Pastor Steve’s Full Blog Posts
This is going to sound like a “Strong Story”.
I had just picked up Cheryl for church this evening and we were driving to my home. Yeah, it’s a house church.
There is an area about a mile away from my home that many homeless folks have camped in and other formerly homeless folks have moved into a remodeled hotel. Lately that area is looking more and more like skid row. Which is generally great for me because I love the homeless, and I think that having an area where they hang out near my home is awesome.
Today, though, we were driving by and we saw two folks who hang around out there fighting, partly in the street and partly on the sidewalk. I was feeling pretty good today, so I stopped, parked the car in the middle of the street and got out.
“Hey! Stop that!” I yelled as one man was hitting another. They backed off a bit as they realized someone different was getting into their personal business in the middle of a public street. The guy who I had seen hitting came straight to me, but his eyes were frightened, not aggressive.
“These guys were harassing me! I was just sitting on my cardboard and they won’t leave me alone!” I saw the cardboard, and considered if what he was saying was true. Then another guy slowly came over and started to approach the first guy, who backed off around my car (still in the middle of the street). This new guy slowly kept after the first guy, as slow and as steadfast as a zombie. As he backed away, the first guy said, “Just leave me alone.”
I approached the new guy and said, “Back off.”
The man said, “No.”
The first man said, “They were harassing me. They’re drunk.” This is clearly true. The zombie-lurch and slow thought process is clearly due to an excessive use of alcohol.
I said, “Why are you bothering him?” He looked back at me as if he’d never considered this question before. I repeated, “Why don’t you leave him alone?” Then he just wandered off as if his series of actions no longer interested him.
The first guy said, “Thanks,” and went back over to his cardboard.
As I drove away, I could see in my rearview mirror the drunk harassing guy going after the first guy again. I would have stopped again, but the first guy had picked up his cardboard and was quickly moving away. Which is what he should have done in the first place. I mean, anyone can outrun a zombie, right?
And I’m thinking… this is a great place for ministry. And right near home. Anyone interested in partnering?
This post is part of a series that answers neighbor’s objections to the activity in Anawim.
Although most people who come to Anawim are polite and do all they can to keep the peace, some people do have behavior that is “not acceptable.” Yes, some people drink on the property when we have rules against it. Some people make too much noise. Some people cuss like a sailor (or worse). And, yes, everyone loiters. Loitering is what people do when they don’t have anything else to do.
And you neighbors find this activity unacceptable. But all of this behavior is the same behavior that you participate in yourselves. In our meeting, one of the neighbors complained about people using foul language on the church property, but he couldn’t keep himself from using foul language when sitting in our sanctuary. The behavior that is most complained about is behavior that would seem perfectly normal, if found in the privacy of one’s home.
The problem, of course, is that the homeless don’t have privacy. Trust me, they’d love to have some. They don’t want to have their arguments in public. They don’t want to drink in public. They don’t want to be seen as shameful people, unacceptable. But, like most people, they do certain “unacceptable” actions because they are greatly stressed. But they don’t have a place to do this behavior in private. And that causes them even more stress.
For every person who is mentally ill, being homeless makes it worse. A person who drinks or smokes weed occasionally, spending a long time on the street will increase that activity considerably. For every person with occasional bouts of anger, being homeless makes that worse. The greater stress anyone is under, the small cracks in a person’s life become gaping holes.
What we do is give people limits, to give them reasons to be at peace. We have people who are trained to calm people down and to help them to not do such behavior, at least as much. Some people are too far gone to pay attention to our reasoning. Occasionally, someone is having too difficult of a day to get under control. And we get in some new people who are learning the system. But generally, we are a community of people wanting to help each other, working together. We request patience as we try to get unacceptable behavior under control.
This is a part of a series of questions asked Anawim about the homeless by our neighbors in Gresham.
This may seem on the surface like a ridiculous question, but it is a very real issue in cities throughout the U.S. Not only are neighbors asking this question, but cities are making sit/lie policies to move the homeless off of public sidewalks, parks and benches.
The funny thing about public spaces is that they are for… the public. That’s pretty much anyone.
