thought he could fix it cheaply and easily. I didn’t figure he could make it worse than it was, so I gave him twenty bucks for parts and got him a ride to a parts store. In about an hour he had repaired my vehicle and it still works now. I consider this to be a miracle of God, because a huge burden had been lifted off me.
He said that he never did have much use for a preacher or a church, although Anawim is different because they actually help people and he is able to help with us. The only sermon he took in and treasured was a poem he found in the Gresham Outlook in 1961, a hundred years after the poem was originally written by John Hall. It’s called “At Day’s End”:
Is anybody happier because you passed his way?
Does anyone remember that you spoke to him today?
The day is almost over, and its toiling time is through;
Is there anyone to utter now a kindly word of you?
Can you say tonight, in parting with the day that’s slipping fast,
That you helped a single brother of the many that passed?
Is a single heart rejoicing over what you did or said;
Does the man whose hopes were fading, now with courage look ahead?
Did you waste the day, or lose it? Was it well or sorely spent?
Did you leave a trail of kindness, or a scar of discontent?
As you close your eyes in slumber, do you think that God will say,
“You have earned one more tomorrow by the work you did today”.
I can’t actually say that I had ever preached a better sermon, so I just let it go.
Kristen Everett is a street outreach worker in Cambridge, Mass for a shelter named Caspar. Perhaps you didn’t know there were homeless in the center of our prime education real estate, but no matter how cold it gets there, there are always people in need.
Kristen posts snippets of her daily experience on the streets on Facebook and I thought I would share some because they offer insight on what it means to work with those who face death daily.
I was sitting in church today, running though all the names of both my street and church folk. Since they are about the same age, i pictured the groups switching places. What would it take? How many thin lines to cross?
A guy panhandling in Harvard today kept yelling and pointing to his blanket, ‘Sir, look at me! look at me! that is my bed, look at me!’ When he caught my eye, I said, ‘Oh, i see you!’ He cracked up and said, ‘God bless your heart, thank you for seeing me.’
Discussed Camus and Sartre with a train-hopping girl today. I love my job.
Walking to my car behind the shelter, I hear the guys living in the woods call out ‘Goodnight!’ I call back and wave toward the darkness.
When able-bodied 22 year-olds live in doorways, we conclude that these kids just choose to party and be irresponsible. When we stop to listen, we realize that missing families are just as crippling as missing limbs.
‘Wow, you’re the 1st person to notice us all day. I was beginning to think it was the matrix.’ – a young couple spanging in a doorway
Big John died early this morning on a bench in front of CVS. Yesterday when i asked if he was having a good day, he said ‘Whether it’s a good day or a bad day it’s still a day.’ We didn’t know it was his last. I will miss his face. And then there was a parade of butterflies and pretended it was all in John’s honor.
Yesterday I gave a girl The Little Prince, and tonight she declared that she read it, so I gave her some Salinger. when i walked by an hour later, she was stretched out in a doorway, intently reading by dingy streetlight.
Sat in a doorway tonight with a man who is missing his leg and four fingers because of in-utero alcohol exposure. He is now 33, homeless, and addicted. Lord have mercy.
Talked with a sweet girl tonight who with glassy eyes assured me she is doing ok sleeping outside. Meanwhile her lethargic beagle puppy huddled under the blanket told a different story.
An older homeless man told me that a fringe benefit of my job is that I’ll know some good spots to sleep if I’m ever in a bind. Ha.
After screaming at 2 guys that they stole her pint, threatening them with a walking stick, and swearing that she would slice them, she came over to show her new buck knife. I mentioned that if she does slice them, I’ll have to visit her in a different place. She cackled, ‘Would you really visit me?’ She walked off laughing heartily at the ‘joke’.
As I walked to my car in the lot, I saw John with his cart, his layered coats, and multi-hatted head. I tried to say bye quick and jump in my car, but John is so lonely that he can never let you go. After rolling down the window to say bye again, he was still calling after me as I drove out, ‘Stay safe! Be good, honey!’
A guy in central told me that I am in a burn-out job. I tried to disagree, but he said, ‘Honey, I’m a retired street-walker. I know a burn-out job when i see one.”
We drove a man who had one arm and tracheotomy to a shelter tonight. No tube, just a hole in his throat. He waved his papers at me, his eyes pleading with me to care enough to understand his urgent puffs of word-breaths.
Gave my tea away to a young schizophrenic whom I’ve been trying to meet. When i held out my hand and told him my name, he started fuming and shouted ‘it’s not fair! that’s a f-ing bullshit name!!’ I’ll try again next week.
A guy showed me pictures on his phone his teenage daughter and said that she is finally trusting him again after he disappeared into prison for 7 years of her childhood.
When i stop to talk to John, his cart blocks the sidewalk. Raymond, reeking of urine, stands next to him. They are on their way to the liquor store. John runs his finger over his eyebrow and mumbles something about a fall. ‘That’s a zygomatic arch!’ announces Raymond. ‘The eye socket!’ I remember that Raymond has told me he has a degree in biology.
