I started working with the homeless in 2010 while I was on the Street Outreach Services (SOS) Team for Catholic Charities Fort Worth. Prior to that I had not been in contact with homeless people beyond seeing them on the street and walking right by. During my time with SOS I learned so much about:
People experiencing homelessness must take survival very seriously while living in the brutal Texas elements. Individuals must find a place to sleep, with close proximity to food and water, which is safe and free from predators — both animal and human. Some find that safety in a shelter, while others choose to brave the urban outdoors. Their days revolve around ensuring their basic needs are met. The search for food trumps all other endeavors.
Clothing is another important basic need that can mean life or death. While many of us look at a closet full of clothes and think we have nothing to wear, many of our homeless friends struggle to have hygienic clothing that will keep them safe in the Texas elements.
Water is another essential item that people without homes cannot take for granted. Many of us have a preference for our water brand, while rough sleepers struggle with dehydration and many other health conditions caused by a lack of water. FUMCFW has provided thousands of water bottles for our guests at the Mission.
Over my years working with homeless individuals I have always been impressed by the deep friendships they develop, and their incredible and intense love for God. This love not only exists, but perseveres and grows during their time on the street. Generosity is a common personality trait among the homeless, and many are generous to each other even when they don’t have much to give. I have heard people say over and over again, “If I have $2 I will give a person who needs it $1, because they might have $1 when I need it next time.”
Pets are another important resource for people who live on the street. There have been several studies documenting the importance of animals for the mental health of people experiencing homelessness. An animal might be a person’s only friend, and the only way they experience compassionate touch and empathy. Many individuals would never leave their friend to go to a shelter and will sacrifice their own meal in order to feed their dog. Dogs in particular have been shown to help people with debilitating mental health issues, which can prevent them from having jobs and, therefore, food and shelter.
A big misconception about people experiencing homelessness is that they are dangerous and lawbreakers. This is a mostly false assumption, and many homeless individuals are more likely to be a victim of crime than to commit one. During my time working with this population I have come to know them as just people. I saw prostitutes, not as bad people or lawbreakers, but simply as individuals with hopes and dreams that never came to fruition. These people shaped my perception of the homeless, and I began to crave time with them. I wanted to hear their stories. I wanted to know, just for a moment, how someone can continue after losing everything. I have found that people experiencing homelessness have a tenacity I hope I never need to experience, and they are an inspiration to me.
Now I am continuing my work with the homeless at First Street Methodist Mission, and I am inspired by our guests as I learn more and more about them every day.