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rethinking homelessness

once again, i’ve been mia. i’m just coming off of an intense couple of months where i think my car and my clients saw me a great deal more than my husband did. it ended after a week where i was covering as the administrative assistant in the office while she was on her honeymoon and then going to see my clients, then the following week i’d see my clients and then run off to church to do the administrative duties for vbs (vacation bible school). those two weeks i’d leave the apartment around 8-9 am and sometimes not get home til around 11pm. it’s taken the better part of the last two weeks to recover and i can’t say that i’m at the top of my game yet. sleep is a precious commodity for me right now…i want lots of it.

anyhow, this last week, my eyes have been opened in big ways when it comes to how i help with the homeless. there is an orlando middle school teacher who has voluntarily gone homeless for 30 days. he is doing this for two reasons – the first is to raise awareness. the other reason is to raise money. he is asking for people to donate – any amount – and all the donations will go to benefit local charities in orlando that assist the homeless and to orange county public schools. he keeps nothing. for the full “effect”, he took only the clothes on his back and his id. he also took his iphone and charger so that he could use it to make video blogs each day to talk about his experiences.

thomas started his journey the night of july 4th. he created a facebook page to post his updates and at the present time, there are close to 3000 people following that page. you can check it out here:https://www.facebook.com/hungryandhomeless

each day, thomas somehow teaches me something new. first, i didn’t realize that the stigma of homeless people are addicted to drugs or alcohol is far from the truth these days. many are what’s considered the working poor – those that do have a job, but don’t make enough to support themselves in some sort of stable living quarters. there’s also a great many that are veterans. you’d be surprised at how many i’ve seen in the months of volunteering in orlando. another thing – when the homeless ask for money – it’s usually not for food (there are lots of organizations that feed the homeless), but to get basics – shampoo, toilet paper, sunscreen (it’s definitely needed here) and other basic products. they’ll use it to pay for a night at a cheap motel if they can get enough.

today – i had the chance to put some of what i’m learning into practice. after work, i stopped to pick up a few groceries. when i emerged from the store, there was a young man approaching random people in the parking lot. it is pretty safe to assume that he was seeking assistance. he looked like he had been having a rough time. after loading my purchase in my car, i drove over to where he had just been rejected by another person and lowered the window. i asked him if he would like me to get him something to eat. he hesitated and then politely declined. he then stated, “what i really need is money”. well…..i almost never carry cash and i told him this. but i offered to look, adding that if i did find anything, he’d be lucky. i opened my wallet and began to look through the various compartments. would you know…..folded neatly in my wallet behind some business cards was a $5 dollar bill that i thought i had lost a few weeks ago! i smiled as i handed it over to this young man. he thanked me as i wished him a blessed evening.

but that’s not the end of the story. almost home, i turned onto a side street that would take me to my husband. i noticed two very disheveled men on the opposite side of the road with their bicycles and a bunch of bags that i knew would be their every belonging. i pulled the car into an adjacent lot, parked the car and grabbed a couple of bags i had in the back seat. i put together a small kit of items that would be useful…..some shampoo, some bars of soap and toilet paper. i would normally add other items, but it was all i had left on hand. i drove back to where the two men still sat and again, lowered the window. i yelled out “i don’t have any cash left on my, but i do have some things here that you could use.” the one man came over to the car, took the bag and smiled really big, he thanked me and returned my wish for a blessed evening. i drove away, thinking of how one man’s journey to raise awareness for homelessness has changed how i approach them.

i pray that God protects the three men i met tonight and that they felt God’s presence in our brief encounters.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2014 in it's just me, My Walk With God

 

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a shelter in the time of storm

yesterday we had a downpour in orlando. there was thunder and the skies just let loose buckets upon buckets of rain.

i was with my clients to do community service as we typically do on tuesday evenings. after arriving a bit early, the kids met up with some of the other clients and were talking and throwing around a football when we heard that first clap of thunder. a couple of the kids didn’t like it – saying they didn’t feel safe, but most of them just stopped for a brief moment before resuming their play.

before long, the first drops of rain began to fall. other volunteers began to arrive as the rain began to fall heavier by the moment. pj, the director of straight street orlando arrived and i was not surprised that he wanted to carry on as normal to tend to our friends. so we braved the rain and made our way to the back lot of the church where we set up. not surprising was the lack of people there – both the homeless and the volunteers.

someone found a tarp that was held up by some of the volunteers while the rest huddled underneath the tarp and began to dish out meals into take out containers, placing them into plastic shopping bags. then someone would dash out into the rain and find a friend to hand out a meal to. i went around with a bag filled with fresh oranges, handing them out to our friends. it was the least i could do.

