I have a series going that’s probably way too academic and have one more post on that theme but ran into a more down to earth situation, so I’m going to interrupt it, and finish next time. That series starts with “Does God Want You To Be Happy?”
My initial reason for this post is to update and share this with some of you who responded to a call for need and have been inquiring about about a homeless woman named Mary.
Note – there is a lot of generalization in this post.
I live on a major homeless trade route in the Dallas area. The homeless regularly take the mass transit rail from the shelters downtown, northward to the more affluent areas where a lot of them panhandle. So I have a lot of opportunity to interact with them.
Sometimes I help them out, sometimes not. I’ve noticed that sometimes my reaction is somewhat arbitrary — sometimes I’m in a hurry, sometimes I feel intruded on, and sometimes I just don’t feel like it —like sometimes I feel like honking at a rude driver, and other times don’t bother.
About a week ago, my daughter Kelsey ran into a homeless lady named Mary. Her photo is at the beginning of this post, and she gave me her permission to share our experience together.
I was at my studio when she called about Mary, who she had met unsolicited (so it seems,) at a Grandys on the trade route in Plano. Mary described living homeless in a makeshift tent close to I75, the east side which is poorer, and the west side affluent — the two sides of the tracks. My daughter and the boy she was with went to the tent and took photos. Then she called me crying for suggestions on how we could help Mary (having left the home, my daughter is somewhat poor herself.)
I drove up to Grandys and we all had a conversation with Mary, getting a feel for her history (in the tent 3 months after losing a house,) and drug status (she had been jailed in the 90s, but said she was clean.) So we put her up in a hotel for two nights, afterwards extending to three while we looked for a solution. I also looked at this as an opportunity for my daughter to experience more exposure to the homeless problem.
Kelsey’s been with me when I’ve encountered different types of homeless people, for example the man who hides just around the corner at the Seven-11, the couple who’ve just arrived from out of town to see “family” who aren’t there; short of gas and just need to be put up for the night till their family get’s back. And their “family” they were visiting is very close to an upscale mall. And it’s cold and snowing. And it’s Christmas Eve.
As well, the man who drives up in a creaky car asking for gas money, then when I ask to see the fuel gauge, says never mind and makes a quick getaway.
As an aside, during the creaky car incident, the Seven-11 manager came up to me while I was standing there in the parking lot holding my Big Gulp, and asked me to leave. I stood confused until another customer came up and told the manager that I wasn’t the one he had complained about, but the man who had made his getaway, at which point the manager apologized. I decided I that maybe I needed to start dressing a little better.
Many of these people have some common characteristics— they catch you at a time you’re occupied like filling up with gas, or trying to get somewhere. The tactic is to make the approach when people are busy, want to get on with their day, and throw a bone to make the problem go away.
I’ve been sharing with my daughter a few ways to evaluate an appropriate person to help. Signs to be suspicious — the approach that catches you off guard, the need for gas, and the story that has too many thought out answers to any probing questions.
On the other hand, signs of sincerity include when they don’t actually ask for anything, or display emotion like tears (or even anger,) or the man who sits on the Vegas strip shouting, “Help for alcohol research.” Seriously, he does that. At least he’s being honest and entertaining.
So Mary was a great opportunity for Kelsey to experience an encounter with a homeless person up close and in-depth.
As we sat in Grandys, Mary told of the plight of losing the house she shared with a boyfriend — he had gone to jail (as we found later because of abuse to her,) and forced to live on the street. She had tried various shelters, all of which were full, as well as churches that had minimal resources.
We put her up for the night at a local hotel for as it ends up, three nights starting on Saturday night. When we opened the door to the room, she went to the bed, curled up and cried because of the simple luxury. It was truly heart wrenching. She said she had been in contact with some leaders at a local Baptist church, giving some names, and was going to tomorrow’s Sunday morning service to meet with them. I thought it was a great start.
Sunday afternoon, Mary reported that the men at the Baptist service she knew hadn’t been there that morning, but that she did get a call at the room from a man who told her that he could get funds to cover three more nights of her stay there if she were only able to stay Sunday night. Since we had already decided to put her up Sunday night, it seemed a great start. She hadn’t gotten the man’s name, but I assumed it was someone from the church.
I thought I would contact local churches on Monday, and put her up for Monday night also.
On Monday, I contacted a local, fairly affluent church, told the story, and did have a great discussion with the person in charge of local benevolence. I was told of limited resources for this type of thing, and of the priority of help to members (when Mary later protested this attitude as being un-Christianly self-serving, I did present the first century church approach in the midst of a hostile culture as a Biblical model.) We did have an hour-long conversation, all of which is too much to cover, but I did sense a somewhat disconnect between the average corporate “Church,” and the “church body of individuals.” I had no doubt that the “Church,” had limited funding, while also noting that the “church body,” had so much more.
There seems to be something of a separation between the “Church,” and the “church,” which can allow us to distance ourselves from immediate problems. It sometimes leads us into the mindset of, “I gave at the church,” and “I gave to the Church, and the Church will deal with the problem.”
I proposed the outrageous but halfway serious idea of having Mary bring her little shelter up and set up on the Church property on a Sunday morning, to bring the problem directly to the people who were on their way to a nice lunch.
I had the same conversation at the Baptist church. The “Churches” want to help but can’t. The “church” can help and often doesn’t.
Like most of us, I wish I had an answer to the homeless issue. I realize that the dynamic between giving and enabling as well as determining the most effective way of enriching all in a society is a complicated . . . e.g. “Teach a man to fish.” I realize that there are all levels of spiritual maturity. But I also wonder if we’re all drinking too much milk.
Someone pointed out that tension challenges complacency. The level of tension might inversely relate to the degree of complacency. The level of tension is at least an opportunity for action.
In a previous post, I referred to the end of Schindler’s List, where a departing Schindler who had saved so many Jews, broke down at his regret of keeping the ring on his finger, when the ring could have been sold and saved one or maybe two more Jewish lives. How many of us will have a similar reaction when looking back over how we spent our lives? Will we have a ring we wish we had sold?
I’ll get back to Mary tomorrow.