Childhood is a time of questions. “What will school be like?” “Will I go to the dance?” “What will I be when I grow up?” As we dream about our futures we never go to the negative side of life. We don’t think to ourselves, “I will lose my job” “I will have suffered from a chronic illness and won’t be able to pay my medical bills” “I lost my job because I took too many sick days off.” “I am being evicted from my home” “I am HOMELESS.” No we never dream about that. We have nightmares about it especially when as adults we see our lives heading in that direction.
In an undisclosed church in Delaware County, volunteers, last night gathers to provide those who live in their neighborhood without a home, a warm meal, some conversation, and a place to sleep that gives shelter from the elements. When you spend an evening in the company of people who do not know where their next meal is coming from or where they will lay their head you realize that homelessness can happen to anyone. There is the veteran who fought in Vietnam who is still fighting his own demons, there’s the mom who didn’t receive child support who now is just trying to keep her family together and there is the senior citizen who doesn’t have a family to help out. These are just some of the faces you will see and just 3 of the 50 people this church outreach program assists.
A common misconception about the homeless are that the majority are drug addicts and or alcoholics. On this particular night there isn’t one person with those problems, not a one. For one month a year this church takes in 50 men and women who have been turned away from the homeless shelter at 63rd Street due to overcrowding. Churches across Delaware County take in this overflow of people for one month at a time. The county helps with paid counselors and by providing sleep mats with blankets for those who need a place to sleep. The county calls this program Connect by Night and it is a program that is necessary all too much. Spending a night with volunteers from the churches and with those who are grateful to have a floor to sleep on is quite eye opening. As the disadvantaged walk into the community room there is those who have been doing this so long they have developed a routine and there are the newbies. You can see it in their eyes. There is fear, there is a sense of dread and most of all they seem to be clinging to a small sliver of hope that they cling to. They are considerate, quiet and they help each other out. One woman in particular, who had been on the streets for the past year needs the help of others and accepts it. You see, she had cancer and lost her leg to it. She wears a prosthesis to help her get around but unbeknownst to the volunteers, her leg must be removed each night and it must be connected to an outlet to charge the battery that runs it. Others who are staying at the church help her find an outlet then help her remove the leg and bring it to the outlet. There are those that jump right in and start making the bedding for everyone by unrolling and placing large plastic sheets on the floor. Next, sleep mats are put down and last fresh sheets and blankets are offered to keep warm. To see these 50 people is amazing. They share everything. They help each other in every way. It is a microcosm of how the world should operate. Yet, the world has turned their backs on many of these people. You have the volunteers who are truly committed to helping but then there is those who will stop at nothing to keep these churches from following what they believe is their Christian duty. There are those who call the police saying the homeless in the church basement is loud or rowdy. These so called neighbors will tell you they don’t want “those kinds of people near their home.” Unfortunately these neighbors don’t even come to the church to see what is really going on. No, they pretend they know what kind a person is homeless. They don’t really see at all.
What can you learn from people who don’t even know where they will lay their head tonight? You, yes you, can learn compassion, you can feed yourself knowledge of how someone can lose it all and you can learn to love those whom you have turned a blind eye to.
The volunteers are asked,” why do you do it? “The simple answer given is “it is the right thing to do.” Sure it makes you feel better to give back but in the truth of the matter is, as Jim tells it, “It is the right thing to do.”