It’s Just Not That Simple…

We humans like things simple…black and white…cut and dry. Because of this many complex issues in our society get over-simplified just to help us maintain a false sense of order. Homelessness is one of the issues that often is misunderstood due to our tendency to shy away from the complexities that weave and tangle in and out of the issue of homelessness and poverty.

The truth is, for every homeless man, woman, and child there is at any given time living on the streets or in poverty, there are as many unique and different stories that each one could tell to help you understand the trajectory of their lives.

As an example, here is a recent snapshot of homelessness in the Nashville area from “The Contributor,” a weekly Nashville street newspaper, with the initials of friends that I am in relationship with through Sacred Sparks Ministry next to the categories that apply to them.

I do this to show that this snapshot is reality and indicative of the real men and women who live day to day on the streets and in smothering poverty. Indicative that homelessness and poverty is complicated. Indicative that despite what we want to believe, it’s just not that simple:

Between February and August of 2014, individuals who have experienced homelessness in Nashville completed 716 VI-SPDAT assessments with. VI-SPDAT is a self-reported survey that serves as an assessment tool to prioritize people’s access to services based on need moving homeless providers away from a first-come, first-serve system.

Of the 716 individuals surveyed:

  • 516 or 81% experienced chronic homelessness (JB, TP, EC, RN)
  • 88% had compromised mental health issues (BM, DF, ST, RC, TS)
  • 37% reported head trauma or brain injury (RC, EC, DF, CP, PS)
  • 78% had a serious health condition (RS, JP, JC, OT, JB, LS, AD)
  • 69% dealt with substance use issues (EC, JC, PS, EG, CP, LJ, DG)

Of the 516 identified as chronically homeless:

  • 53% had no health insurance; (AD, BM, VP, KH, JC, TS)
  • 49% dealt with tri-morbidity, or mental, physical health, and substance use issues (JC, AD, JB, CC, DG, JP, CP)

I only listed the initials of a few of my friends, but there are many more that could be included…Lord have mercy.

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It’s In Me! It’s In Us!

So many unique stories live and breathe on the streets.  So many complex situations.  So many interesting and beautiful people with the sacred spark of God burning within.

I met Byron (Alabama) last night.  I was immediately drawn to him because he was such a sweet, gentle spirit.  I wanted to know his story and he wanted to share his story, so God put us both in each other’s presence at just the right moment.

Me & Byron

Me & Byron

As we stood together on the warm pavement of the parking lot where I had met up with some good Cumberland Presbyterians who deliver burritos every Monday, we began to talk.  He learned I was a pastor and shared with me that he always felt the call to minister to others also.  Between bites of his burrito he told me that his father was a pastor and his mother taught religion at a college.

Byron told me that he is homeless, he has a job, he works every day, and he makes bad choices. He knows he needs to get out and stay out of east Nashville.  He belongs in south Nashville, closer to his job and his limited support system and he knows it.  He knows when he crosses that bridge to the east he has made another bad choice.  He knows on the east side he is way too free with his money and that he has a hard time saying “no.”

Byron told me that he knows something else though. He knows he grew up with parents who encouraged him to know God and to spend time with God’s Word every day. He knows that a spiritual foundation was carefully laid within him by his parents. In Byron’s words: IT’S IN ME!  The peace on his face was unmistakable when he shared this truth with me. It brought him comfort to speak out loud that all is not lost, that God was still present with him despite all the bad choices he makes.

Every day I am reminded that there is really little, if any, substantial difference between me and the friends I serve like Byron. Don’t we all make bad choices? Yes, some bad choices are more extreme than others, but don’t we all slip too far away from God too often?  Of course we do…but God forgives us, covers us in grace, and loves us beyond understanding.

So, may we all learn a valuable lesson this day from Byron: IT’S IN US!

So many wise and spirit-filled folks live and breathe on the streets.  So many blessed encounters to be had.  So many interesting and beautiful people with the sacred spark of God burning within.