A Man Without A Home
I was driving home this morning from dropping my children off at school. I pulled up to the light, stopping, as it turned red. I looked up to see a man crossing the street directly in front of me, in the cross walk. He was older, but I suspect his well-worn and weary face was not an accurate description of his actual age. He had deep lines and creases upon his face and his eyes were tired. He wore dirty clothing and a hooded sweatshirt that covered his head from the rain. It was raining outside…it had been all morning. I just happened to look at him as he came to the front of my car. He had been looking straight ahead, but in that moment, he turned and looked at me. Our eyes locked and I gave him a smile. He kept his gaze upon me and then waved his hand, with little expression on his face, but his countenance was somber. I watched as the man continued to make his way across the busy intersection to land himself safely on the sidewalk. I continued to think about him after he was long out of sight.
I am a people watcher for sure, but I don’t just watch people. I think I notice people. To me, there is a world of difference. I began to ask myself questions about him. Questions I knew I would never collect an answer for, but still, I wondered. Who was he? Was he homeless? He certainly “looked” homeless, but appearance is not always a good indicator of someone’s circumstance. What was his story? From there my thoughts drifted to the homeless in general. The weather has been rainy here in Stockton and we have had several storms in the past few weeks. The life of a homeless person is hard. Every day for the homeless person is a new opportunity to survive. Winter presents an entirely new set of hurdles. Staying warm. Staying dry. Staying nourished. The homeless person is dependant on the good will of the community, the Churches and agencies in town. But they are also dependant on the well-meaning citizens who give them a little spare change or even something to eat. I suppose that when it is raining there aren’t as many people out and about on foot. Therefore, the homeless person has fewer opportunities to receive.
I already know what many of you are thinking, because many years ago it was what I thought. I am sad to confess that until about ten years ago I was a bit lacking in compassion for the homeless population. I didn’t understand it. I figured they were all on drugs or unwilling to work. Each had made a series of horrible decisions…leading them to the local bridge. When I saw them sit with signs asking for help, I used to think it was a poor use of their time. I thought of a certain large fast food chain and how great they are at letting people work their way up in the company and have very successful careers with minimal background. Why not try that instead? I don’t share this because I am proud of my past thinking…it was fueled most likely by lack of information/understanding (as most judgments are) and maybe a smidge of personal discomfort. It was also shaped by the fact that such hardship had never even remotely touched my life. I had no way to identify and I had no real desire to either.
It is important to mention, for those of you reading who don’t really know me well or at all, I am a very compassionate person. I have a soft heart for many, many things. I am especially soft hearted for people. So, for whatever reason, my compassion was dull, rather than nonexistent, when it came to the homeless. I don’t think I disliked them or was against them in any way. I think I thought like many people…I was inconvenienced by them.
How drastically my thinking has changed…
Let me tell you about Tim.
Tim is homeless. He lives in my city and is probably in his mid to upper forties (he may be fifty…I am horrible at guessing people’s age). I met Tim around 2005 or 2006. I met him at the Post Office, where he used to sit all day with his dog. He was always very polite and would, only on occasion, ask for money. He usually just kept to himself, petting his dog, and saying hello as the people walked in and out of the Post Office. There are always homeless people outside that particular Post Office, so why was Tim any different? I don’t know…he just was. When I would look at Tim his eyes would pierce my heart. It was like Jesus looking right at me. It makes me think of the verse…
“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40
I began to see Tim everywhere, not just the Post Office. Then he got a bike. I saw Tim almost everytime I was in the car. I would see him all over town, riding his bike with his dog right beside him. My attention was captivated. This is the type of moment when you realize that God is trying to tell you something. I had already known, by the way his gaze touched my heart, that God was using me in Tim’s life. Or was it Tim God was using in mine? I know the answer is, “yes”. It was both. I was helping him and he was helping me.
I was helping Tim survive and he was helping me grow. As usual, God likes to use relationships to help us grow. He is a very relational God.
I began to ask Tim questions about his life. I learned that he was newly homeless back then. He had a job and had injured his back while working. He had to stop working, but was receiving workman’s compensation. When the workman’s compensation expired, his back was not well enough to work. He lost his job. He had minimal skills outside manual labor, but seemed to be an optimistic person. I guess he has only a few relatives, stayed with them a while…but over time his welcome wore out and he had to leave. So, here he was…on the streets.
In a way, I guess my family adopted Tim. We’d speak and try to speak Hope into his heart and provide what we could. I couldn’t give him a place to live, but I could encourage and I could help meet his needs.
I next to never gave him money, but I would walk him over to the grocery store and buy him breakfast and when I would dine out for a meal with my family…we, as a family, would take our leftovers to Tim for something hot to eat. We would buy him gift certificates to the fast food place right next to the Post Office. So, I guess we mostly fed him. This went on for several years, then Tim sort of disappeared. I had worried about him and what had become of him, but just a few weeks ago I saw him riding a bike, with a beard as long as my forearm.
One of the things that impacted me most about Tim was watching the metamorphosis of a man, healthy, young…to that of a man without a home…sunken eyes, wrinkled skin, straggly hair. He must have aged twenty years in two.
I will forever be grateful to God for bringing Tim into my life. I may not have made the world of difference in his life, but no doubt he made a world of difference in mine.
So, as I watched the hooded man walk across the street in the rain, I thought about the provisions a homeless person needs, especially this time of year. I am hoping to inspire you to make a difference and be a “noticer”. There are many organizations who specialize in caring for the homeless. You can donate or get involved with your time at any of them. No matter your community, the need is there and you can be a part of the change necessary to impact the life of someone who is less fortunate than yourself.
Here are a just a few I know of, right in Stockton, that you can utilize and assist:
*Helping Hands (an outreach of Lakeview Assembly Church)
429 E March Lane, Stockton, Ca
*St. Mary’s Interfaith Dining Hall
545 W. Sonora St., Stockton, Ca
*Gospel Rescue Mission
445 South San Joaquin St., Stockton, Ca
*LifeSong Church Homeless Ministry
(church office contact information)
3034 Michigan Avenue, Stockton, Ca
I know there are probably other wonderful services offered in Stockton, but this is a good start! Wherever you live, there are people in need who need your help. Do a little research and find out what you can do. You may not be able to do everything, but you can do something. It doesn't have to be big. If we all join hands and work together...making a difference, much can be accomplished. Be a Difference Maker. Live a life of Purpose, on purpose. It could make all the difference in the world!