For those of you who don't know...
I was homeless yesterday.
Ha. Not really. I went with my youth group down town for what they called "URBAN PLUNGE". Myself, along with 3 other leaders took 11 students downtown to learn more about homelessness.
To start, none of us ate breakfast nor lunch before we headed out around noon (and didn't eat until 6pm). Now, I know what you're thinking, "WOW, Brooke! Did you survive? I'm sure you were pissed and miserable the whole time!" Haha, okay, so it's true...I'm not a happy camper when my blood sugar gets low ;) but we all did it together and I was glad we did it because it really added to the experience.
Once we got downtown, we split up into two groups. Leading both groups was an awesome couple from my church that used to be homeless themselves. They gave each group their "scenario" which, for our group, entailed us just getting in town without I.D. nor money but just the super heavy back-back filled with our clothes and bedding. Half of us were run away teens and the other half were "throw away kids" (teens/kids that are un-wanted by their parents and therefore left to survive on the streets by themselves).
Our first mission we had to complete was to find a computer we could use for free, check an email, and then the email would tell us what to do after that. So we started off at Union Station, located the Denver Public Library, and headed down there. None of us had a library card so we went to sign up for one to get onto the computer...but OF COURSE, you have to have an I.D. to get a card. Thankfully, one of the students in the group was 12 and could get on a computer in the Children's section without a card. It was such a tedious, frustrating process! From there, the email told us to go all the way back to Union Station.
When we got to Union Station, we had to go "Spangeing". This usually entails asking people for spare change, but instead, we asked people what time it was by saying, "Excuse me, sir (or mam), could you please, possibly, spare me the time?" It was SUPER interesting to see people's responses. Some people ignored us. They would make eye contact, decide to ignore you, and keep on walking. Others didn't really listen to what we asked, but instead they ASSUMED we were asking for m.oney and said, "Sorry, I don't have any" or "Sorry, we have to be somewhere." It was so awkward! I mean, really? It made us feel disrespected, un-important, and invisible.
From there, we met up with the other group in a park. Walking by the tantalizing smells of all the restaurants on 16th Street made my stomach turn over. Looking at all the people sitting at their tables, talking, eating and laughing made me want to reach over and grab their fork and eat the rest of their food. It hit me: I HAVE NO MONEY! I would never be able to eat anything today down there if I didn't find some money or if someone gave me free food.
Watching all the cute, dressed up people walking around the streets - some happily taking pictures next to the painted cow or buying stupid, over priced souvenirs - I felt this overwhelming feeling that I didn't fit in. I hadn't showered that day, I was hot and sweaty, I didn't want to carry the backpack anymore, I didn't have any makeup on, I was wearing old clothes I'd paint in, and let's just be honest: I didn't look like the sharpest tool in the shed. I hated feeling like I didn't belong.
Once the rest of the group got there, we talked to three homeless people: JR, Carla & Bruno. JR was a 25 year old from Chicago who left home when he was 15 years old. Since then, he has traveled to Mexico, Canada, and hitch-hiked to Denver from Chicago. He did all this trying to find a place that was easier to live. His sincere message of "If I could go back, I would stay with my parents. It's hard out here. It's really hard. But, God is good, and His way is the right way." He had such a sweet spirit.
Carla is a mom of 3 kids that grew up providing for her family at the age of 16 because her mom would be high on dope all day, everyday. She was never taught what the right thing to do was. She grew up thinking it was normal to have a family that was usually high. When she was 17 (I think) she left home and got in a series of bad relationships that ended in 2 kids, pregnant, no money, and no place to stay. Her eyes welled up with tears as she said, "It's really hard to try and survive and care for your kids and try to give them a good life when you don't have anything. It's scary. It's really scary." She is such a strong woman and I truly respect her honesty and raw emotion.
Bruno told us that he was a throw away kid and the numerous nights that he would be terrified knowing there was a great possibility that he wouldn't survive the night. He described sleeping with an open knife inside his sleeping bag with him. I don't know what it was about Bruno's eyes, but you know those people that have no walls? When you look in their eyes you can tell they aren't trying to hide anything from you? But they would tell you anything? I don't want to sound like I had a crush on him or something (he was married) but his eyes told his story. Eyes that told of hurt, death, pain and fear. But eyes that also told of a strange, peaceful hope in the future. There were no worries, but instead a stillness that could only be described as a peace from God.
I hope this story opens up your eyes to the life of the homeless in the same way it did for me.
"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?...
If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if yo spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday."
--Isaiah 58:6-7 & 9-10