When people have lived on the streets for months and years, a lot can happen to mire them even deeper in hopelessness. Surviving takes on the highest priority and sometimes there just isn’t time or energy left to care for self.
Imagine days like this: wake up, find some privacy to relieve yourself, straighten out your hair, gather your belongings, hide your camp, walk to the Mission’s Resource Advocate Program… before 8 am. Wait to see your advocate, make sure you are in the right line when the coffee, cream and sugar are refreshed because you didn’t have any breakfast. Take a sink bath in the two-stall bathroom, meet with your advocate, troubleshoot some connection that just isn’t working to help you get on your feet. Now, walk almost two miles to the soup kitchen to get a hot meal. And all that’s before 11 am. From there, it’s even more of a rush to get places just to survive, never get ahead.
Can you see how easy it would be to lose hope for change?
Becoming the Hope Bearers
So, how then, can we become hope bearers to people who are truly struggling just to survive? I think the answer is pretty simple: we befriend them. Honestly and transparently. While keeping appropriate boundaries we learn their names, and USE their names. We need to learn names even when it’s hard, because calling someone by his name is empowering. It says “I see you” and “you have value”. When I say use their name, I don’t mean a street-name – not “Hawaiian”, but Fred. Not “Cajun”, but Christopher. Not “Bama”, but Michael.
You see, that’s the old way, the way we want to leave in the past. It’s the hiding behind a tough exterior that says “I can’t afford to feel human.”
We want to invite our friends experiencing homelessness to step out of that life and that hard and tough fake persona to live peacefully with the person they really are.
Understand that vulnerability is difficult
It’s hard for us as middle-class people to be open and honest and vulnerable. Who wants to be exposed as not having it perfectly all together? It’s just as difficult for those experiencing life on the streets, and, truthfully, it can be downright dangerous. Showing any weakness or area of vulnerability can open you to being used, attacked or even assaulted. You just have to be the meanest dude out there so nobody will mess with you.
That’s why it’s important for Resource Advocates to learn to ask what “mean talk” or “angry words” really mean. “I can’t tell if you’re really threatening to beat him up or you are so frustrated with your life and his behavior that you’re saying this to get my attention” is how the conversation can go.
The truth and hope can be expressed when we see the trauma as Kintsugi
Kintsugi is a Japanese word that means golden repair. It’s the art of repairing broken pottery with gold instead of glue. The resulting artworks are beautiful and treasured.
God, in the form of humans expressing His Love and His Hope, can take the broken places in our homeless friends’ lives and repair them to the point they become the most valuable part of who they are – works of Kintsugi art. Something beautiful, not to be hidden.
It’s within that trusted relationship of Advocate and Guest that it can become safe to allow the brokenness to become acceptable and beautiful in the bearers eyes. When an Advocate can enter into that relationship – not judging, just acknowledging what is there and show the guest the strength that comes from their personal broken place – the transformation is beautiful.
This week, I had a phone call from a behavioral health hospital. A young woman was about to be released and the discharge planning nurse felt a conversation ahead of time would benefit her. It was late in the day, and I
had a choice to be kind and patient in beginning to forge that connection or to be “all business”, expecting her to wait for connection until she got to the Resource Advocate Program the next day.
Thank God that I chose the former, because yesterday Amanda came to my office and said “I’m really scared, and you were so nice to me on the phone the other day, I just wonder if I can tell you something”. I had told her on the phone about this idea of Kintsugi, and that I hoped that someday she would be able to view her brokenness as acceptable and even beautiful.
“I’m not trying to kill myself, I swear, but I was so anxious about coming here today and applying for food stamps that I was just trying to feel better.” And in trying to feel better, she had taken more than fifty anti-anxiety tablets. Looking at her as through eyes of God, I was able to see gold in her brokenness and speak softly, gently and reassuringly to her until the paramedics arrived to take her to the hospital.
Because an Advocate started the process with patience and kindness and continued it with hope that her brokenness could become beautiful, Amanda is alive and recovering today instead of lost to the trauma of the streets.
If you would like to be a part of the process of finding strength and beauty in brokenness alongside our homeless neighbours, contact Springs Rescue Mission at www.SpringsRescueMission.org or 719.632.1822