The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

Guest Commentary: Robert Blass November 10, 2008

Filed under: Christianity,Guest Commentary,healing,inspiration,peace — Karen Shafer @ 10:16 pm

 

Freedom Of Or From Religion?  What Does It Mean?

 

Freedom of or from religion?  What does it mean?  It means we are a nation of choices. It means we are a democratic nation with the freedom to choose or not choose what God, Bible or written word we follow. We are a multi-culture and multi-religious country.

 

Freedom of choice, freedom of marriage and legislation to combat discrimination against people is a constitutional right meant to be protected by the government, not taken away by extremist religious groups. If we fail to protect those Civil Rights then we are no better than many of the countries we criticize.

 

We practice bigotry imposed on others who do not practice the religion or beliefs of some; made even worse, when that bigotry produces its own brand of terrorism right here within our own borders. That terrorism includes the lack of caring for our fellow man and their freedoms which allows many to suffer shamelessly. Historically our country has a pattern of doing this and even though we have learned and corrected ourselves through the years, we continue to get caught in new practices of bigotry that replace the old. It serves no purpose to take away rights based on religious beliefs that have no effect on the right to practice our personal beliefs and it contradicts the freedoms our country is based on. It should never be a matter of my way or no way.

 

I am a Christian who believes I answer to my God daily. I am a Christian who accepts others as they are and even thought they may not believe as I do, I love them anyway.  I am a Christian who believes that my love and example will show the way for them to find the same path to Christ I have found. I am a Christian who knows I can pray anytime, anywhere I choose. I am a Christian who makes personal life choices based on my beliefs. I am a Christian who believes I can lead by example and pray that others will follow but I do not expect the government to force my way on others.  Will we ever learn?

 

My way is NOT the fundamentalist extremist way. What kind of Christian are you?

 

May God Bless America!

 

Robert Blass

 

Thanks to Pat Spradley of the Stewpot’s Street Zine for sending this my way.  KS  [http://thestewpot.org/streetzine.asp]

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Reggie’s Story October 6, 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

       Reggie Crawford, with whom I’m privileged to work when I volunteer at The Bridge homeless assistance center,  is one of the most inspiring and compassionate individuals I’ve met in a while.  I appreciate that Reggie and Street Zine have given me permission to reprint his story here.  KS

 

STEP Transformed Plan A & B Into G For Me

By Reggie Crawford

 

Like most people, I just wanted to live a normal life expecting nothing flashy, extravagant or extraordinary. 

 

My life started out very simple; I guess you could call me a military brat. My father was in the military for over thirty years, and my mother taught high school and did most of the kid raising of myself and six siblings. My mom was a very determined and strong woman who I think was my greatest influence because she always believed in me.

 

I went to college majoring in music education and business marketing. Upon graduation I quickly found a job as a music teacher which I hated. I was not mentally prepared for this work and I had no patience which is something you really need when you teach middle school kids. The bad notes were killing me! 

 

I quickly found that I needed another plan so I resorted to plan B, which was to join the military. There have been times in my life when I made some brilliant decisions and this was one of them.  While in college, I was in ROTC and already had a four year commitment. At that time, the Army had a one year delay entry program and I looked forward to and could not wait to enter the military.

 

I loved the Army, as a brand new second lieutenant; I was on my way up. Both of my parents were very proud; I had a new car, new house, lots of new friends, and a new attitude that spelled super arrogant. Some called it cocky, conceited, or even egotistic; but I will call it for what it really was, bone head.  In my mind, I really thought I was an icon, my family thought I was crazy, which was not far from the truth. 

 

My drive helped me get promotions and medals but after several years in the service I decided to give civilian life another try.  You have to remember that up to this point all I had known was military life. I was scared to death, but I still had plan B so if things did not work out in civilian life I could always return back to military life.

 

I went to work as a sales representative with a major company and continued to move up to a management position. After several years in sales I changed careers again and went to work as a loan manager at a major bank. I loved my civilian jobs and I loved my life. I guess you could say that I had the American dream; married with two great kids, a nice house and a dog named Human who I suspected hated me. 

 

I remember an unknown author who said “the only sure thing we know about life is that change will happen, be it good or bad.” Needless to say my change was really, really bad. My eighteen year marriage fell apart, I had several bad investments, and finally a job lay off.

 

The good life as I had known it was gone and I had helped the process by abusing drugs and alcohol which pretty much guarantees a meltdown in life. Here I was, without a wife, kids and job which presented me with the abnormal life of homelessness.  The self-centered, smug, and stuck up self was replaced by shame, embarrassment and guilt. Here I was sleeping on the streets, standing in line for meals, and hoping I could get myself out of this situation before I got myself killed.  Oh yeah, remember plan B? Now, I am too old to return to the military.

 

After one year and five months of living a homeless life, I realized that I really needed help. I’ll call it a ‘lifeline’ because I was drowning mentally and spiritually.  I decided to enter a program at The Stewpot called STEP (Stewpot Transitional Employment Program). This program was God sent for me; the people actually cared about my well being. Some of the people I met while in the STEP program have become true friends.  It is also while participating in this program that I learned about another plan.  I will call it plan G, God’s plan. 