(this is a photo posted on straight street orlando’s facebook page from last night)

in the meantime, umbrellas and such became pretty useless. a hoodie my one client borrowed from me was soaked and very heavy so she took it off and i got the pleasure of hanging onto it, feeling it grow heavier by the minute as the rain continued to cascade over us. i had a large umbrella – it was pointless. my shoes were so wet that my feet were sliding in them – i finally took them off – it was easier to walk barefooted than to slide around in my shoes. my clothes – well – i don’t think there was one dry spot on them. even with an umbrella to “shield” me, water just ran down my back. as i stood leaning up against the window ledge with water pouring down my back, thoughts of warm, dry shelter crossed my mind. but not for me.

  (an image i found on the web)

i had a dry car to go to. eventually i would arrive home where i could change into dry clothing and wrap a blanket around me until i was no longer cold. but what about the friends we minister to here in downtown orlando? chances are, on a night like this was, if they were able to get to the nearest homeless shelter, there wouldn’t be any room because others got there well in advance of this storm. where were they going to go? when i eventually did leave, i saw people huddled in doorways of the church where we always meet. their backs were turned to try to shield them from the deluge falling around them. there were people gathered together on the steps outside of the church in the front. there they found some respite but it was windy so i would imagine it wasn’t totally secure from the weather. as i sat in my car with my clients, trying to warm up as fast as we could with the heater turned up high, all i could think about was how there were probably thousands who would be wishing deep down inside for a small corner to sit down in that was dry.

we went to get something to eat in the hopes that it would warm us up a little. we looked like drowned rats. while paying for our meal, an elderly man asked me if i had a dollar. as soon as i received my change, i immediately put it into the cup he held out and smiled at him. while the kids and i were enjoying our fried chicken and potato wedges, a young lady asked if i could help get her something to eat. i quickly fished out a five dollar bill and told her to get herself a meal. when we were leaving, another man approached me, holding a sign asking for help. i was out of small bills, but i did have a box with some leftovers. i told him to take the box, explaining what was inside. he thanked me several times. i just told him to enjoy and to have a blessed night.

i wish i had enough money to tend to everyone that night. feed them a meal. offer love in a world that has none to offer. and most of all, last night, i wish i could have offered them a shelter in the time of storm.

isaiah 25:4

to learn more about straight street orlando, visit them at their facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Straight-Street-Orlando/122504469134 or their website at http://www.straightstorlando.com/

 

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a slice of pizza

tonight, i attended an orientation for the z88.3 dream team. we’re a group of volunteers for our local Christian radio station. we help out at various events in the central florida area, answer phones during their share-athons, and other activities as needed. you can attend the orientation as often as they offer it – so there were people there that have been doing this for years. i joined the dream team back in november of 2013 when i was part of the phone crew for the fall fundraiser. this station is fully listener supported and commercial free. i have been a faithful listener for 8 of the 9 years i’ve been in orlando.

anyhow, they served us pizza and cookies. being a little bit of a pizza snob – growing up in the new york/new jersey area, you get some of the best pizza on the face of the earth and it’s a bit difficult to find really good pizza in orlando – i had to admit that the pizza they brought in was pretty good.

as i was noshing on a slice of pizza and enjoying the fellowship with the other dream team members, i couldn’t help but stop for a moment and think about the men and women in the central florida area who would be wondering if they were going to get anything to eat tonight. the weather had been pretty bad today and i didn’t know if the group i volunteer with most tuesdays would still have their weekly food share in downtown orlando. would these special friends get to eat? would someone see them and have compassion, either buying them a meal or sandwich, give them a little money to get a bite to eat or maybe give them whatever food they happened to have on them at the time? or would they have to forage through the many trash cans that line the sidewalks in the city? would they wait behind a local eatery, hoping to find some scraps that were tossed away but yet still edible? here i was, sitting inside a warm, dry building….eating some pizza that was warm and flavorful, ending the meal with a nice little treat of soft cookies. looking back, i wish i had thought to ask if i could grab some of the remaining slices to keep in the refrigerator until i went to see my friends on friday evening. ask if i could have the leftover cookies to share. they say that hindsight is 20/20.

i’ll be going to a food share on friday evening. i’ll take a couple of bags of fruit that i’ll pick up from the local produce market. i know that the recipients will be thankful. but i bet they would love to have that wonderful slice of pizza.

