October 28th was a snow day for most — the roads were coated with ice and the wind was bitter cold — but Springs Rescue Mission didn’t (and doesn’t) close.
As temperatures in the Pikes Peak region dropped into the single digits, hundreds of the city’s homeless flocked to the Mission to get warm and stay dry. More than 230 people sought daytime shelter in our resource center, and our shelters were nearly at capacity.
It’s days such as those that put the work we do into perspective.
That day really impacted Travis Williams. He has served the Mission as chief development officer for nearly four years now, but said that time helping in the resource center — visiting with people he knew, getting to know new guests and helping serve soup — reinforced his belief in the importance of the Mission’s work.
“That experience was really just an exclamation point on the things I’ve seen and observed over the past four years,” Williams said.
There were so many different kinds of people — the people we serve — all in the same space, trying to stay warm and get out of the elements. Some had conversations, some took hot showers or saw their case managers, some ate bowls of soup. … There was an elderly blind woman shuffling across the floor with the help of another homeless man because she couldn’t do it on her own. I feel like people just don’t know that those are the sorts of people we serve on a daily basis.
It really is incredible to see the wide range of people at the Mission, isn’t it?
Absolutely. Homelessness may be the common denominator, but it’s so much broader than that. I looked around and saw people who were mentally ill, disabled, physically deformed; I saw veterans, elderly men and women who could barely walk; individuals who were blind, deaf and mute. There were just so many hurting people, and I don’t know if most people would recognize those populations as being part of those we serve at Springs Rescue Mission.
Why don’t you think people would recognize them as being homeless?
I think we all have mental pictures of what we think things look like — and homelessness is one of those things. You can come up with what you think a homeless person looks like, but you just don’t really know until you’re there with all of them. I was a business guy before coming to the Mission and, like many others, I imagined homelessness in stereotypical ways. I was seeing through a limited lens of understanding.
I think some people see the homeless as a nuisance — as addicted losers who just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get a job. … But those generalizations can quickly become derogatory and blanket an entire population of individuals with their own unique stories and personal struggles. Then, instead of being individuals, their identities become those struggles — homelessness, addiction, poverty. At Springs Rescue Mission, we see hundreds of people who are trying their hardest despite their circumstances.
How does your faith — and the ministry of Springs Rescue Mission — inform the work we do here?
The call of Christ is to love those who are poor, those who are hurting, those who are widowed, those who are orphans. Our philosophy to “Love Bigger” flows out of that. … Jesus tells us that, “whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.” He taught us to love our enemies; to love those who are different or who we disagree with; to love people when we get nothing in return. … I think it’s a challenge to really lean into those hard things: the things that make us feel uncomfortable; the things that we don’t understand; the things that we’re afraid of.
I think it’s great that you still have such impactful experiences after working here for four years. What’s your biggest takeaway?
That experience was really just an exclamation point on the things I’ve seen and observed over the past four years. As we’ve continued to Love Bigger and stretch ourselves in this community, we are serving so many different populations — people of all kinds who also happen to be homeless. And I’m always blown away by our staff and volunteers. I look at them as heroes. In the hardest of places, they’re stepping into the gap and caring for people who are often cast aside.
Why is it important for the community to know these things? Why should they care?
There’s an Irish proverb that I sometimes come back to: “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” As a community, we’re only as good as how we take care of those who are in distress, despair and pain. Colorado Springs is such a beautiful city and a desirable place to live. But how can we really make this the best place to live for every member of our community? I think it’s by remembering to care for each other, and by choosing to Love Bigger.
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