Sure, a person involved in a criminal act can be arrested.
And there are some activities that aren’t acceptable in public spaces, like having sex, drinking alcohol, fighting. And the police can be called if these activities are happening in public spaces.
I hate to inform you of this, but the homeless are part of the public. Almost all of them are citizens. This means that they have the same rights as any other citizens: innocent until proven guilty; freedom of speech; life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. The whole works.
So asking the homeless to remain out of sight, to stay only in certain areas, to remain out of sight where families might see them… well that smacks of segregation talk. Do you really want to go there?
The real issue is, most people in their comfortable homes don’t want to be reminded that poverty exists, and that it is uncomfortable. Those who have their needs met don’t want their children exposed to those who are in desperate need. Those who are secure don’t want the poor around for it makes them insecure.
But to say that the poor shouldn’t be in public is tantamount to saying that poor people just shouldn’t exist. They should just disappear. They are uncomfortable, so they don’t belong where we can see them.
Not every displeasing part of life can be hidden from view. If you think it is uncomfortable looking at a homeless person, just think what it means to BE a homeless person. Oh, perhaps that’s why you don’t want them there. If you see them, you can see yourself in their place. If your children see them, they can be made as uncomfortable as you. Or worse, they can ask you uncomfortable questions like: “Why is that person digging through the trash?” Or, “Why don’t we help that poor person over there?”
The uncomfortable parts of life are there to stir our compassion. If we chose to let it stir our anger at the poor, we are using the wrong emotional tool.
In March of 1995 Steve and Diane Kimes asked Edgar, a homeless man just out of the hospital, into their home for something to eat. It was late, and they were getting on the bus for church, but they recommended that he come over the next evening for dinner. He agreed. At two in the morning they received a phone call from a bartender who found their phone number in Edgar’s pocket and asked if he could sent the heavily inebriated man to their apartment. They agreed. Their relatively safe life was over with that decision.
Soon they were feeding people every night in their SE Portland apartment. Occasionally they would have someone stay in their living room. They would listen to the stories of the homeless, learn the unique culture of the drunks, drug addicts, mentally ill and those who just don’t measure up to societal standards.
Eventually, they expanded this ministry within their church’s walls, but their apartment was always a center for help, assistance and housing. They would care for wounds, allow people to rest, get some food and a few could stay overnight. The church they were attending was unwilling to continue to allow the homeless to use their facilities, so Steve and Diane decided to begin their own church, a church made up of the homeless and mentally ill. A church where people could interrupt, take smoke breaks and can openly talk about their poverty and addictions. A church were absolutely anyone, especially the destitute, addicted and socially unacceptable could meet. This is the beginning of Anawim.
Their church services were not limited to just worship. A group of the homeless and outcast prepared and served a meal, new faces were greeted and stories were heard, and a community was being encouraged to form. This day shelter was only one days a week. In 2009, Steve organized a number of churches in the Gresham area to form a day shelter network so the homeless and those who had nowhere to go could have a church to rest in, out of the elements and unwelcome stares of the police and neighbors. Now there are four churches providing day shelters six days a week in Gresham.
Steve and Diane were forced to move out of their apartment, which allowed an opportunity for a generous giver to grant them a house in North Portland. This house now keeps the Kimes family as well as up to 10 other homeless folks.
Right now, Anawim has a three acre facility they are renting, which the homeless are planting with gardens. There is a Red Barn which is being used as a makeshift warehouse to store bedding and clothing donations for the winter. And there is a church building which is used for day shelters 3 to 4 days a week.
Most of churches providing day shelter also have wished to provide overnight shelter, especially during the winter. The Gresham Fire Marshal barred any shelter to be granted in churches unless under emergency conditions, which usually meant under 25 degrees. Anawim and a network of churches approached the city and slowly they are allowing more facilities to meet the criteria and they are allowing the definition of “emergency” to be met, under certain conditions, to up to 32 degrees.
