Homeless or Helpless
Here we are
People are people
We're just ordinary people
The Negro drifter in New York City is not given to living in “jungle” camps. He prefers to get his food by “sponging” from friends, begging, or doing odd chores of a few hours duration. For sleeping quarters during warm weather he find shelter on the docks of the East River, on the Harlem River water-front between 126 Street and 150 Street, in empty rooms, lofts and basements in Harlem, in the subway stations along the Lenox Avenue line, or perhaps he rides the subway or elevated trains a few hours. Even on the coldest nights some can be found sleeping on the benches.” I want to dispel the overall understanding of this individual and I will attempt to do so in the story of a man who has done all of this, but he would never say he sponged off friends, because he always made his own way and left friends and family behind with his drift from city to city, etc.
Our assignment was to interview someone that through various different circumstances found themselves in the situation of being without a home. So, what I decided to do was to go to neutral territory for my own safety and for the safety of the person I would be interviewing, because I recognized through my understanding of Pastoral Care the foundation of trust and safety must be established. So I decided I would conduct my interview in setting where the person is most comfortable or in their environment. I have through various books and articles; we were exposed to the duration of this class gained a wealth of knowledge. It has caused me to realize that in order for my interview process to be educational and authentic I must first acknowledge my own biases and the things, which I bring to the table.
I have carefully arranged my questions in the best manner, so that I could give the person I am interviewing the freedom to express their story in the most authentic way. Therefore, I comprised some questions, the basis of my questions have been the books, Not another One Night Stand and Rachel’s Children. The articles I intend to draw useful insights during my interview process will come from: Homelessness and African American Men, Disruptive Christian Ethics: The Bible and Welfare Reform, Engaging Families as Experts: Collaborative Family Program Development, Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road, Federal Definition of the Homeless, A Womanist Legacy of Trauma, Grief, and Loss, and African American Men Grief and Loss.
I feel is it important to begin with a basic understanding of those that are without a home referred to as the homeless populace. I use the word populace because populace according to Encarta dictionary as ordinary people, as distinct from the political elite or the aristocracy. The reason why I chose this definition is, because I think it accurately describes those that find themselves for the majority of the population of those people without homes. They are as the definition says ordinary people. I think that ordinary people describes us all for the most part, whether minister, parishioner, parent, or pimp.
We all fall under the category ordinary people. I would even argue that the politically elite and the aristocracy are also ordinary people that may or may not do extraordinary things. In order provide a better understanding of the situation of the ordinary people or as I would call the ordinary survivors of extraordinary situations. According to our federal government the United States Code has a federal definition of homeless that says, “For purposes of this chapter, the term “homeless” or “homeless individual or homeless person” includes-
1. An individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and
2. An individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is-
A. a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill);
B. an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or
C. a public or private place not designed for, or ordinary used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.
A homeless individual shall be eligible for assistance under any program provided by this chapter, only if the individual complies with the income eligibility requirements otherwise applicable to such program.”
This is how the federal government views ordinary people that find themselves in extraordinary situations that result in their homelessness. Who better understands the individual? Who better to understand the situations or circumstances, which resorted in the current state of homelessness? What experts would make a more accurate assessment then the individual? The Fraenkel article says, “This approach is particularly useful in developing programs for families who have experienced social oppression and who may have been reluctant to participate in programs created for them by professionals without their consultation.”
Madsen says, “The foundation of clinical effectiveness lies in the basic stance we hold in regard to clients and the way we position ourselves in relation to them. I think it is particularly true with families of postmodern-influenced family therapies, such as narrative, solution-focused, and collaborative language systems, Madsen describes an approach to therapy in which the therapist takes the stance of an “appropriative ally” honoring the family’s definitions of its problems, resources, and potential solutions.” In my interview process I tried to keep these principles very consciously in my mind as I approach each individual. I wanted to be seen as appropriate ally as opposed to an easy enemy. Every speech, body language had to be careful and intentional.
In keeping the notion of further consideration of ordinary persons that due to extraordinary circumstances find them in unique situation of homelessness. We must consider the precariousness of their situation. In the article People on the Move, it advices, “It is important to understand that, contrary to what is often thought, living on the street is on always a choice. Indeed, life on the street is hard and dangerous, a daily struggle for survival. It is even less opting for freedom. In fact, the homeless are highly vulnerable because they are forced to depend on others even for basic needs, and are exposed to aggression, cold and the humiliation of being chased away because they are unwanted.”
I can completely concur with this analysis, because I have seen it first hand in the most unlikely place, the church. I have firsthand witnessed situation where the church untrained and uneducated with the uniqueness of this situation, therefore there was a barrier that existed between the church and those that they were feeding. It resulted in the church being forceful towards the people coming in for a meal as a survival mechanism. The church which was supposed to be a safe haven where they could come and fellowship and enjoy a meal turned into just another place where they are humiliated, greeted coldly, and even treated in an aggressive manner with an aggressive tone.
