Today is the first day of a new season in which members and friends of the Wasatch Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church are scheduled to head out in the cold to Pioneer Park in downtown Salt Lake City to help the homeless as part of the church’s Inner-City Outreach (ICOR) ministry.
Those who help with this ministry will work behind the scenes for the next few months carefully sorting new and gently used items and buying some newer items that are more in demand (such as backpacks — of which there never seems to be enough of — or insulated socks, thermal men’s and women’s underwear, warm gloves, winter caps) thanks to generous donations and some wise shopping, preparing food and hot drinks, unloading the truck, setting up and taking down tables and loading the truck back up again, with long lines of people forming at the back of the truck if they’re not searching for needed used items in storage bins on the tables.
I started getting involved in this ministry myself several years ago when I wanted to capture images of the people who are in the greatest need through still photographs or videos. It’s a ministry that’s very close to my heart. I’ve never been homeless, but I have known all too well in my lifetime what it’s like to have very little income to be able to buy essentials. I have known what it’s like to end up sleeping in a car as a child because of problems at home. I’ve experienced it going back to the days of my childhood.
I’ve often shuddered at the thought of basically going back to those times and that way of life with my family today even before losing my last job. That’s why I’ve been fighting like mad for the past month or so to find work again. At the very least, I have a survival instinct already built in to my being to try and avoid that as much as possible.
It is all about survival.
The feeling of being destitute is not something that anyone wishes upon themselves, and it’s not always a matter of the destitute people bringing it upon themselves. It can literally happen to anyone at any time. You run into people who have run into very hard times, and you see them struggling to maintain any feeling of pride they can find within themselves. That’s a very hard thing to do.
In my time of service with ICOR, I think I’ve done nearly all of the tasks involved at one time or another, except perhaps for sorting and driving the truck, and I even came close to doing that last part once a year or so ago. I have driven from Pioneer Park a couple of blocks deeper into the downtown area, along Rio Grande Street, to the homeless shelters (click on this link for a KSL TV news video on the impact of homelessness on the children and see if it doesn’t touch your heart in some way) and rescue missions in order to use my God-given loud voice to let people inside and outside the buildings know that the ICOR truck has arrived at the park, and anyone needing anything is welcome to go and get it.
You see it all when you drive along Rio Grande Street. You see the addictions, but not all of the people who are homeless have addiction problems. You see the faces of families with children of all ages — including newborns being pushed in old strollers, children wearing light jackets in freezing temperatures and driving snow, threadbare shoes or boots, the joy on the face of a young girl when she receives a brand new pair of inexpensive but warm winter boots when all she’s had before was tennis shoes without socks — you see vehicles loaded to the roof with every personal belonging a family has. It’s not always that these people aren’t working. Some of them do have jobs. They just can’t afford a home to live in. At best, what vehicles they do have are their LITERAL “mobile homes,” where the only room they really have to live in is the seat in which they sleep each night.
I’ve seen it all in their faces. It’s heartbreaking. Try picturing yourself in that kind of situation. How would you survive?
Can you see yourself surviving without a “brother’s keeper?” In this season of thanks and giving, we need to check the things and the people we take for granted.