By: David Stewart
I work in an environment with exposure to the homeless. Approximately forty hours of my week is around people with mental challenges. Twenty five percent of my time is around hostile environments. Sometimes I talk with veterans who have lost their paths in life, other times I find myself engaged in conversations with widows with no direction anymore. I have seen needles in arms because the reality of their life was too much to look at without something to make them forget. I have talked with business owners who quickly run them off, because of the scenario some homeless create. We all see the tourist who are either quick to help them or eager to avoid them. I have seen what we all have seen, faces in crowds that we all call homelessness.
In some of my conversations with the homeless, I discovered that the faces have names. The names have stories, the stories will cause tears to shed, the tears will sometimes remind the homeless individual that thy were not always this way. There are always the ones who are so hardened by life that they only express anger, cursing, fits of rage and just want the next drink of the bottle. Humanity can have “moments” where we all have fits of rage, anger, cursing or “moments” we are not ourselves. But what I have discovered is some individuals we see in the streets and corners are more than a cliché, they are world fly weight boxing champions. One is a world known professional athlete sister; another is a lawyer’s brother. One I know has told me stories of being caught by Dog the Bounty hunter once, another use to own his own construction company. Somehow these faces in crowds become comedians telling their story and I find myself wondering…. How did they get here?
I met a man in the streets here that moved to Hawaii last year to start over. He was from the mainland and went through a loss of wife and kids and needed a new start. He found a job in his field after moving here but then Covid. He lost his job, could not find a new job that could keep him in his room he was renting, so for the first time ever he became homeless. He began to ride the bus during the day and worked cleaning at night to keep cash in his pocket. The point being he was trying; it eventually became too much, and his hardships became survival. The darkness was overtaking what was once light in him. When I met him, we talked, and he told me he prayed to God that morning that something must happen. The darkness was not just overtaking him, it was winning! Through a friend I knew on the island I got to connect him to a men’s home that could take him in. We worked through some challenges and got him into the program where he is looking to graduate soon and possible work there in the ministry. This is one of many faces in the crowd. He made it through, others do not.
Jesus said in the Bible that the poor will always be with us, but he will not. I find that scripture interesting, almost like a clue. The poor is not the issue! The homeless is not the issue! The issue is Jesus is not here. He was always found with the poor, homeless, outcast, misfits. “No Jesus! Don’t got talk with them”, that’s what other people told him. I am glad he did not listen; I am glad he went to learn their names. I am a Christian believer, and in being a Christian believer that means I believe Jesus is in me. If you are a believer, that means he is in you as well. That means there must be a hope or light for others stuck in the darkness. The question I asked earlier of, how did they get here? They lost Hope!
When I was way younger, I got stuck at one of those carnival games at a fair I attended. It was designed to keep you on edge of winning the big prize, but no reality of winning it at all. I lost way more money that I should and felt sick afterwards. I had plans for that lost money, now what? Over time, I made more money and moved on past what was once a tragic ordeal. We can lose money and recover by making more, but if we lose hope, its not a game at all. The one thing that most of the homeless I talk with have in common is that they feel hopeless. So much of the darkness, in whatever form in came in, has snuffed out what was once a flame. I often asked these faces in the crowds that when they were growing up what did they always pretend to be when they were grown? There has not been one yet that has answered Homeless. The fact that they are means something went wrong, they lost hope and never recovered. Some have been that way so long that it has become normal to them, to me that is the real tragedy. The worst thing I think any of us can become is stagnant, sitting still, no activity, no current or flow. Hopeless.
I do not write this to say I have a solution to the homelessness in Hawaii. I do not write this to say I agree with all the issues it causes other people or businesses. I write this to just put my thoughts on a screen as motivation to me and hopefully others.
“Then the Lord said to me, write my answer plainly on tablets, so that a runner can carry the correct message to others. “Habakkuk 2:2
I think the answer to homelessness goes back to the clue Jesus gave us. “They” will always be here, but we have to make sure as believer that “he” is represented as well. When we represent someone, that means we re-present him to others. Share a conversation, share a meal, put a name to the face and let them know yours. Yes, they may even fuss you out and walk away screaming at you while calling you a name. The darkness is dark, but the light can cut a path! Sometimes that path will lead you to amazing opportunities to do exactly what you are created for…restoring hope to a face in a crowd.