The church could not understand why on Fridays they could feed literally over 100 people, and why not even one person ever considered coming on Sundays or even Wednesday. Honestly, as a whole they had taught them that Friday for the most part what they needed to know about the people or for some the church. There can be no place for them there. They are right because the current state of that church was not even in good condition for the people there. This atmosphere and attitude differed from the attitude or treatment of the people by the pastor who was more than hospitable and very open-minded, kind-hearted, and considerate of each person that walked through the door.
For me, I thought maybe some of this treatment could be eliminated if there was explanation of the vision and what was expected of the volunteers. Also there needed to be honest dialogue between the pastor, the congregation and the volunteers about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in treating those ordinary persons that find themselves in extraordinary situations that resulted in their homelessness. There could also be a discussion on the various causes of the situation, the dignity of each person, and Christian solitude in order to bring about awareness and understanding as it relates to the unique situation.
 People on the Move Article.
African American Homelessness Men Article, 152.
Ordinary yet Extraordinary
Encountering the Individual
While bearing in mind all of these models, principles, and the various pastoral care principles of actively listening, liberating, and guiding I will attempt to interview two ordinary people that find themselves in the extraordinary situations that resulted in homelessness. I want to interview an African American male born in the sixties. I intend to explore their world through the unique lens they provide to gain better understanding, awareness, and sensitivity in this unique area.
I interviewed this man that bore the situation of being an ordinary African American man that found himself for the past thirty years in the extraordinary situation of being in without a home. For him, this situation of homelessness has been chronic for the past thirty years. His name was John. When I began my interview he asked for three dollars to catch a Church’s Chicken dinner special. I asked him if it would be ok if I interviewed him. He agreed.
In the beginning of the interview he asked me to hold on a second as he ran to an older woman who had a jug of milk, she purchased for him from CVS. He came back and told me how he took care of himself. He said that he tries to take good care of himself. He then addressed me by saying, “I am a nomad.” “Do you know what a nomad is?” I said, “Yes, it’s a wanderer.” “The dictionary definition for nomad is a person that travels from place to place according to the change in climate. I am a nomad.” I said, “Wow, nice insight.” I asked him his name and he told me it was John then I told him wow, this is kind of reminiscent of John the Baptist in the wilderness.
He said he reads the bible often; mostly the prophetic books and he never looked at the John the Baptist like that. He said he had never gotten in to that and I told him how John was the voice in the wilderness. He said he would look into that. Then, he begins to tell me of his life. He said he had been chronically homeless for the past thirty years since he was twenty-one. He is now fifty years of age.
He said he was not from Atlanta; he was from Washington, DC. He said he grew up in a single parent household. He said that his mother instilled in his brother and himself a set a values not like, not how people train their children today. He said, “My mother was an excellent provider, none other like her. She was the type to make sure her children had everything they needed. I worked all my life. As long as, I could work, I worked. My mother was the type if I wasn’t working she stayed on me. She rode me until I got a job. So when I got old enough I went off into the world and never looked back.”
He then begins to tell me how he had traveled this world from city to city, town to town, state to state. He was from Washington, DC to New Port News, Virginia; he had traveled to Norfolk, and Portsmouth, Las Vegas, Texas, California, Utah, New York, etc. For him to go from city to city or state to state was nothing. He said he traveled panhandling and then, he would get to the point where the climate changes and it was time for him, to go to the next place and, he would play the lotto hit the number and buy a bus ticket and go to his next destination. He recalled a specific time when he said someone called the police, because he was panhandling and he said he told the police he just wanted to get to a city in Texas and the policeman paid for his ticket.
Although he was almost arrested for panhandling, he said he had never robbed anyone or stole anything. He was the product of a single mother household that raised her two sons to have morals and values, according to him. This contrasts with the article that says, “The likelihood that a young black will engage in criminal activities doubles if he is raised without a father and triples if he lives in a neighborhood with a high concentration of single-parent families. There is no explanation given for how these mothers induce high crime rates other than their mere identities and presence as single black mothers.” This totally differs from the experience of the man I interviewed name John as you will see.
He said he preferred to be alone. He said he did consider himself to be homeless but he loved to lead a solitary life. When it rains or gets cold he has a place he can go to he said it was just like a home. I asked if he considered shelter. He said he didn’t like the shelters because of the negative attitudes and overall atmosphere. Then I asked him he had considered taking help from the church.
He said no he could make it on his own. He could take care of himself. He did not need their help. He did not seem receptive to the church or shelters, however, he did say he was in the process of getting social security. He said he was quite content with no family and friends, he prefers it that way. He prefers to lead a life of solitude, quiet, and alone.
