Letter: How can you help the homeless?
Gloucester has beautiful hearts! I know this because I am the volunteer coordinator for the GUEST (Gloucester United Emergency Shelter Team) shelter that opened this past January and finished its first season March 31. I am also an advocate for the homeless, being formerly homeless myself. I am the woman who lived in a cave at my lowest … a girl who traveled this country for years desperately trying to find love and killing her pain through substances, when all the while I only needed to allow God’s love in to push all the pain out!
I am writing this article independent of GUEST, other than to send out a giant heartfelt thank you to each and every person who helped at the shelter! You made Jesus smile. We had many successes.
I am writing this as, first and foremost, a child of God; secondly, a recovering addict as well as a person successfully overcoming PTSD with associated mania. Lastly, I write this as a person with a Master’s Degree from the School of Hard Knocks. I have been asked by so many people: “How can I help the homeless?” People want to help with money, property and time.
Here is my personal opinion in answer to that question: I agree 100 percent in providing shelter in the winter, no matter why a person is homeless. No one deserves to freeze to death. I have to tell you that a large percentage of the homeless suffer from mental illness and/or addictions. Until those conditions are addressed, you can give a person a home 10 times and they will lose it every time. I know because that was my story for 40 years until after my fourth trip to the chemically dependent unit of a psychiatric hospital. I returned to sanity and rededicated my life to Christ. Then I began renewing my mind with the Word and great Bible preaching and teaching, as well as taking advantage of ongoing therapy, taking God-sent medication and regularly attending groups that are specific to a new way of life. You see, it is the best thing that can happen for a person to make Jesus the Lord of their life! Anyone who comes from a background of addiction and/or mental illness has lots of work to do, in body and soul.
So here is my suggestion: First of all, don’t let anyone in your car or home for safety’s sake. If you really want to help, call around to organizations that are in the helping business. Know who you are helping. Why should you offer someone a cozy motel room to drink or drug themselves to death in when they have been offered a way to go to detox and/or treatment? They may need psychological help. Unless you are trained in that field, you should take them to professionals who are. They may be someone who has no problems in that area and their home burned or they hit hard times. Then, hey man, God bless you, help!
Jesus does some of His best work in detox facilities, psych wards and treatment centers. Unless someone has insurance, most of these places cost money. He also does great work in outpatient programs, which also cost, and in groups that are free. I believe if people would help support those qualified through initial detox and treatment or hospital, then be there to help them when they come home—with jobs, transportation, permanent shelter, ongoing treatments, rides to church and showing them the love of Christ (which is the only thing that will fill the void that people try to fill with substances, money, shopping, sex, etc.)—then more people would have a shot at life.
I call that void my “God hole” because I still long for love, approval and acceptance. I remind myself all the time to go to my Source to fill the emptiness. If I had loads of money, I would help people who “hit bottom,” but not by enabling them to continue in their destructive behaviors, putting a pillow under them, so to speak, so the fall won’t be so hard. No, I believe sometimes, not all times but sometimes, the best way to love is to snatch that pillow up and let them hit the bottom hard. Then, if they finally see that they can no longer live that way, start helping and praying and hang in there with them.
It may not work the first time. It didn’t for me. There are no guarantees. But if you practice tough love, then there is hope! Remember, anything “above dirt” is a plus. As long as we are alive we can receive salvation. With that there is much hope!
Debra Jo Jenkins