Fear of the homeless and destitute: a prayer for change

photo credit: Pixabay

Is there anything sadder than the sight of homeless people struggling through the wind and snow? Recently we had to make the trip to Edmonton yet again for medical reasons. Two men captured my attention and my concern. One was standing near a busy intersection with a cardboard sign in his hands: “Fallen on hard times, please help”, it said. It was cold and dark. Winter is upon us. He wasn’t very old but his frame was stick-thin and I suspect he fell on hard times long ago and has yet to find a way out. We were in the far lane and would not have been able to stop as much as I wanted to. The image of this young man is burned into my brain. He didn’t seem much older than my own son and he haunts me. We don’t have a lot. We are far from wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. But we have food, clothing, and shelter. We do not have to stand out on the street in all kinds of weather hoping for help; subsisting on the kindness of others. I feel so helpless and all I can do for this young man is pray for him.

My reaction to a second man, to my shame, was initially fear. I had gone outside to move the car to a handicapped parking space as they were all full when we first arrived. As I put the car in reverse, I saw a man motioning in my rear-view mirror. I wasn’t sure if he was attempting to get my attention or not. I cautiously opened the door as he approached while a litany of past news stories of car jackings and much worst rolled through my mind like some kind of horrific power point presentation. My fear was ordering me to close and lock the door; to ignore this man until he went away. I didn’t. Instead I looked up into his face wondering what he could possibly want.

What he wanted was help. He told me a story about his car being broken into and the thief making off with his belongings, including his wallet with all his credit cards, debit card, and identification. He asked if I could please give him enough money for a few litres of gas and a meal. But I had left my purse and belongings in our room – I hadn’t planned to do anything other than move the car. I apologized and explained I had no money on me, nor a debit card either. His expression told me he didn’t believe me. He walked away and I reversed out of the space. I parked in the desired space fear still niggling at me. I searched the parking lot for him but he had disappeared. Was his story true? I don’t know. But he was a human being in need of help – help I could not offer, at least not initially. I had thought to go up to our room and come back down with perhaps a hot coffee and money. I am the type of person who needs time to process information before making a decision – my decision came too late. He was gone. As I walked back to the hotel, I searched the parking lot and street. There was no sign of him anywhere.

Homelessness can happen to anyone anywhere and at any time. Life can be so precarious, especially for those battling addictions or mental illness. It is regrettable that my initial reaction is fear. I am trying to overcome that. I work at a library where several regular patrons are homeless. I have no fear of any of them and never have.  Yet, a stranger, a homeless stranger, still triggers my flight or fight response. I think a lot of that is due to portrayal in media and movies of homeless people as being dangerous and not to be trusted. That needs to change. For now I pray, for that young man, for the man in the parking lot, and for myself: Please, God, help me overcome it. And please, Divine One, help those who are trapped in the unfortunate circumstance of homelessness.

Homelessness and Hunger

blown down barn

Is God trying to reach me? I don’t know if there have been divine signs or if it’s my natural proclivity to be drawn to people in need, but I have been noticing more often than usual the stories of hardship, homelessness, poverty, and hunger – and not only the physical, but the spiritual as well. Yesterday I was one of many listening to a presentation from a local organization that is doing its best to face the twin challenges of homelessness and mental illness. Last night I chanced to watch a documentary on television called, “God knows where I am” about a homeless woman who starved to death due to mental illness that prevented her from reaching out for help.

I want to help people. But I have no idea how to do so. So, I write it out. To hold all the pain I perceive in others is just too much sometimes. So, I hope you will forgive me. I do try to share positive messages, I really do. So, I am going to try to flip the switch now.

There are things we can do as individuals such as donating to food banks, being kind to one another, sometimes really simple small acts can and do make a difference. There is a woman who comes sporadically into the library, where I work,  but over the years I have come to know her a little. She is a single mother of a large family. I often chat with her a bit and I am always so glad to see her. I don’t know her well, but I know she has had a lot of challenges in life. In 2016 Fort McMurray was evacuated due to wildfires and it was several months before I saw her again. She was one of many people I often thought about and prayed for. I was delighted when I finally did see her again. She fairly threw herself across the desk to give me a hug when I did. I was so grateful she was okay. And, I was happy, so happy. Of course, I hugged her back. Perhaps the time I spend with her is of little consequence, but I like to think it may make a difference in her hard life.

Life is hard, too hard for many people. I think the smiles we offer are important, time spent, if only a few minutes with people who are lonely and in need of kindness, is important. It costs us nothing, but can make a world of difference to people in need – and we are ALL in need sometimes.

God, if you are trying to reach me, You have. Now, please, grant me wisdom and grant me courage to do all I can to honor and help my sisters and brothers. They are yours. But they are also mine. Be with me as I try; and be with me when I fail. Help me to be gentle with myself and with others – always!