He said he has no family, no friends, no drama and he prefers it that way. He reads the bible quite often. He seemed to be highly intelligent. He said that many of those persons that find themselves in his precarious situation, are on drugs and mentally ill. He says that world is very real, but he brought into account the humanness of the situation.
He brings out the realization that each person carries their own set of circumstances and situation to the table. I asked him it ever gets to be too much for him, does he ever want to have some place to go. He said that of course and he does have a place he could go. He said it is just like the home I live in. It reminded me of a conversation we had in class about home and how the definition of home changes with each person. It says, “For most people the word “home” sums up not only what one lives for but the very means of life itself. Shelter. Food. The love and care of family. The place where private joys and sorrows are shared. Having a home, some place to go that is your own place, is assumed to be an essential for any human being.”
The fact of the matter is that he felt safe in his own environment or the utopia he created, then the confines of the homeless shelter or any other place that an organization put together. He felt that the dynamics were drama filled and in his own little utopia he set the environment, be it good or bad, it was something that was in his control. He even mentioned that this was not his first time coming to Atlanta.
He said when he was in his twenties he visited Atlanta, but he did not care much for it then. He said because they were so strict with panhandling outside of businesses and locations so he quickly moved on to places such as El Paso, Texas and Las Vegas, Nevada. He made it very clear to me that in his nomadic travels he never hitch hiked he would always take the Greyhound bus on each excursion. The pastoral care that I tried to provide to him was to just be as present in the moment as I quite possibly could. I acknowledged his every moment comfort and tried to put him at ease and establish some type of common ground.
For him, the most important think was for me to know that he was a nomad. In other words, it was a choice for him. One could even surmise it to be a way for him to express in literal words his life. I thought he did an excellent job in his definition of a nomad. The Encarta dictionary says of a nomad that, “A member of a people who move seasonally from place to place to search for food and water or pasture for their livestock.” Also it says, “Somebody who wanders from place to place. [Late 16th century. < French nomade < Greek nomas "wandering about to find pasture" < nemein "to pasture"].”
For this fifty year old nomadic male, he was moving from place to place in search of something. What that something is, I am not sure. One could surmise it is God. I think it runs deeper. It is something he said that keeps sticking out to me.
I asked him if he had a wife, kids, and his immediate reaction was like oh no. It was as if to him they were baggage or an extra burden that he was not ever interested in carrying. He didn’t see the honest need to connect with his own family and he couldn’t even reason even to try seeing him creating or trying to build a family or create one for himself. As I watched the reaction and his body language when he mentioned that his mother would ride him something changed.
He said with pride and a sense of dignity that his mother was an excellent provider and that he always had a job, but his language spoke something different when he mentioned his mother riding him. But immediately he said as if he was cleaning it up for me, she was trying to push me to be a man, but then he came back and but she used to ride me and ride. That let me know even though his adult fifty year person may have understood what his mother was trying to do, it was still thirty years later and it still bothered him. It was something he was visibly wrestling with.
I felt that was a very important part to interject because it brought for me to light again his humanity. He told me how important solitude was and being with one’s self, but he also inadvertently hinted that throughout the story of his life, their have been individuals that have helped him along his nomadic travels. Such as the policeman, the woman I witnessed purchasing him the milk. His nature during the conversation and clarity with which he spoke let me know that he knew how to articulate his needs. With the exception of a few minor grooming issues he could walk in a crowd and blended right in.
He had unknowingly built relationships with people, even with me. The pastoral care I felt that I gave to him fell in the categories of healing, guiding, listening, being, and liberating. I felt that healing came into play when he told me about the special of Churches Chicken because the look on his face when I gave him the money to go get the meal was priceless. I do not think I will ever forget it and this was at the close of the conversation.
I literally saw someone telling me his story but when I met the need he bolted in the direction of Churches and I honestly think I saw relief. For me healing had taken place on both sides. The worry had literally been washing off his face in a matter of a five second exchange. The guiding took place when I informed him of John the Baptist, because that light bulb went off and it gave him some information he did not have and something to look for.
I could tell that by the end of our conversation, he was going to do at least three things, read the Gospels to find out information on John the Baptist, to see similarities between himself and John. He was also going to eat a chicken meal, so I had met his physical need. Also he was left with a sense that there were people out there who still cared and would take the time to listen to his story, whatever it was and not judge one moment of it he was given the freedom and opportunity to tell someone of all his traveling.
 West, 83.
 Jonathan Kozol, Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America, (New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 1988), ix.
 Microsoft Encarta Dictionary
 Microsoft Encarta Dictionary
We a people!