In the past, Anawim has provided meals, shelter and worship for the homeless and mentally ill in various parts of Portland. Right now, a formerly homeless couple from Anawim is beginning to open up a new branch in St. Johns where there are currently no services specifically for the homeless. Food, clothes, companionship and worship is provided for the homeless who live there. There is a possibility of providing showers and some limited shelter in SE Portland as well.
The Story of Ned
Ned is your average chronically homeless person. Literally average. He’s the guy we are going to use as the composite of the chronically homeless in Portland. He’s the stereotypical homeless guy you might see holding a sign or picking up cans and throwing them into a shopping cart. Ned isn’t part of a family, because homeless families almost never become chronically homeless, which is being homeless for two years or more. (Ned could be a man or a woman, but in this case he’s a he.)
What made Ned homeless? Is it his addiction? Well, he does smoke weed and he drinks beer, but often he drinks only to be able to sleep at night—the stresses of nighttime homelessness is too much otherwise. And while he drank before he became homeless, no one knows if he drank to excess then. Did his severe depression and occasional bouts of anger cause him to be homeless? Perhaps he had depression before he was homeless, but he didn’t feel disabled at the time. Certainly the stresses of being homeless increased his mental instability.
Losing his job didn’t help. He looked for work for months after, but when he lost his apartment, he didn’t know that he could look for work. His parents have both passed on and his daughter isn’t talking to him—she’s busy with her baby, anyway. He was dirty, and soon he lost his change of clothes. At first he lived out of his car, but after the registration expired that got towed. He received a tent from the local mission and has been trying to make due ever since. For a year or so he slept near the railroad tracks, but authorities moved him on and he’s had a hard time finding a permanent spot ever since.
Ned has thought about getting housing, but he’s nervous about that. Housing is a lot of responsibility and he’s not sure he can handle it. He’s never been good at money and now he’s worse, how would he keep bills paid? The idea of living in four walls makes him sweat, actually—could he sleep without a breeze on his brow? And what about his friends? He couldn’t let them sleep outside while he was safe inside. But if they all got together… well, he knows they wouldn’t last long in an apartment building.
Trying to deal with people in an apartment is a laugh, actually. Ned can’t walk across the city without being stopped by the authorities, asking for ID, which he doesn’t have. He couldn’t get a job now if he was looking—who would hire a person homeless for four years. He can’t walk through a neighborhood without someone staring at him, fear like knives thrown at him. Hobophobia, someone called it. It’s all throughout this city. He has been accused of the worst crimes, and he’s done nothing worth being in jail for.
What caused Ned to be homeless? Lack of sufficient labor and especially a lack of a social network to help him through his economic crisis. What keeps Ned homeless? Stress which causes mental instability and addiction. Also the hobophobia of the town keeps him from having a chance to succeed. Housing might provide some help, but it doesn’t provide Ned with what he needs to obtain a successful life or a life of reduced stress.
What are the solutions to the problems of the chronically homeless?
We seek solutions to reduce the stresses of the chronically homeless. We want to give them a place where they can live, rest and sleep without fear. We aim to create places of community without danger from within or without. We want to provide them with the resources to help them meet their own needs, and to keep them from dying until they can get back on their feet.
We want to provide opportunities of connection between those in desperate need and those who might be able to meet those needs. We want to promote friendships between the housed community and the homeless community so that some homeless might be seen as safe and so provide them opportunities for needs being met, multi-cultural companionship and possibly housing and employment happening through natural social connections.
Opportunities for employment
We want to provide labor programs for the homeless to work for their own keep. This would include landscaping and creation of art and practical projects that could be sold.
Ultimately, our aim is to have the culturally homeless accepted as a part of our society. This requires education through our website and literature, teaching in churches and especially in connection between the housed and homeless community. This also requires for the homeless to have a voice as citizens so they are not “done for”, but partners in creating and receiving help.
This is all work that we do through Jesus. We do not insist that people follow Jesus, but Jesus is the source of all we do. Frankly, we wouldn’t be involved in this hard work without Him. Jesus provides all that we give, and gives us energy when we falter. Jesus gives us the love we can share others, both the generous and the ungrateful. It isn’t Anawim that will change the world. But we will do our part to help Jesus change the world.