As of January 2015 there were more than 564,708 people reported homeless on any given night in the United States. What this means is that there are thousands upon thousands of people sleeping on city streets, in subways, on park benches and anywhere else where they can lay their hat for a night.
There are a few things in this life that make me really sad. One of them is seeing people without a home, without the surety of a meal, without a network of friends and family to lift them up and surround them with love.
Accepting those who need assistance
Before I get too far into this, I can hear some of you saying, “But many homeless people are without a home because of bad choices they have made. They are drug addicts and alcoholics who keep making mistakes.”
Yes, there are drug addicts and alcoholics on the streets. But there are also women with children, veterans, elderly and others who by no fault of their own have found themselves without a place to lay their heads. And even those who struggle with addiction need our love.
While the rest of us enjoy the warmth of a fire and the comfort of clean sheets and a meal, others are not even sure where their next meal will come from or where they will spend the night. This breaks my heart. We are living in the wealthiest and most unequal country in the world. With a personal wealth of over $153.2 trillion, no one should be homeless or hungry in this country.
Homeless by choice
But, what about those who make a choice to live a life wandering from town to town, not settling down and getting a job to provide for their needs? I classify these people as hard to understand and difficult.
There are many difficult people in this world, we meet them each day, but it is when we come in contact with these people that we are called to rise to a higher level of love, to set aside our judgment. Personally, my dealings with difficult people always prove to be a growing experience. I come out of the other side a better steward of all God has given me, including my ability to be accepting.
Inviting a homeless couple to our Thanksgiving meal
This Thanksgiving was especially memorable for my family. My recently married daughter and her husband decided to host our dinner this year. We had a table of 13, comprised of family, close friends and a homeless couple that showed up in our little town a week or so ago.
We first saw the young couple outside a local store where they were sitting on the cold concrete on a tarp with their puppy in 20-degree weather. As the days progressed, it was evident that this couple was staying in town a while. My daughter ran into them when walking the dog one cold night. When she returned, she asked me if we could go find them to offer them some soup. Once we found them, we talked a bit and I got pieces of their story. When we parted, we left them with an invitation to come have Thanksgiving dinner with us.
Meeting James and Audrey
We picked up James and Audrey along with their tiny puppy the next day for dinner. It was a strangely comfortable ride, sharing pleasantries and getting to know this interesting couple. Once we arrived at my daughter’s home, we were greeted with the aroma of turkey and all its fixings along with the sweet scent of fellowship. We were met by four rambunctious dogs who were equally ready to welcome the new puppy to the fold.
As the evening progressed, our conversation became richer and also more challenging. We went back in time with the homeless couple to the point at which they both became perpetual wanderers. They had each struggled with rough childhoods and found themselves on the streets at an early age. Now in their 20s and 30s, it was clear that opportunities for them to settle had been presented. However, they were clearly making a choice to live their life a particular way.
They were choosing not to earn a living like most of us do, choosing to trust that strangers would provide for their needs at each stop on their journey and choosing not to settle and become a part of a community. This is what was so difficult for me to understand. I work hard to provide for my family. Not only do I take great comfort in being part of a community but also in giving back to this community in any way that I can.
Here were two able-bodied, young people who could get a job, work hard, earn a living and give back… but they were not doing that. They were, in fact, homeless by choice.
Having this couple over for dinner gave me a chance to practice the art of non-judgement, the art of loving in any circumstance and the art of celebrating the uniqueness in all of us.
Although I don’t agree with their lifestyle choice, that did not present a barricade. We found common ground in animals, music, books, religion and more. Our conversation was both engaging and enlightening for everyone.
Today, the couple packs up and heads out for another life experience. We will miss seeing them in our little town but I am grateful for the chance to share in their journey! It was not so much about providing for this young couple’s needs, it was more about just sharing conversation with strangers who, by the end of the night, were not strangers anymore. Drawing outside of our comfort lines for just a little bit is a refreshing and character-building experience.
Remember, we can all make an impact in the lives of others — it just takes a spirit of love and acceptance and the blessing becomes all yours!
Tell us about your experiences with homeless people. How do you feel about having them over for dinner? Would you do the same? Let us know!
— Susan Patterson