Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Brothers and Sisters From the Street

I am making new friends and being accepted into new groups almost daily. I do not believe it is because I am so inherently likable. Rather, I believe the guys I work with need so much to be liked without being used.

During outreach we rarely stay on one street. We may sit on some stoop or bench for 45 minutes, if it is productive. However, then we get up and move on.
I say “we” because outreach is always done in teams. We are never left alone. This increases our span of control and our visual horizon, it also increases the chance that one of us will be able to engage the guys.

We have lots of guys approach us. Either the guys know Doug, our outreach coordinator or they have heard of Emmaus Ministries. They tell us about their lives. They talk about their wives, kids, health or legal problems. They let us know if a peer is having a hard time.

Different blocks and different days present different groups. Some of the guys are distracted by voices they only hear. Some are seriously jonesing for a fix. Others are sick. However, many are just happy to see us. In either case, a prolonged conversation that is happy or painful is still a productive use of our time together.

One area has an intense group of folks, the trannies. These ladies anticipate harassment and respond accordingly. The guys who hang with them are equally tough. We often hear this group before we even see them. However, they are accepting us and our time together is a dance between street talk and self-care, between provocative/shocking statements and respect for the “church guys.” By the end of the evening it is this group that appears the most tired and the least happy. It is this group of homeless folks that know that as difficult as the night can be when your homeless, for them life during the day is even harder.

The folks that bother me the most are the roving groups of homeless teenagers and young adults. I know that their future is not bright and that their high risk behaviors will quickly compromise their health. I also know they are trying to eat, find a place to wash up and to sleep. They are also looking for their next fix. All of this and their lack to job skills make them prime candidates for hustling.

There are cops, EMS and firefighters around us every night we do outreach. They all have difficult jobs to do and I am grateful for their service to the neighborhoods.
I am not grateful for the drug pushers. At times the clouds of pot have been so thick I was afraid I would test positive or have a dirty drop simply because of where I was walking. Folks have tried to sell me pot and cocaine. They have no idea how cheap I am!

Sometimes we bump into our guys when they have been drinking or using. Sometimes we cross paths when they are “working.” I am so glad to work with folks who do not waste time judging or berating the guys. The result is that the guys begin to come to the Ministry Center. We have been very busy lately feeding the guys. The guys are using the laundry service, the showers and getting mail. They are attending group, faithing together and working on goals. None of this would occur if we had spent time berating the guys on the streets for bad choices.

Today I was reminded yet again how important it is for the guys to have a home, a safe haven to come to. One of the Kaio folks, Emily, baked a birthday cake for the guys celebrating September birthdays. There were birthday cards, candles on the cake and of course singing. I am use to the guys appreciating good food and good company. I was not prepared for one of the guys becoming tearful as he expressed his gratitude for being remembered, for the cake and for being alive. He did not expect to make it to his birthday. The young man was in his early thirties.

So I am happy to be making new friends every day. I feel honored to be allowed into their lives. I am starting to get Brother Francis in a way I never got him before. I am beginning to see the beauty of humility.

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