Tonight I did something I’d never done. I went out with a group from my church that gives blankets, coats, candles and batteries, and hot food to the homeless.
It was eye-opening.I’ve written before about how my standard of living is much closer to that of a billionaire than it is to the people who live in some parts of this country. But this was scarcely 10 miles from where I live, and probably fewer than four miles from where I work.
I heard stories. Lots of stories. There were the expected can’t find work, family kicked ’em out types of stories. One came here from Washington, spent all her money to get here, found out the person she came to see wasn’t here, and ended up on the street. One guy admitted he had drug problems. I think he told me he’d been clean for a few days. One guy told me he was out there because he felt sorry for others who were homeless.
It was 18 degrees tonight. The last group of people discussed amongst themselves which of them would be able to get into Larry Rice’s shelter.
I was cold too. I wasn’t as smart about the way I dressed as they were. But when the night was through, I had my three-year-old Honda Civic with a moonroof and power windows and power locks and cruise control and, most importantly tonight, a good heater, and it transported me back to my house in the suburbs where I can turn my heat as high as I want. The temperature in my house may drop to 56 degrees tonight, but only because I’m a cheapskate. If I wanted to put the thermostat on 90, I could put it on 90, and when that bill came, I could pay it.
Some of the people I met tonight won’t have much more than the blankets we had on hand to give them to keep them warm.
I found myself wanting to understand the problem and solve it. The first part is possible; the second, less so. Familiarity is a difficult hurdle to overcome. When you’re homeless, those problems are familiar. The problems of living somewhere, although much more minor to you and me, could be scary, I suppose.
Those of you who pray, please do me a favor and pray for Ernest. Ernest has an appointment in the morning to get assisted housing. If all goes well, tonight was his last night on the streets. It’s going to cost him $1 a month. He told me he makes $250 a month. I should have asked him what he was going to do with the $249 a month he had left over. I didn’t think of that.
Ernest impressed me. He had a lot of book knowledge, including knowledge of scripture. Obviously he had some education. He had plenty of drive, too. But drive can be fleeting. And as I watched Ernest’s behavior, while I saw loads of promise, I also saw the potential to relapse. He asked me for a quarter. I didn’t have any money with me at all. For all I know, he may have wanted money to make a phone call, or he may have wanted money to buy something he shouldn’t be buying. I hope it’s the former.
I’d be surprised if Ernest turned out to be someone who could change the world, but if his potential could be fulfilled and his energy focussed, he could certainly make big changes in the community where he lives. I’m certain that people are going to follow him. The question is whether he’ll lead them someplace desirable, or someplace they don’t need to be going.
The people with the biggest potential also face the biggest challenges. So that’s why I’m asking for prayers for Ernest tonight. I think these next few days could prove to be pivotal. He needs for what I saw tonight to be real and lasting. He needs fire and he needs drive. The things that he said tonight need to be not only in his head, but also in his heart.
If those things happen, chances are the next time I see Ernest, he’ll be handing out hot food on the same streetcorner where he used to receive it. That’s what I want for him.