 

Plan G is the reason I decided to write my story. I truly believe that God orchestrated this path for me, not because I am a bad person, but because I needed to be humbled.  I now understand that life is full of ups and downs, twist and turns and things that don’t always go as planned, but through God’s grace and faith nothing is too big to overcome. This journey has been the best thing that has ever happened to me.

 

Today, I am working as the dining room coordinator at the Second Chance Café, located at The Bridge. This gives me the opportunity to work with some of the best volunteers in the City of Dallas. My job is to make sure that the dining room runs smoothly while the meals are being served to the homeless population accessing services at The Bridge.

 

I thank everyone who has helped me along the way, but first and foremost, I thank God for his/her grace and understanding.

 

Reprinted from the October 2008 issue of Street Zine [http://thestewpot.org/streetzine.asp].

 

Sleeping On the Hard Streets of Dallas September 9, 2008

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

 

Sleeping Among the Homeless on the Hard Streets of Dallas

by David Timothy (AKA SoupMan)

 

In 2003, on a wing and a prayer (s) I started a nonprofit charity called the SoupMobile. We are a ‘mobile’ soup kitchen that feeds the homeless in the Dallas area. In those five years we have progressed from serving 5,000 meals per year to serving over 125,000 meals per year. The SoupMobile has changed from a virtual one-man operation to an organization that has an army of volunteers, donors, supporters and prayer warriors.

 

During this past five years I have worked the homeless streets of Dallas on almost a daily basis. And while my given name is David Timothy, on the streets of Dallas the homeless call me the SoupMan. During that time I have been privileged to meet and come to know thousands upon thousands of homeless men and women. I have fed them, bandaged their cuts and wounds, become friends with them, laughed with them, cried with them, visited them in jail, sat with them in the large cardboard boxes they call home, watched them fail miserably, and at times watched them succeed beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.  Yet there was one thing I hadn’t done. I had never slept overnight on the streets among the homeless.

 

In the winter of 2007 I decided I would forgo my cushy bed and peaceful nights behind locked doors and venture out onto the hard streets of Dallas. I decided to do this for two reasons. One was to show solidarity and support for my homeless friends, and the second was to find out ‘up close and personal’ what it was like to sleep on the streets just like the homeless do every night.  I did not tell anyone of my plans.  I knew if I did they would try to talk me out of it.  I was committed and determined to follow through. So during the winter of 2007, I slept out on the streets overnight with the homeless on two separate occasions. 

 

I carried a backpack loaded with a thin blanket, a bottled water, a sandwich and a granola bar. I carried $2.00 in my pocket. I had made it a point not to eat any food that day. I wanted to hit the streets feeling the same hunger the homeless did.  I did not take my car, but put on my backpack and hiked to the location where I would be sleeping outside with the homeless. That first night out on the streets was not a fun night. It wasn’t like sleeping in the backyard of my house in a tent when I was a kid. In fact it was cold, dark and windy. I’m not embarrassed to admit that it was a little scary. There were no locked doors, no police protection, and I had to fall asleep trusting that none of the hundreds of people sleeping around me would do me wrong.   

 

Here are some of my impressions of that first night. As I lay upon a slab of blacktop and was huddled under my thin blanket, I noticed how incredibly cold it was. It seemed the blacktop just radiated the cold right up into my bones. Of course there was no thermostat to turn up the heat, and I couldn’t go into my closet to get an extra blanket. And just like the hundreds of other homeless people out there, I was on my own.  I carefully hoarded the small amount of food that I brought with me. I knew once it was gone, that was it. No midnight visits to the fridge and no late night trips to the 7/11 store.

 

One of the moments I will never forget was about midnight when I was finally able to start to drift off to sleep.  In those final minutes as my breathing slowed and my eyelids started to droop, I realized I was going to be sleeping and had absolutely no protection against anyone doing me harm. No locked doors, no police protection, and no recourse if trouble started. For me those last few minutes before I fell to sleep were the diciest moments of the entire affair.

 

Finally sleep came, and then all too suddenly I heard voices shouting. Okay, ‘time to get up, get a move on’.  It was 5:30 AM, pitch black, and some security guy was moving us off the blacktop parking lot where we had bedded down for the night.  We all scurried about gathering up our things and getting ready to hit the road. No morning cup of coffee, no hot breakfast, no reading the morning paper, and no early morning conversations with your fellow nighttime blacktop bunk mates. 

 

The first thing I noticed as I was gathering up my belongings was that it was even more incredibly cold, and I had absolutely no way to get warm. After a night of sleeping on the blacktop my bones were stiff and my hands seemed frozen. And I was hungry. The night before I had decided to save my granola bar. Oh, was I glad I did!  I greedily opened up the wrapping and carefully ate every bit of the bar, even the crumbs. I even licked the wrapper when I was finished. So with breakfast over I finished packing up.  Security kept pushing us to get going. In those next few moments hundreds of homeless people started moving out in different directions and vanishing into the pitch black morning that seemed as if it was still night. 