The Web of Life
I saw him smile and come to life as he proudly told his story. I also tried to provide care through listening very intently not just to his words, but to his body signals. In one of our readings it says at the beginning of the chapter, “You think only of the next day when you’re trained to think only of the next day. These words were spoken by a homeless man with whom I spoke last year. “Be at the EAU by five. Be at your welfare office on the other side of town by nine…”
When every moment in a woman‘s struggle for survival calls for an alacrity in seizing the next opportunity for placement, for a medical appointment, or (when all else fails) for an appointment to obtain the money for her child‘s burial, it may be a bit unfair to ask for long-range plans.” This is something I tried to bare in mind so that I did not push him to commit to anything long-term. My simple task was to look at John the Baptist, hoping that sparks a possible exploration of the bible in its entirety someday. I felt I did plant that seed. He was very much a person that lived in life’s moments.
In my pastoral care attempt I tried to bear in mind the struggle of the African American male the best way I knew how to remember the parallels that exist between Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”, Henry Nouwen’s “Prodigal Son” and the image of him according to the novels of James Baldwin. Society has created a variety of depicted images of the African American male.In the movie, “A Raisin in the Sun” Walter Lee says, “Money is life.” His mother responds by saying, “I remember when freedom was life.” This just reiterates the fact that each individual case is unique there are a host of differences that come from class, generation, etc. I kept this in mind.
In the book it says, “If we want to be more than a “one night stand church” in our ministry with poor and marginalized persons then we need to begin with prayer, eat with poor, and stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters living in those margins. Mutual transformation is possible when we pay attention. The best way to pay attention is to hear their story. We miss seeing people as flesh and blood when we fail to take time to hear their stories.” This particular quote summarizes the approach I adopted before, during, and after my interview process.
In the area of being and liberating I think in my interview process they were hand in hand. There could not be being without liberation and there could not be liberation where there was no being. The process sparked to me to be highly educational. Just as much as I gave so did he and just as much as he received so did I in turn. This as I stated in the previous chapter was part of my approach.
He may never spend one day in church but remaining present in the conversation was something I made certain I did. There were small gestures such as acknowledging his needs, desires, and his dislikes as well. For example, I offered him some Krispy Kreme donuts and he declined, because he wanted the special at Churches Chicken. I respectful put the donuts away and did give him the money to buy the special with a something to spare. I often yield the conversational lead to him to articulate his story in whatever manner he chose.
I definitely gave him the proper respect. I often found myself reassuring him through gestures such as a nod of the head and a soft smile to let him know I agreed with him and also that I was engaged and invested in the conversation as he was. I was attempting to give him liberation through my presence. Sometimes there was no need for questions or words just listening and being, which led to liberation.
To see him before we spoke not exactly crippled, but dragging his cart and obviously exhausted on some level. Then when our conversation was over to see the amount of energy, he possessed as if he had been rejuvenated and literally bolting in the direction of church. It was not just a moment of liberation for him, but for me also to see the transformation, no matter how minuet takes place. As for me, I was happy to have met and spent if only for a brief time period, to have been in the presence of Mr. John.
(stop)For this experience, I think that I was taught the power of personhood or the power of humanity and humanness. For this experience, I leave which a greater appreciation and level of compassion for ordinary persons that find themselves in that extraordinary precarious situation. I have learned that my background in Radio Broadcasting and interviewing has made me comfortable in talking to people in any setting whether it be in a professional manner or an impromptu place such as a side walk or the corner of street by the CVS by the West End Mall.
My reality of this particular populace has greatly increased, in that I see and understand each person has a need it may not be what it appears to be on the surface. When providing care to this populace one must deeply and wholly engage themselves in active listening. This must be done because you must fully being engaged in order to hear the true needs for what they are. I have learned the importance of acknowledging your biases, because it only helps you in knowing what you are capable of doing and what you are not able to handle.
Not only must they feel a sense of safety around you, but you should also have a mutual sense of safety as you provide care. It should be a dual process. For me the best proposal for care was the approach where the individual or family is the authority on their situation, because no matter the level of education or knowledge one acquires, no one knows the ins and outs of your situation like you. You are very uniquely qualified to provide a very strong and deep understanding of your situation. I am very inspired by this entire experience, because it only takes one person, one story, and one moment in order to seek the beauty of the connection of the shared bond between God’s creations human to human.
1. West, Traci, Disruptive Christian Ethics: The Bible and Welfare Reform.
2. Homelessness and African American Men
5. Kozol, Jonathan, Rachel And Her Children: Homeless Families in America, New York, NY: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1988.
6. Flowers, John and Karen Vannoy, Not Just A One Night Stand: Ministry with the Homeless, Nashville, TN: Discipleship Resources Inc., 2009.
7. Microsoft Encarta Dictionary 2007 Edition.
8. People on the Move: Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road.
 Kozol, 129.
 Flowers and Vannoy, 85.
We All Have Room Left To Grow
Is there a solution to homelessness?
If you or someone you know needs assistance contact 211 its free from any phone and any state.
- 2-1-1 Call Center Search
Online searchable database of 2-1-1 call center services in the U.S.A.