I want to preface this post by acknowledging that my wife is an absolute rock star. As I write, she is in the Austin area for a 3-day photography workshop. It has been amazing how the Lord has given her a passion for photography and developed her talent all while she gives all of herself to full time motherhood. On top of that she is a fantastic wife and my best friend.
I don’t know how she does it. Truma is not a good sleeper and Briana absorbs the brunt of it. I offer a to stay up for a paltry night or two for her to catch up on rest when she is beyond exhausted but she literally holds our family together. Even with a ton of help from family this week, I am just beat. I definitely have a renewed appreciation for the hard work Briana puts in day in and day out. Work that I am just not capable of doing. Truma is alive, fed, and she made it to school on time so I will count that as a win.
All of that reminds me of our awesome God who designed the family unit, molding the strengths and weaknesses of a man and a woman together for His glory. Briana and I are often blown away when we look at marriage and parenthood as mere shadows of God’s great love for us. We have been blessed with great family who loves us unconditionally. We are fortunate enough to have a built in home because of our family. For us, this is the root of community.
Alan Graham, the founder of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, has said that the greatest cause of homelessness is the catastrophic loss of family. In working with the homeless, I can say that there are not many cases of homelessness I have witnessed that this statement doesn’t encompass. Stereotypes tell us that people on the street are lazy and that they choose to live that way. I can assure you, that if you dig deeper and go take a look for yourself, you will quickly realize that homelessness is rarely a choice.
The most recent statistic I could find comes from a 2013 CNN article (http://money.cnn.com/2013/06/24/pf/emergency-savings/) but I doubt it has changed very much since then, so just go with it. Believe it or not, approximately 75% of Americans have almost no savings and live paycheck to paycheck. Imagine with me for a minute if you will, that you are one of these people, and you may not have to imagine because there’s a pretty good chance that you are in this category. Also imagine that for whatever reason, whether it be division, death, or otherwise, that you have no family and you are completely on your own. Frame this around your current life stage and imagine a catastrophic event like health problems, losing your job, etc. Your income stream is cut off, you get behind on your rent, you get evicted. Now you are without a place to stay; you are homeless. I have heard countless variations of this same story from my friends on the streets.
When I first moved back to Midland during the oil boom of 2011, I was totally oblivious to homelessness. Most of you know my socioeconomic background so there isn’t a need to go into it, but it made no sense to me that anyone would be homeless while oil related companies would hire anybody with a pulse. Until I saw a statistic in the Midland Reporter Telegram that at the time, a single person working 40 hours/week had to make a minimum of $22/hour to be able to afford even the cheapest apartment in town, and many apartment lease agreements had a $50,000/year salary minimum. I was barely in that category with a college education, this rocked my world. It was misleading that at the time, McDonald’s was paying $15/hour with a $1,000 signing bonus and a free ride to work which seemed like a great opportunity, but people including myself didn't factor in the cost of living here. These statistics caused my perception of homelessness to shatter. During our annual homelessness survey, we have found year after year that around 60% of our people on the streets of Midland have at least a part time job yet they are not able to secure affordable housing..
Those on the streets who are able to work face many obstacles. Once you are on the street you have no address to put on a job application. If you have no money, you cannot afford to pay your cell phone bill and you can not receive a call back from a potential employer. The list goes on and on.
If for any reason you have lost your identification documents, you are facing a very difficult uphill battle, and remember, you probably don’t have any family or friends to help you. Without an ID, you can't get into a shelter or a hotel, see a doctor, or obtain government benefits, let alone seek employment. My friend started a program called Hope Through Identity to help people re-obtain identification documents like drivers licenses and social security cards and on average it takes at least 2 months and the help of an attorney to do so. It is nearly impossible to claw your way out of homelessness on your own. I hope that by scratching the surface of this complex issue, you will be able to see yourselves in the shoes of the man or woman with the sign on the street corner.
I had the opportunity to participate in a poverty simulation earlier this year. The experience gave me a small glimpse in what it feels like to be homeless, except I got to go home after 24 hours. While I was on the streets of Midland, I was stared at, ignored, avoided; I felt subhuman. Some of the people I encountered were people that I knew, but they wouldn’t look me in the eye long enough to realize it. Ouch, now that was a wake up call. I used to treat homeless people the same way so I am not judging, but maybe this will encourage more of you to take an inward look and seek more understanding. If only we could all see with the eyes of Christ that all people, including the homeless, are created in His image and they are beautiful and precious to Him.
All of these facts and experiences in my life have radically shifted my perception on homelessness and I realize that part of our mission is to walk others through that same process; to help people see the truth. Its not that people who are ignorant of homelessness are bad people, they just need someone who loves them enough to shepherd them towards the truth. That’s what it took for me, getting out, getting dirty, meeting people and hearing their stories; experiencing it for myself. That’s what we want to do for Midland.
So now that you can grasp that the number one cause of homelessness is the catastrophic loss of family, what are we to do for those experiencing homelessness? As the Body of Christ, we are to step in and be that family! As we begin to lift people off the streets, we want to establish relationships that are so deeply rooted in the love of Christ that they are even stronger than family. In our village and the community built in it, we will love, serve, and support one another. We will re-establish family for people who have been alone in the world and forgotten. Yes we will provide housing, but more than that, a home.
As we get closer to our time in Austin, please continue to pray that we trust God to pave the way before us. Join us as we cast our anxieties and burdens on God and wait with us expectantly as His glory shines. Y’all as I said in an earlier post, this venture is far too big for us to accomplish on our own. When it is all said and done, to God be the glory.