Jim and Shelly are homeless. Have been this way for over fifteen years. They’re married; they love each other, and want to be together, but that’s almost impossible on the street. For stretches of time they’ve been able to live off the street, though separate from each other, through community housing; Jim with the Salvation Army, and Shelly with a downtown women’s shelter. We met them through our work with the shelter and against the rules and the advice of most people who volunteer to help the homeless, we have established a relationship with them apart from either of these organizations. We send them money from time to time when things get desperate, and have rallied some of our friends to help donate a laptop for Jim to get his degree, and furniture for a small motel room they were able to rent for a few months.
Shelly struggles with severe depression (who wouldn’t in that environment?), alcoholism and drug abuse. Jim is schizophrenic. They’ve had jobs, but nothing steady. Jim wants to be a counselor for kids on the street, but he can’t get far enough away from the street himself to qualify.
People tell us we’re making a big mistake, saying they will never be anything but homeless, and we are pouring money down a drain. We defy that counsel, because we believe if we can make their lives a little better, even for a moment in time, it is still worth it. Of course, our goal is to get them off the street and together under one roof, and we did help them do that for a few months.
My first chance to meet Jim came when I rented a truck and took over a bed and some linens and furniture to help turn their motel room into something that might resemble a home. It was then that I was able to understand this sentence we’ve been focusing on these last few days…
If we could stand in someone else’s shoes and hear what they hear, see what they see, feel what they feel, wouldn’t we approach each other differently?
I approached them differently that day, when, after helping set up a bed, dresser, and a couple pictures on the wall, they were able to offer me some hospitality in their new home. In that setting it, was as if I was enjoying a few moments with any of my neighbors in our neighborhood. Jim proudly pointed out a few things he’d collected along the way. Shelly managed something that rarely crosses her face — a smile.
Sitting in their house that day was a real treat. Jim’s a talkative guy and I heard story after story, many of which made me laugh. We talked about our kids. We talked about the Lord. He dreamed of having Marti and me over for a barbecue. It was terribly normal.
But, in their shoes, I was also scared. How long would this last? If they couldn’t make a go of it, how much harder would it be to go back? Would I rather not have even known this?
The look on their faces showed me my answer. No. Hold onto this as long as we can. It’s worth it even if they have to go back out on the streets tomorrow. Sadly, it turned out to be not too much longer. A few weeks later the toilet broke. The landlord blamed them and charged them for the repairs. They couldn’t pay, and were evicted. We didn’t find out until after the fact. “We couldn’t ask you for that much,” they said. We wished they had. We would have figured out something.
So, as of this writing, they are back out on the streets. It hurts. Shelly called for laundry money the other day. On her birthday, we made sure they got a night in a hotel. We’ve entertained the thought of taking them in. Will it ever get any better than this? I hope so, but it doesn’t change anything if it doesn’t, because in the end they are just like us. There are no ultimatums here. I’m just as needy. I want for the same things.
Are we helping the homeless? Are we being philanthropic? Are we doing our civic duty? I don’t really know what any of that is. I just know we love Jim and Shelly, and they are hurting right now. We’re no different. We’re in the same boat, and just as desperate. They call us when they need something, and we make no judgment call. We call someone when we need something, and hope for the same from them. As far as I know, these are our friends. I expect to keep it that way.
Three things you can do today…
- “Did you know…?” Click here and listen to Marti and me on BlogTalkRadio last night talking about what you may not know about the Catch.
- Click here to go to our campaign contribution page and view the video there that will pull together these last four Catches into a whole.
- Find an appropriate monthly contribution button on that page and sign up to become a MemberPartner and join us for an exciting journey ahead, bringing the Gospel of Welcome to those around us – and around the world!