Pulling into the UGM parking lot, we were quickly overwhelmed by the number of men filling the chapel hall, an old converted gym. None of us recalled seeing so many men gathered at God’s house on Calvert Street during any of our previous visits. The temperatures had been cold in recent weeks, no doubt one of the primary causes behind the influx of bodies scattered throughout the chapel. Emergency lights flashed at the opposite end of the parking lot, near the front entrance. One of the clients apparently had fallen ill and needed medical transport to the local hospital. Friendly faces greeted us as our crew entered through the glass front door and made our way into the lobby. A buzz was in the air and we had electric energy as we looked forward to experiencing God at work. Pico, our guest worship leader, fit right in and we were all excited about leading worship with him here at this place that welcomes the lost and least of our city.
The men here come from a varied background. The reasons that brought each man to the shelter are different, although some share common stories. Yes, some of them have fallen prey to their addictions and their lives are a shambles as a result. Others found themselves uprooted from their homes due to a natural disaster. A number of men had their lives turned upside down due to medical issues, lack of insurance, and an inability to pay everyone that they needed to pay in order to stay afloat. None of them chose to be homeless as a life objective. Several of the men have jobs but don’t earn enough to keep a roof over their head. They are in different stages and seasons of life, trying to make sense of it all, and attempting to stay positive.
The latest statistics estimate that there are over half a million homeless people living in the United States. Personally, I think that number seems low. Almost 50,000 military veterans are homeless. On any given night, 300,000 children experience homelessness. In Texas, it’s estimated nearly 25,000 people are homeless. In many cases, entire families find themselves living on the streets.
The average life expectancy in America is 78.6 years. If you’re homeless, it’s 50. If you live on the street, avoiding shelters, it’s even lower–by as much as half. Leading causes of death include frostbite and hypothermia. Not to mention, homeless people dwelling in the streets are considerably more likely to become a victim of a violent crime. Living on the streets, people don’t have access to regular meals, and often the food they do get isn’t as healthy as it could be.
While solving homelessness may seem like a simple fix—provide the homeless homes—it’s not as straightforward as it appears. Like an old proverb points out, it is better to teach a man to fish than it is to just give him a fish. Sure, we can provide roofs—and we should—but there are also other issues that need to be addressed if these men are going to stand a chance at getting back on their feet. We’ve got to see the whole person, not just his need for a room and a bed.
Many men are ostracized and estranged from their families. Those that work, can’t make ends meet. Others have serious mental and physical health issues that need to be dealt with if they are going to stand on their own two feet.
Over the years, we’ve developed relationships, invested in people, and seen God transform lives. One man, Will, reminded us of that very truth. Once, he was a client sitting in the front row being ministered to by us. Today, he serves as a chaplain ministering to the men each and every day.
God is good. All the time. No matter what.
The Devotional Guy™