 

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it’s all in the bag

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while looking at the photos I had taken with my phone at the last two food shares in downtown Orlando, I noticed something that I hadn’t really paid attention to before. all the people there waiting to be fed had bags slightly under the bench they sat on, with it placed just so that their feet were touching part of them.

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some had one large bag while others had several smaller bags. there were lots of backpacks and a couple of suitcases. those that were fortunate to own a bike had a place to put their bags. others weren’t so lucky and had to bear their loads in their arms, and/or on their backs.
what’s inside? contained within the bags were, for the most part, their every possession that was a necessary part of their lives. chances are, you wouldn’t find large makeup kits or a stack of CDs and DVDs. what you’ll probably find are clothes – what little they own; toiletries – when they are able to get their hands on some; and probably some nonperishable food – granola bars, some easy open canned food that don’t require heating  and other things that they are fortunate to get at food shares and possibly a food bank. for those who are suffering from various forms of mental disorders, there could be items that one might find extremely odd, but something most needed for their reality.

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some will hold on to their belongings tightly, (understandably) afraid someone will come and take all that they own. I’m sure that a large number carry many of the plastic shopping bags given when you go to Walmart or Target or your local convenience shop. those will be used to carry food. the food given at the many food shares they can find, hoping that there’s enough to go around where they could score seconds and maybe even thirds. those extra portions can be at least 2-3 meals in case there’s no handouts the next day.
I’m thinking of a sweet friend who is facing life on the streets. she, and her family have been hit with one stroke of bad luck after another and all of the bad luck is starting to cave in on them. it’s bad enough to face this as an adult, but she has two children to take care of. No matter what she and her husband try to do, it just gets worse. if she lived in the same state as I do, I could find a way to help. I don’t have room for 4 more people in my little apartment, but i know enough that might be able to help or at least point the way to get help. of course there’s no guarantees, but I would do my darnedest to make sure that their lives weren’t reduced to a few bags.

 

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on my mind

i had every intention of writing about something completely different tonight, but i can’t get something off of my mind.

a couple of nights ago, i posted about some people i had the pleasure to meet while helping straight street orlando feed the homeless in downtown orlando. there was one person i saw, but never got the opportunity to speak to. it was a man sleeping on the side of the church where this event takes place. i recall as david and i made our way back to our car, we carefully walked along the sidewalk that runs alongside of the church. from a distance, on first glance, i saw what appeared to be a large sleeping bag with some other things strewn beside it at one end. i quickly realized that it was not just a sleeping bag, but one with a body inside of it. i warned david to watch where he was walking and he was shocked when i told him what i had seen. this is his response, as he posted on facebook that same night:

“Tonight I had one of the greatest surprises of my life.

A bundle of ragtag belongings was actually a man.

Walking away from the Orthodox church behind which believers had been feeding the poor, I was idling past the bundle of belongings carelessly left at the side of the church when my wife pulled me safely leftwards and pointed out that it was, in fact, a man.

He was choosing to sleep on stone flags beside the church in the middle of Orlando. He had picked his spot and lay down to sleep even as dozens of people passed him by on the way home. At least, those of them who had homes.”

homeless

i don’t know where the above photo was taken, but it caught my eye – the person walking past the homeless person who is sleeping is so common to view. once upon a time, i did the same thing. i lived in new jersey most of my life, living a short drive from nyc. in new york city, you see this kind of thing all over. people sleeping in the park, on park benches, under the doorway of a church or business. maybe in an alley, away from the foot traffic of the hustle and bustle of a normal day in manhattan. some have bags holding their meager belongings. some use a newspaper as a blanket or to shield their eyes from the daylight. but no one paid them any attention other than to glance over and maybe make some silent comment to themselves. i no longer can do that. instead, i cry out silently, asking for God to protect them. i wish i were rich because i wouldn’t use that money for lavish things – i’d be using it to help the homeless. i know i can’t help everyone, but i wish i could.

a good friend shared a song that she knew would touch me at the core of my soul because of my desire to help the homeless. i want to share that song with you. i pray that the message touches you as much as it did me.

Think of Me by Lisa Chan

http://youtu.be/2Ck4r6MaG7s

 

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home sweet home

“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.

DJK_5794

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.

DJK_5802

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.

collage

 

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