Linda, Pete and Matt* don’t have many belongings and during most of these freezing January nights they are huddled up next to a candle hoping to stay warm from the little bit of heat it provides.
For the past several months, I’ve been going out and working with a couple of other groups who do homeless street outreach. At first I resisted joining these teams because of my fears and biases. What I’ve learned over the past few months have put these fears and biases to rest. I now look forward to the opportunities to get back out and check on my new friends.
There is a group of wonderfully amazing people in Indianapolis who volunteer their time and money to help the homeless. They know the homeless by name and they consider many of these homeless individuals their close friends. These are not state or government paid individuals but typically church groups and other nonprofits who have a passion to help those less fortunate.
I’ve learned that the homeless people are so very grateful for everything that we provide for them but even more for the fact that we take our time and money to share it with them. Each time we show up they thank us over and over and usually end by stating, “God bless you!” The genuine appreciation is clear in their actions too. Last month I was even given a bunch of flowers by one of the homeless guys, “Pete” who wanted to show me how much it means to him that I have joined this group and that I come out now on a regular basis. This was obviously so very unexpected because I was there to bless them and give to them to help them feel special but here is someone who doesn’t have much of anything giving me a blessing and making me feel like the special one.
The items that the homeless most request in the winter, as you can imagine, are warm blankets or sleeping bags, socks, flash lights, batteries, candles (these provide heat in their tents but they have learned the shorter jar candles are the best because they don’t usually tip over and cause a fire), sweatshirts and sweatpants and hats and gloves. They always want the usual items including water, toilet paper, and baby wipes. However, when it gets really cold outside the baby wipes freeze and turn into hard bricks that are not usable, fortunately, we have not had a super cold winter so the baby wipes have still been a request as we visit the homeless camps.
I’ve learned that the homeless are survivors. This week I saw “Linda” again. I met her and her husband the first time I went out to do street outreach a few months ago. On the night that we went out it was rainy and cold and Linda wasn’t wearing a coat. I went over to hug her and she said, “Be careful, I’m sick, I’ve been in the hospital but I had to come back to take care of my dog.” She said that they had to call the ambulance because she was having trouble breathing. They put her in the hospital because she had pneumonia. While she was in the hospital her husband hooked up with another woman and somehow got arrested so that left her dog in the tent by himself so she signed herself out of the hospital to come back and take care of her dog. Due to the rain her camp got flooded so she had to temporarily move up into the rocky area by the railroad track. She is doing what she has to just to survive and she really needs to go back to the hospital to get over the pneumonia.
I’ve learned that many of the homeless have experienced extreme trauma and tragedy that has made it difficult for them to overcome without help. And they haven’t been offered help for their trauma or tragedy. I recently found out the story of one of the homeless guys, who everyone loves because he is very generous and super handy (he has taught himself how to weld and is building a new deck off of his “house”), we will call him “Matt”.
Matt was raised by his single mom and he never knew his dad. His mom was a part of a carnival crew that traveled from town to town and he can remember sleeping under the octopus ride while his mom went and visited her man friends in the different trailers. He didn’t have any friends except one time he had a dog but eventually his mom took that from him too. So now, he has his dog “Rocky” who is his best friend and protector.
Matt has never received any type of formal training and education on construction or welding but he has built an incredible dwelling that keeps him dry, safe and secure. He has been scorned and rejected by society but he often is the one that other homeless people go to for help and he gives them his best. Last month when we saw him he had a warm set of coveralls on but when we saw him this month he didn’t have them on. We asked him about them and he said he gave them away. Same thing a couple of months ago when we asked about his super warm nice gloves, he gave them away. Over and over again he is taking care of others at his own detriment.
Imagine what Matt might be able to accomplish if we were to provide him with the tools to overcome his trauma and opportunities for formal training to use his skills and natural talents.
This is what A Tiny Act of Kindness will be able to provide, services and training as well as jobs and transportation and much more.