The following is a letter written to HCH from a recent guest. Please take a moment to read his heartfelt words:
I had never been homeless before.
I have volunteered at several homeless shelters in my hometown of Minneapolis where I ran food, and clothing drives. I taught a resume building and interview class at EMERGE Community Development Center, supporting the homeless from jobless to sustainable employment. At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I was on the Homeless Advocate Team, at the Chicago hospital where I worked, to ensure the population was recorded, fed and vaccinated properly.
I felt it was my way of giving back and showing thankfulness for what I had in my own existence. My perspective and actions were focused on advocating and assisting those who find themselves homeless through whatever means.
I do have to admit, that even while attempting to be an aid for those who were homeless, although not aporophobic, I still found myself mentally holding to a false perception and bias against this vulnerable population. Is it alcohol or drug addictions, laziness, apathy, mental instability, etc.? Why are there so many homeless persons? What is the root cause of this epidemic of indigence?
Little did I know that I was about to go through an experience that enlightened me.
Due to a series of unforeseen circumstances, that culminated in my relocating states and concurrently losing my employment, I now found myself in this situation. Now I was homeless. I underwent an immense feeling of fear, anxiety, pain of loss, hopelessness on a scale that I had never felt before. The greatest of these was hopelessness. After all I accomplished and what I had done positively in my life, I felt God turned away from me. I felt angry and was ready to turn my back on him. As the monumental pressure of my world was closing in, I found myself wondering what my next second, next minute, next hour, next day was going to entail. I was in a new state, new city and had no idea of exactly what to do next. So many thoughts raced through my mind. I was going to have to find work to alleviate this situation, but where could I go to apply for jobs online? If I do get an interview, where will I go shower? Wait!!! I am hungry. How will I procure my next meal? Hold on!! Where am I going to sleep tonight?
I was experiencing a new found respect for those who have to continually embark on this life daily. Living in situations where there is no privacy, no permissions or means to carry out basic activities or access primary life resources. I can now personally attest to that fact that living on the streets is not easy. Not only are the daily requirements to be homeless difficult, there is also the continual discrimination associated with the homeless existence due to stigmas and social precarities. Being homeless is perceived and enforced in this country, and in others, as a crime. The negative perspective towards people experiencing homelessness is so deeply rooted in our society that the cognitive reaction to a homeless person is not as a human being, worthy of trust and respect. As a result, I have seen that many of those who are homeless are chronically so, due to a complete loss of hope, not only in society but also in themselves. I have personally experienced this treatment from those who I would have previously deemed as fellow citizens. As a consequence of living this existence, over the course of time, I too, eventually lost my normal sense of motivation and subsequently my hope.
That was all about to change.
Early one morning, after a week of being homeless, I woke up at the airport. I had my backpack, along with a duffle bag filled with my clothes, so I could blend in with those arriving and departing from whatever cities without being immediately pointed out as homeless and receive a trespassing citation. I washed my face in the bathroom. I had just found a new job and I needed the time to figure out my next move so I took a bus that would take an hour and a half to reach the end of the line. I needed time to think. The bus passed this building and I saw a line of people waiting for food. The sound of my stomach grumbling caused me to stop the bus and get off at the next stop. I walked up to the building that had a marquee that stated HOPE CENTER HOUSTON. Hopelessly, I chuckled at the sign and immediately recognized that this must be a social services organization. I stood in line feeling completely dejected and embarrassed of having to enter the kind of establishment that I had been previously been part of; but I was tired, hungry, needed help, and did not care for my pride.
I signed in at the front desk during intake and was asked what services I needed. I requested food and a shower and housing assistance. The front desk clerk treated every person and myself with dignity and respect. Their chef worked with donated food, but created culinary delights with meager means. He greeted each person with a joke or comment intended to add brevity. I also spoke with their Social Services Coordinator, who dedicated his effort to navigate through the labyrinth of red tape, social organizations and local mandates to assist each person, including myself with finding housing. After speaking with the Social Services Coordinator, he stopped me before leaving and told me that it would benefit me to speak with the organization's Executive Director. The Executive Director spoke with me to determine my situation and requirements personally, as I later found out he does with every single person walking through the door. He prayed with me, encourage me to "seek first the Kingdom" (Matthew 6:33), and then coordinated the efforts of the entire staff to work creatively to ensure I felt a sense of safety and dignity as I picked up my broken pieces. They all walked with me on my personal path. They all still walk with me to this day.
Being touched by the care and unwavering spiritual faith I received from Hope Center, I was tempered until I rediscovered hope and my faith in God. I was able to find employment, a beautiful home and a new church family.
I thought that somehow, that Hope Center's actions deemed that I was somehow special until I discovered they do this for every single person walking through the door.
I have worked for homeless shelters and social services organizations before. Homeless persons are HMIS numbers and are awarded resources according to a checked box on a paper. At Hope Center Houston, each person is treated and met with the care and dignity that should be given to a human being.
I now understand that God led me to Hope Center and he has so much more in store for me. My race is not yet completed. I am no longer homeless and have stability, but this experience, to this day still amazes me and strengthens my faith in both God and humanity.
One morning I was able to sit in on a morning huddle prior to opening the doors of Hope Center. The Executive Director, as he does every morning, has the staff and volunteers pray together and repeat the same mantra and ensures that this axiom is performed in every action within the building: that they bring one thing to everyone they help, HOPE.
Hope Center Houston truly takes the hopelessness out of homelessness!