Water for the Homeless
Yesterday I went with a group of friends to downtown Phoenix to hand out cold water to those who live on the streets. As it is mid-June, the temperatures are reaching the triple digits every afternoon.
Water is a necessity to anyone living in this dry desert climate. For those living on the streets who are out in the elements every day the danger for heat-stroke and dehydration is high.
The homeless population in Phoenix continues to rise. Shelters in the area do a great job of making sure that food is available, but beds continue to be scarce. The problem of homelessness is overwhelming. It’s so much easier to look the other way, pretend it doesn’t exist, or criticize the very people who need the most help.
Passing out 100 bottles of water to the poor and needy is not the answer to this problem. I knew going down there that we were not going to fix anything. In fact, they have access to food and water at the local shelters.
The park where we first went has drinking fountains readily available. They really didn’t need our water. What they needed was to know that they are not forgotten, that someone still cares for them.
We went to a park where I knew several homeless spent their days. It’s a nice, quiet area with plenty of shade and grassy lawns. I didn’t want to take the group somewhere where we would be overwhelmed with need. I wanted the group to have an opportunity to talk to the people they were giving the water to.
My friend Chris immediately began talking with a young man sitting alone with a bicycle. He eagerly took the water and started a conversation. Before I knew it, Chris was sitting down with him, listening to his story.
In another area of the park, Laura sat down with two young women under a shade tree. Once they knew that she was willing to listen, one began telling her of her life story. She’s only 21 and living on the streets. She had a plan though, she was going to get a job and work her way out of her situation. Laura said later that she had no doubt that she would make it.
As many in our group found others to talk to, a few of us hit the streets passing water out to those we met along the way. We found a man named Fred who wanted to pray with us. He asked for prayer because he was bi-polar, schizophrenic, heard voices and had unclean spirits. He talked with us for a long time about his Islamic beliefs and desires to overcome his problem with drugs.
We also saw met a Chinese man who barely had any teeth. He was so excited to meet us. He told us he was a Baptist Christian and that he went to a Bible study every Wednesday. While he seemed fascinated by all the different denominations of Christianity, I was embarrassed by our lack of unity.
Many of the men and women that we handed water to gladly accepted the gift and said, “bless you”. I was amazed by their friendliness and their desire to give something back. While we were there to give to them, a blessing was something they could give in return.
There are many other stories that my friends would be able to tell. Every one of us left the downtown area impacted by the visit.
They didn’t need our water. While it was helpful and it probably better tasting than the water fountain, the water wasn’t the real gift. The need we met yesterday was much deeper than a physical hand-out. They needed someone to look them in the eye, to talk to them, to ask them their name, to listen to their story, to hear their needs, pray for them, to show them that they are not forgotten and that someone cares.
It was an incredible experience, one that none of us will ever forget. I can’t wait to go back and do it again. It makes me wonder. Who else needs that gift of time and care? Who else needs me to look them in the eye and listen to their story and needs? Just like we all need water to survive, we all have a need to be loved and cared for. It’s such a simple gift.
What do you think?
Have you had experiences in helping those in need? What impacted you? I'd love to hear your stories in the comment section below.
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