homelessness: connecting where others fear to tread

She trudged slowly ahead of me and to my left in the margin of the busy road, token cardboard sign in hand. Her body language indicated discouragement, even a hint of despair. Before the signal light could turn green I opened my truck window and reached out with a fresh banana in hand. She turned around. She lit up with a radiant smile which outshone her colorful traditional clothing. 

“Would you like a banana?” I asked. 

“Thank you. God bless you!” 

I smiled, as well. “God bless you, too!”

As I drove ahead, I noticed her continuing smile in the rear view mirror. It was real. Sincere. Grateful. I don’t know her name or her story. I may never see her again. But I pray for her, asking God to help her both practically with food, shelter and provisions, and spiritually. I hope I do see her again. I want to continue the conversation.

I don’t share this brief encounter to ask for congratulations or to impress you. I share it to illustrate that folks without shelter are not state enemies, even though they are often treated that way in the Portland metropolitan area. Yes, there is a criminal element among the unhoused population.Yes, there is a high rate of drug addiction and mental illness. It’s a complex set of issues. 

But can’t we advocate for them and help them practically? Find out who is doing this important work in your neighborhood. Support them. Volunteer. Befriend folks who live outside and listen to their stories, their dreams. And even if they don’t choose to get help with an addiction or mental health ailment, are we brave enough to love them anyway? Are we courageous enough to recognize our own brokenness and need for help as easily as we notice the perceived shattered circumstances of another who may or may not be less fortunate than us? 

Maybe connecting in this way seems hard, even impossible. If we don’t try, then we prove it. On the other hand, when we do try we may find ourselves navigating a brand new friendship where others fear to tread.

Break camp and advance…

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