For reasons I don’t need to go into here, I was inspired to give my 18-year-old son, Grant Miller, a “homework assignment” (even though he graduated from high school last spring and is now working part-time at a sandwich shop) early last week.
I told him I wanted him to read my blog post from November 26, about the Wasatch Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Inner-City Outreach (ICOR) ministry.
I wanted him to read my descriptions of things that I’ve seen in my time of doing what I can to help the homeless, along with so many other people from our church who contribute in so many ways.
My instructions to Grant were pretty simple: Put yourself in the shoes of the homeless, imagine what their lives must be like from day to day, put your heart into it — paint me a picture with words. I assigned it to him Tuesday night. I told him he could start work on it the next day, and it was due by sundown Friday.
I wanted two full pages, single-spaced except for the paragraphs. He got a page and a half done by Wednesday at 10:45 a.m. He went to work that day and had a homeless person come into the sandwich shop where he works in West Valley City, across the street from a Wal-Mart store, asking for money or a job. I told him to use that experience in his report as some inspiration. “Write this from the heart,” I told him. “Paint me a picture with words.”
He got the assignment done, well ahead of the deadline I gave him. When my son puts his mind to something, he can do amazing work. I then told him I would use his words as the main theme for Sunday’s (today’s) blog post. He wasn’t expecting that at all.
Here’s his story — totally in his own words with no help or guidance from me in writing it — followed by videos recorded on my 20-year-old son Curtis’ iPod from our church’s most recent visit to Pioneer Park on Saturday afternoon to distribute items to the homeless as part of our ICOR ministry.
Imagine waking up in a strange place every single day. It could be a shelter, a public bathroom, a park, a playground, some public bleachers, an abandoned building, or maybe on a bench if none of the others are available. You get up and put your backpack on or pick up whatever bag you have to carry your stuff in, and you just start walking. You don’t really have anywhere special to go, but you just want people to think you do, so you just walk around the neighborhood minding your own business.
Along the way you might ask people if they have any cash on them, you make up a story like, “I left my wallet at home and I have to take the bus to work.” But what you really need the money for is to get some breakfast or lunch depending on what time of the day it is. You might get five bucks so you go to a McDonald’s or something and get a burger off the dollar menu and maybe a soda, if it’s not too expensive, then you save the rest of the cash for later.
After you’ve finished your meal, you start walking again. You might go to a store like Wal-Mart and just look around, making it look like you are going to buy something but really you’re just trying to kill time. After just looking around you might ask if there is a job available. If there is, you pick up an application and go on your way. You do the same thing at a bunch of other stores, just trying to make the day go by faster while trying to find some employment opportunities at the same time. Your stomach growls so you ask somebody, “Do you know what time it is? I forgot to put on my watch this morning.” It’s about 1:30 or 2:00 so you figure it’s about time to get something to eat. You’ve got about 3 bucks left over from earlier so you go to a gas station to get something cheap and filling. You get an energy bar or a granola bar, something that will keep you going for a couple of hours.
You look for a park to just sit down and rest for a while, and there might be a court so you go sit on the bleachers and watch the kids play ball. You might go fill up your bottle at a nearby water fountain. You go lay down under a tree and take a nap for a couple of hours because you’re so exhausted from walking around town so much, your feet are throbbing so you just go to sleep.
You wake up and realize that if you don’t hurry you’re not going to get a room at the nearby shelter. You get your bag and speed walk to the shelter. Luckily you’re not the last guy in line so you have a place to sleep for the night. They are serving dinner so you don’t have to spend the 2 dollars you have left.
You get a bite to eat and go sit down on one of the old stained couches that they have there, and you rest your feet some more. You watch some guys play cards or checkers, just trying not to get bored, trying to keep yourself from thinking about how bad your situation might be, and trying to make it seem like a normal day in the life of an average person. You might close your eyes and rest a little longer until it’s time to go to your room and actually get some real sleep.
You get to your room, where there is a bed, a chair, and a table with a light. You lie down on your bed and just look up at the ceiling, thinking about how tomorrow might be better. You open your bag and take out a crumpled-up magazine and look at it for a while. Eventually someone walks down the hall saying, “Lights out everybody!” So you get down on your knees and you say a little prayer, thanking God for helping you get through the day and asking him to help you get through tomorrow. To help you find a job, and eventually a place to call your own.
This story is just something I made up, but that doesn’t mean it’s not actually happening to someone right now. There are lots of different homeless people in lots of different situations.
There are homeless people living on their own, they only have to provide for themselves. There could be couples, having to help and provide for each other. There could be single parents having to provide food and clothes for one kid or two kids like in the movie based on a true story, “The Pursuit of Happyness.”
That movie showed anyone can be vulnerable to becoming homeless, Will Smith’s character was a very smart guy, but he made a decision that he thought would make him some money and a decent living but it ended up turning into a bad investment and it hurt him financially. He wasn’t able to pay the bills so he was evicted and he had to take care of his 5-year-old son. That movie ends well, he finds a job as a stock broker, but that doesn’t happen a lot. Some people can be homeless for months or even years.
Some people still have their cars, so they have to live inside of them with their belongings packed to the ceiling and with very limited space left over for living in. There are young couples who have babies to care for; sometimes parents have to go without meals for a day or two to make sure that their kids have something to eat.
At my church, we have something called ICOR (Inner-City Outreach) where we try to help these people by giving them warm clothes, shoes, socks, boots, coats, and other things to hopefully make them a little more comfortable. We try to give them hope by praying with them and giving them Bibles so they can have something good to read.
Hopefully, eventually, the economy will get better and the homeless numbers will go down and more jobs will be created, but until then this is how it is in lots of areas of the country.
VIDEOS RECORDED BY CURTIS MILLER, Saturday, December 17, 2011
And, finally, a parting “theme song” for today’s blog post.
Merry Christmas to all! And to all, a good night!
- Many people find it easier to empathise with animals and cars than homeless people and drug addicts (dailymail.co.uk)
- The sad lives and deaths of homeless on the streets of Santa Clara County – a continuing tragedy (mercurynews.com)
- Homelessness Around the World (frstephensmuts.wordpress.com)
- Follow-ups in Savannah on: ’60 Minutes’ story on homeless children in Florida spurs $1 million in donations | Poynter. (homelessnessinsavannah.wordpress.com)
- Whatever you DO for the least of these … (viewfrommiddleclass.wordpress.com)
- Homeless struggle to survive in winter (thehindu.com)