 

As I moved out with stiff limbs and cramped cold feet, I knew where I was heading. I was hiking it back to my place. But that hike back wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Here I was hiking through deserted dark streets with a backpack on my back and $2.00 in my pocket. I felt like a marked man. I was alone and had absolutely no one else to rely on if trouble materialized. What if some unscrupulous guys decided I was an easy mark? What could I give them if I was stopped? My two dollars? Somehow I didn’t think they would be satisfied with that. 

 

I also felt like a marked man in another way. What if the police saw me hiking through the darkened streets at 6:00 AM in the morning with a backpack on? Would they think I was up to no good? Would they ask what the heck I was doing out there? What would I tell them?  Hey officers, its okay, I’m the SoupMan, and I just wanted to spend a night out with my homeless friends to show them support. Oh yeah, I’m sure that would have been totally convincing.

 

Fortunately I made it home safely that first night without any trouble from the bad guys or the police. So having survived that first night sleeping with the homeless, I decided I needed to do it one more time just to be sure that the first time out had been the real thing.  A few weeks later I ventured out again and slept on that same blacktop parking lot with hundreds of homeless people. Guess what. It was almost an identical repeat of the first time. Still no fun, still dark, still cold, still hungry and I still felt like a marked man as I hiked back home in the dark the next morning.

 

So what did this whole experience do for me? Well, it gave me an empathy for the homeless that went beyond anything I had ever known. I had already built up an incredible compassion for the homeless as I had fed them the last five years, but now it went even deeper. In those two nights I got to experience what they have to go through every night. All the uncertainty, all the fear, all the hunger and the feeling of being a marked man.

 

It also gave me a renewed thankfulness to the Lord for what I do have. Whenever I get the urge to complain or grumble about my circumstances, I just think back to those two nights on the streets, and I quickly look upward and thank the Lord for what I do have.  I am truly a blessed man!

 

David Timothy is the founder and Executive Director of the SoupMobile.  The preceding story will be included in his upcoming book on his experiences.  Stay tuned!

 

Guest Commentary by Pat Spradley August 15, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

 

America, The Land of Unequal Opportunity

by Pat Spradley

 

Homeless people are not all the same.

Homeless people are not all the same. There are some who for some reason, no matter what you do, will never break out of the homeless trap they are in. That might be due to mental illness, drug use, alcohol addiction, disability or a multitude of reasons, many of them cumulative. These are the individuals who require assisted housing with social service support, or they will just return to the streets. In some cases, they will return to the streets even with supportive services, and there is nothing we can do about it. Fortunately, this is a minority among homeless individuals, and most often these are the ones you will encounter during your day-to-day activities on the street. Unfortunately, too many of us keep that perception of homeless people in our minds, unwittingly thinking it is representative of all of the homeless population.

 

What about the majority?

The majority of homeless individuals and families are down on their luck. They may be suffering from the consequences of poor decisions, abuse, and loss of work, injury or other unfortunate circumstances.  In these cases, a little help and encouragement can go a long way. These are individuals who are seeking a chance to start over or just need a little help to get them back on their feet.  Many are individuals who just need someone to have faith in them, offer encouragement and give them a hand when assistance is needed. In many cases, with proper help and guidance early on, these individuals will escape homelessness never to return. Unfortunately, it is this population that often has the most difficulty getting the help they need and may find themselves caught in a downward spiral with no hope.

 

Why is this happening?

The squeaky wheel approach is being taken, and those who are seen and wanted out of sight are getting the focus. In the process, there is no safety net, or giant holes are created in the small net that is there, for those who could be saved from chronic homelessness early on. They are left with very little help, especially single men who are childless. It does not take long for the social stigma and predicament to take a toll on these individuals, and our opportunity to help with minimal assistance is lost. They are trapped in no man’s land and left to flounder on their own. They are in survival mode, and a whole new psyche evolves. Depression overwhelms them; many develop drug or alcohol habits just to cope. They aren’t bad people, they just give up hope or learn to survive in a different world than the housed.

 

Prevent homelessness with opportunity.

Everyone in this great country deserves an opportunity for meaningful work and a roof over their head to compensate for that work.  Job skills differ, and we are not all learning abled in the same way.  We know that jobs at all levels need to be performed to keep a healthy economy.  We must recognize that the need for affordable housing in ALL areas is needed to support ALL workers, including those who may be differently abled or performing in the lower-paying jobs.  That should include being able to live in the neighborhood where you work.  More affordable housing is needed in all areas and needed now.

Our one-size-fits-all method of education must change.  It is time, once again, to start teaching trades and skills in schools that prepare youths who are not college material how to make a meaningful living and life for themselves. Not everyone is college material, and we must stop selling the fallacy that no degree equals failure.  We need people with trade skills and always will.  Create and encourage job training programs in our schools which will create opportunity. This will prevent homelessness for many and offer an escape from homelessness for others.

Every homeless person has a story, and we must remember that their story is as unique and different as each individual we encounter.  In a democracy, you will never find a level playing field for all, but there is more we can do to help those who desire to succeed. It may be a different degree or level of success than our own but no less important.

 

Pat Spradley is the Editor of Street Zine, a newspaper which provides self-help for people living in poverty.