WHATS IN THIS BLOG:
• Photo of my grand-daughter Kara at the Prom.
• I had only once before visited a homeless establishment, even though I’ve been in church all my life.
• My avoidance and ignorance has now been replaced by a deep respect.
• A practical mix of compassion and discipline leads to an inspiring success story.
Have I ever been homeless? I slept in my car one night after a serious spat with my wife. I climbed the Truchas Peaks in New Mexico, and slept in a tent for two nights, when a bear came into our camp and stole some food. But these homeless stints were temporary.
HAVE I EVER BEEN HOMELESS IN A MORE PERMANENT SENSE? Have I been addicted to alcohol or cocaine or meth? Have I suffered PTSD from the war, and been unable to cope with the challenges of a job and a house? Have I been laid off, or forced into bankruptcy because I couldn’t pay medical bills for kidney failure or cancer….and had to face homelessness as a result? No, no, no, no. What this means is my ignorance was appalling (even though my credo is to help someone to hope).
Can I relate to homelessness? No. Can I learn about it from sermons in church? Hardly, because it’s rarely preached about. But can I visit a homeless shelter called People’s City Mission in Lincoln, Nebraska? Yes. And it was an eye-opener for me.
Now Lincoln is an average sized city (over 270,000 people) with lots of parks and gardens, and a magnificent public golf course. The city is clean and neat and elegant, and the folks are friendly. Great restaurants everywhere. For a decade or more the town was known for a champion college football program (the Cornhuskers). A strange place to have a homeless problem…… BUT the fact is that 11% of Nebraskans and 8% of Lincoln residents live in poverty! So we hear a lot about the top 1%, from the political debates, while I for one have avoided or ignored the bottom 10% in this country. But I’ve now committed to donate each month to this Mission.
MY TOUR-GUIDE SHEILA KNOWS COMPASSION. Her husband contracted MS, and eventually died from it. Her husband’s brother had Down’s syndrome, and she looked after them both for over 20 years. Through the tough years Sheila endured, and was a tower of strength that she freely attributes to the Lord. She has maintained an implausible positivity which amazes me.
During this time, Sheila took a job with People’s City Mission. Been there 8 years. She is currently one of the receptionists, interacting with visitors and staff. All the while allowing her heart full of compassion to spread to the residents. How many residents? About 350 when I visited last week. A mix of singles and families, and transitionals. The latter are residents in a halfway-house who either have a job or are expecting to have a job.
THE MISSION HAS BEEN VIABLE SINCE 1907, and the current CEO has been a church pastor and business executive. Pastor Tom he is called. The Mission is run on donations, and accepts volunteers from the community. I saw a list of volunteers, already numbering 10 by 9 am on the day I visited: Saturday (wait – volunteering at that time would mean me giving up breakfast at Cracker Barrel or Paneras!)
A local bank, called Cornhusker Bank, advertised on behalf of shoeless homeless children and adults, and hundreds of shoes were donated.
JO, A YOUNG WOMAN AT THE FRONT DESK WITH A WINNING SMILE, shared with me some rules for the residents. Here are just a few:
• Volunteer in the kitchen once a week
• Attend three classes each week
• Complete room chores 7 days a week
• Meet with caseworker once a week
• No food or drink in rooms
And the consequences: 1 strike = warning. 2 strikes = 48-hour suspension. 3 strikes = 7-day suspension. 4 strikes = 30-day suspension. Hmm– I wonder if such a system would work in our homes – with penalties applied to the iPhones of our children or grand-children ????
VERY NEW IS THE MISSION’S FREE CLINIC FOR THOSE IN THE COMMUNITY WHO ARE LOW INCOME AND WITHOUT INSURANCE. Doctors, dentists and other medical professionals as well as students volunteer from the outside.
Also new is a Sunday church service, called Connect, in a separate building. It is open to the public. Last week 120 people attended. I was reminded of a large United Methodist church in Houston, called Chapelwood, which have a special Saturday night service because recovering addicts didn’t relate easily to well-dressed regular churchgoers, and vice versa. I’m guessing it was the same in Jesus day. Should we, and if so, how could we bridge the gap in our own churches?
On the tour we ran into two cooks who were preparing lunch for hundreds of residents. As an example, on one particular day the menu was as follows:
• Breakfast: Plain and western scramble; potatoes casserole.
• Lunch: Hamburgers; macaroni salad; corn; bread; fruit salad.
• Supper: Roast beef; sweet potatoes; green beans; salad; bread, fruit.
Meals like this would sound good to anyone!
I was ignorant of the drug and alcohol testing program. Incoming residents are tested for each of four drugs: marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and oxycodone. One little testing pad is placed in urine, and voila! all the drugs are tested at the same time. If a single red bar appears, this means positive for a drug (and those residents are not allowed in). If two red bars appear, this means negative. The residents are tested again 2 weeks later. All new residents take a breathalyzer test for alcohol. All transitional residents are tested every evening for alcohol content in their blood.
‘SAFE PLACE’ GIVES YOUTH IN CRISIS ACCESS TO IMMEDIATE HELP AND SAFETY through a network of local businesses and public sites. If you are on the run, kicked out, homeless, or in danger for any reason, simply go to any of the 50 Safe Place sites in Lincoln. The Mission Safe Place advocate will come and meet with you and, if necessary, provide transportation to the People’s City Mission for temporary shelter until the best course of action can be determined and put into place.
The Safe Place program has two designated rooms at the Mission set aside for Safe Place youth. Every Safe Place guest is provided with a bed (or cot), three meals a day, shower facilities, personal hygiene items, clean clothing and laundry facilities. Through the Safe Place program, young people have a chance to work through their problems with the support of caring people who offer supportive services to both them and their families.
Last, uplifting Bible quotes were attached on the walls in various rooms at the Mission (see example quote below).
TAKEAWAY: the Mission is a proven and inspiring success story. A practical mix of compassion and discipline is implemented, and this appears to be a key to their success.
If you live in or near Lincoln, Nebraska, I am sure the Mission would appreciate your donation if you have never done so (I was not requested to ask for donations in this article by the Mission). Click on this link if you’d like to donate.
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If you are moved by this story, or know of good experiences with the homeless, please add a comment to the Comment box at the bottom of the blog.
The Gray Nomad
Probing the practice of Christian believers……
A special thanks to the Mission for allowing me to visit, and to approve this article. And a very special thanks to Sheila and Jo for sharing their time and information with me.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, new things have come [because spiritual awakening brings a new life]. [Book of 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, Amplified Bible].