My aunt was asking me about what I am doing and I was explaining a little about what it is that I do. She became really concerned for my safety when she found out that a lot of the time I am one of the only staff persons present while serving a large group of homeless men. This reaction really shocked and angered me. Why would she assume just because these guys are currently experiencing homelessness that it was dangerous? I got defensive over her judgment; these guys aren’t dangerous they are people just like everyone else. Yes, some of them are in the mist of addiction and some of them are dealing with mental illness. This does not by any means indicate that they are dangerous. After I got over my initial reaction of anger I was able to convey that even if one of the guys were to become violent with me the other guys would most assuredly intervene. I explained to her that I was part of this community and that these guys were not just crazy homeless people but they were individuals with unique needs and struggles.
[Editor’s note: Michael is on vacation this week, so Julie B., one of our YASC community ministers, is filling in.]
As I am sitting here reflecting on my experience as a YASC member so far one of the most influential experiences I have had thus far is having a feeling of belonging with the population that I am serving. I did not expect or anticipate for this to happen. I did not even realize that had happened until I went to visit some family over Christmas.
I realized later that I had such a strong reaction to her judgment because she was making a judgment about my community, my people. Somehow, without even realizing it I had become part of their community. It is, however, completely logical and understandable looking back how I so easily and seamlessly became integrated into this community. I spend several nights a week where my sole goal is to build relationships with these guys. I share meals with them, I get them settled in when they first arrive, and I make sure that they have everything that they may need to make them comfortable. I work really hard to make sure that if I make a promise any one of the guys that I keep it.
I have come a long way for the first days of my service here. The guests that I serve have gone from just a list of names on a piece of paper to group of gentlemen that I know and admire; when I say “know,” I do not just mean know their names and a little about their “stories,” but I have really been able to break through the barriers and get to know their struggles and hopes.
I–like my aunt, and most people–have the tendency to make judgments and generalizations about things I really don’t know about. I never really gave too much thought about the implications of those judgments. However, when you become part of a community then you realize that those judgments are just that, judgments. They are based in fear, hate and ignorance. I would like to challenge everyone to attempt to become part of a community that is completely different from the ones you generally associate with, a community that you may have some pre-conceived notions about. Then you might learn something you never knew you didn’t know. You might learn that these people that you hated or are afraid of are not crazy homeless people, they are William, Darren and John, they are kind and giving, they are my friends.
See you in church (or volunteering at the shelter!),