“home sweet home”…..for some of us, there are no truer words. for others, that phrase is something that is just out of their reach…..
last night, i went to downtown orlando to meet with other volunteers that would be “working” with straight street orlando, a nonprofit group that feeds the homeless behind a church twice a week. i typically will go on tuesday evenings with one of the teens i’m mentoring, but last night, i took david with me. while the other volunteers are passing out drinks and meals prepared by some of the volunteers, i will go around and fellowship with those being ministered to – asking what their name is, are they from orlando and how long have they been there. i shake lots of hands and give lots of smiles and a bunch of hugs. i let them know that i am happy to have met them. i am trying to let them see Christ through me as i show them i care. i “love on them”, as my pastor would say. 🙂
i have talked to many people since i started going to straight street, but last night was the first time that i was moved to tears. as the founder of straight street was giving a short message from God, i was sitting near a young couple who sat very close to each other and were holding hands – very tightly. every so often, you’d see one of them look at the other with tenderness and love. as i watched them, my heart began to break. i couldn’t seem to look away – until the tears started to fall. by this time, pj was offering up prayer and i was grateful for the moment – this allowed the tears to fall without much notice. i grabbed david’s hand – he would understand. since coming to america, david has become very aware of the homelessness – especially in the central florida area. when pj was done, i wiped the tears from my eyes and told david i wanted to get a photo of the young couple that touched my heart and was determined to meet them and talk to them. i went over to them and introduced myself and my husband and asked if we could take their photo. i explained i would be writing about the homeless situation in my blog and wanted to share their story. they agreed to have their picture taken and to letting me share it, along with their story.
meet albert and sara. he is 23 and she is 25. married three years. he is a navy vet, being discharged july of 2013. albert has a wonderful smile and a great attitude. sara is a bit quieter, but is very sweet. they’ve been on the streets – this time – for three weeks. albert stated they had been staying at his biological father’s house (i never asked why he kept referring to him as that) until he kicked them out. oh sure – they can still use his address for mail and for applications asking for a physical address, but they cannot live there. the night before we met, they had to move from the place they were sleeping to higher ground because we had heavy rains on monday night and there was flooding in many areas – including parts of orlando. albert told me that he has experienced homelessness since coming out of the navy last year. and he can’t seem to find a job. he wants to work. he is willing to do what it takes so that he can provide a home for he and his wife. while talking with them, i was made aware of a painful fact that shook me to the core. while there are plenty of shelters for individuals and for families with children, there are none in the downtown orlando area for married couples that have no children. the closest shelters for couples without children is somewhere between 7 and 15 miles away, depending where you go. traveling back and forth to a shelter that is that far can’t be easy when you don’t have the money to make that round trip on a daily basis. albert isn’t bitter. he IS on the other hand, grateful for making sure that he and sara are always fed, stating that “God is taking care of us”. i had a hard time walking away, but i wanted to spend time loving on others. i had blessing bags to give out and i’d already spotted a few i wanted to share them with. so i moved on.
this is joseph. while he didn’t share his story, his face captured my heart and i asked him if we could take his picture and share it. he said yes and we just talked for a few minutes.
orlando is said to have approximately 15,000 people that are homeless. 15,000!!! that number is staggering in my mind!! oh sure – florida is the sunshine state but open your eyes folks….it’s also in hurricane alley. we do get rain. and believe it or not, it can get cold here during the winter and sometimes the early spring months. and you know what? people want to go somewhere safe. they want a pillow under their head and a mattress of some sort to lie their weary bodies down on. they want to know that they are sheltered from the elements – rain, cold, bugs, etc….there’s even the danger of people taking advantage of their situation. there are assaults, rapes, and yes, murders. i’d read last night a homeless man that straight street had ministered to one night was stabbed to death not too far from where the feeding takes place. apparently there had been a fight between this man that was referred to as “barney” and another homeless man. this happened a few years ago – it probably made the news but i don’t watch the news. i’ve met a woman who had a baby two months ago. her son robert was a preemie and weighed a little under 5 pounds at birth. when i met her, robert was 6 weeks old and at his checkup weighed 7 pounds, i picked this tiny baby up and cradled him in my arms. he was so small. as i sat on the bench by his parents, i cried out in my heart. i kept asking God over and over to protect little robert. this isn’t supposed to be how life gets started. robert should be sleeping in a crib surrounded by little toys. he shouldn’t have to be made to brave the elements – especially since he was born so small. i don’t know the story of why his parents are homeless or how long they’ve been on the streets. from their appearance i wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve been there for quite some time. but i won’t say that it’s fact as i don’t judge a book by its cover. they may not be handling their own situation well and are just trying to cope with no home while caring for a tiny infant.
throughout the evening i passed out blessing bags til they ran out. introduced myself to many and let them know how happy i was to have met them. i met one man whose name i cannot recall that accepted my offer of a hug and i was the one to walk away feeling blessed. i met another man who declined a blessing bag. when i asked if he wanted a hug, he replied, “i could really use one right now”. so i reached out and hugged his weary body. this was the first time that i was close to a person that smelled of alcohol that didn’t make me want to turn away. it was as if God took my usual reaction to the smell of alcohol away so that i could be what i needed to be for this man. he told me he’s from north carolina and wanted to go back. he couldn’t find an agency to help him fulfill that one wish. he stated he can’t get help from his family back there because they don’t have the resources to get him home. he shared he’s having medical problems. i don’t know why, but i offered another hug, and this time i held on tightly for an extra moment or two. before i walked away, i reached out and touched his face. i can still see the sadness in his eyes.
david was so moved by the things he heard and saw last night that he wrote a poem:
Glory of Cities
You love us when we’re fighting. We were proud
to fight for those who’d never know our name.
You cheer like fury when you’re in the crowd
and we parade before you, hale or lame.
But when we come back home, behind the lines
you draw (and we once drew), we don’t exist.
As once we did, you fail to see the signs;
and though one flag by all of us is kissed,
we forage for our food in dark back yards
where churches give us all that they can get,
or offer crumbs of comfort now and then;
we learn to struggle wounded through the shards
of shrapnel flung by cities which regret
we live in them – as though we were not men.