Where else but in an AA meeting can a woman admit to a group of 100 strangers that she thinks she might be an alcoholic, that her ex-boyfriend broke into her house and threatened to kill her, and that she tried to kill herself last week. All the women in the meeting immediately made a list with all their names and numbers to give to her. Everyone applauded when she came up to get her first chip. Lord, have mercy.
Three times today I passed a blanketed shape in a doorway. I called to the shape. No answer. I never poke at anyone or pry back a blanket, so I hoped the person was alive and sleeping and moved on. Five hours later, I shouted to the shape that I would call an ambulance if it didn’t respond. I nudged the feet. there were no feet. The blanket was hollow. People had put money in the shape’s cup and church people had left the shape two sandwiches and a tarp.
Today I met a guy I’ve been afraid of meeting since this summer because of the violent and psychotic stories I’ve heard. I introduced myself and ten minutes in I guessed who he was. He was mostly very lonely and wanted to show me all his razors, matches, toothbrushes, and bottles that live in his many-pocketed overcoat. Victory!
One guy all the way to the shelter kept repeating, ‘Anyone who hurts you girls hurts me, and that is not a good idea. I will not back off. Boo-ya.’Ii did not feel comforted by these obsessive assurances. At all.
I am overwhelmed by the depth of untreated mental illness I spent time with today.
Franny: You walk the streets; you should carry a gun!
Me: Nah, but you can say prayers for me.
Franny: I do everyday.
‘When i was little, i’d see all those street people talking to themselves…but now I know why they do.’
When you host a feast this Thanksgiving or Christmas, don’t invite your friends or family. They will expect to do the dishes, or to bring something, or invite you back to their place next year. Instead, invite the homeless, the refugees, those in nursing homes, the mentally ill, because the only reward you could expect then would be from God.
And when you go to a feast, don’t boast about all the things you did this last year, your great accomplishments, and don’t expect to be honored. If you insist upon yourself, you will be a boor, and everyone will ignore you and try to interrupt you. Instead, sit in the corner and say nothing. Then your host will note your silence and ask you, “What do you have to be thankful for this year?” and you will be given honor.
Don’t demand respect, or else you will be rejected. Be humble and you will be given greater respect.
I had just dropped my beloved off at the Marriott, she is helping her best friend run a table at the Oricon convention. I am heading for the Hawthorne Bridge with a radio show blaring. It is Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and I am laughing so hard I am almost in tears. My wife had left the window down just a little, and inch or two, the truck has a good heater, but if it had not been for that lowered window I would not have heard the plea in the center span on the south side of the Hawthorne bridge.
At a quick glance I saw what appeared to be a half naked old man waving his arms and yelling for help.I also saw that there wasn’t any one behind me so I stopped and backed up about 50 feet stopped and hit the flashers and got out. He is shivering violently and is half naked and I put him in my truck. Portland PD shows up and I explain the situation. The officer calls for an ambulance and we moved to the east side to clear the bridge. The ambulance shows up and we put the ol’ guy on the stretcher and the ol’ guy thanks everyone for saving his life. The ambulance said they were going to take him to Providence and off we went.
His name is Bobbie Gentry, he is 82 and lives on the street ‘cuz he only gets $350 per month social security after they deduct medicare. He had a camp near the bridge until these two gutter punks came, tore everything up and stole his wallet and his pants and boots. I asked him if he was a veteran and he said he was. So I made a call and when I left there was a VA rep with him filling out paper work to 1.) replace his ID, 2) get him into a room at a VA senior center, and 3) it seems that Bobbie is a disabled Veteran twice over. Once in Korea, and once in Vietnam. Has several medals also and whats more a pretty good pension coming that he didn’t even know about. The rep asked him how he survived on such a small pension.
Bobby grins an almost toothless smile, “He knows,” he says pointing at me, “ask him.”
“By faith in Christ,” I said.
Bobbie nods, and says “Yup.”
So I said my good byes. An Bobbie pulls me into his arms and whispers, “Thanks for saving me twice you’ll always be in my prayers and thoughts.”
I walk back to the truck weeping tears of joy. Not often one gets a hug from the Lord…….
The blind man had wept and cried, shouted and mourned, and finally he had Jesus’ attention. Jesus smiled at him and said, “Your faith is great.”
Jesus recognized the poor man and was ready to give him justice, just as the prophecy said. He had done this again and again. He sees and loves and is ready to grant what the poor really need.
I have to admit, if I were there, facing the blind man, I might have said,
“I know a program that would be just right for you.”
“Do you want me to help you get on disability?”
“Let me take you to the church elders and have them pray for you.”
“Let’s take you to a doctor and see what they can do for you.”
But none of these are what Jesus did. Because Jesus knows how to establish justice for the poor. He is the King, ready to grant equity.
He said, “What can I do for you?”
Although he was the King, he didn’t take authority for the man’s life on himself.
Although he knew all things, even men’s heart, he didn’t assume he knew what was best for this poor man.
As Jesus often did, he placed himself below the poor one, and listened.
The man said, “Lord, I want to see.”
And because that was what he wanted, Jesus gave it to him.
Because that’s the kind of king Jesus is.
May we be servants of the poor like Him.