Yesterday, I got to meet with Justine. She has experienced homelessness since losing her job during COVID. As a part of Unity’s Walking In Their Shoes program, she generously agreed to tell her story.
We are in the midst of editing the video and will post it when available. In the interim, here is some of what I learned:
Justine does not consider herself homeless. She prefers the term residentially challenged. This came out of a conversation with her ten-year-old daughter who said, “Mom, you’re not homeless if you have a home in your heart.” Why is it that children are often the greatest teachers?
Heath Burchett, founder of Watchmen of the Streets, escorted us to the homeless encampment. He has personal relationships with many friends in the camps and was so helpful in making this interview possible.
It was 27 degrees yesterday morning and only slightly warmer when we started filming. My mind drifted to those bitterly cold nights at the end of December and I asked Justine how she stayed warm in her tent. She said she sleept with layers and layers of blankets and several sweatshirts. She also said her dog, Macho, helps keep her warm.
During the day she has a fire going. This helps with the heat and is used for cooking.
Justine worked in the hotel business. When the pandemic hit, she lost her job, along with all of her coworkers. For a while she lived in her car, hoping that the pandemic would soon end. Eventually, she and her husband (along with several of her coworkers) began living in the woods.
It sounded to me like one of the biggest obstacles to accessing permanent shelter is how expensive rent has become. Earning enough for the first and last months’ rent, alongside the higher monthly rents, is almost impossible for some. Since the pandemic began housing has only gotten more expensive. Justine’s story is a stark reminder of how many people are only one paycheck away from experiencing homelessness.
Justine shared how it is hard to find access to showers and food. When she attempts to, she said people assume she is an addict or ask why she hasn’t worked harder to get off the streets. The stigmas attached to homelessness are strong. Even among these unfair perceptions, she’s found people who are willing to help. One particular fast food restaurant where she used to work allows her to come in to stay warm on cold days and stay for as long as she wants. They will often feed her and give her something to drink, free of charge.
As I spoke with Justine and listened to her story, I found myself wondering how many more people are in a similar situation? Yet we do not often see them. They remain hidden on the fringes of society. If I hadn’t had Heath Burchett as a guide, I would never have known where Justine lived. How many people are struggling just out of view?
Unity is a Matthew 25 church. That means that we seek to follow Jesus’ words— “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Jesus speaks of people who need clothing or food or water or a visit while sick or in prison. Jesus says that when we offer help to others, we are actually helping Jesus himself.
In our country, those most in need are often hidden from view. As Christians, we must go out of our way to build relationships with those who are struggling. Heath gave Justine two tarps, a small propane canister and a winter jacket. This was a way to respond to her immediate needs. But it made me wonder— is there a way to respond to the systemic reasons that led her to a tent? Is there a way to combat the affordable housing crisis in our country?
I don’t have all the answers, but I am committed to serving those on the fringes of society as if they were Jesus.
This Sunday we’ll continue with The Story Of David series as the power struggle between King Saul and David finally concludes. You can get a head start by reading 1 Samuel 24. Also on Sunday is Unity 101.
Tonight is casserole night at Wednesday night dinner. What could be better on a wet, soggy day? Join us for Bible study at 5 pm and dinner at 5:45 pm.
See you on Sunday!