Homeless Dignity Project: WR America launches homeless

Hello all,

We hope this note finds you doing well. It’s been an action-packed and wonderful first few weeks of 2019 for the Haverherd.

We have found ourselves traveling alongside some amazing people. People who love authentically, have experienced heartache, and understand that good intentions don’t always deliver expected results. They are humble and open to learning. They serve and care for the people they meet, in a way that looks a lot like Jesus. We have enjoyed our time riding alongside the team of alumni World Racers (the trip we went on back in 2009) as they pioneer a similar initiative across the US this year called World Race America.

WRamerica

The alumni team of nine launched from Gainsville, GA on January 12, driving to Asheville, NC where they lived the first week in a homeless shelter. To say we had some initial concerns about impersonating homelessness would have been an understatement. We wanted to make sure, first and foremost, that no one who would otherwise be sleeping out on the street, was displaced by any of our team members. We wondered whether the team would be accepted within the homeless community.

Our cautious concerns were met with open communication and care. The way this team and the residents at Western Carolina Rescue Mission connected immediately and authentically was incredible. Those in the shelter welcomed each of us, shared their stories, listened to ours and expressed heartfelt generosity in a way that I find difficult to articulate.

Western Carolina

If I previously believed that I had some concept of what life on the street is like, I have been sadly deceiving myself. This past week I have been able to sit with and listen to so many human beings. Our family slept in our camper, which we parked just outside the shelter. We spent daylight hours eating meals with the residents, having real conversations and just doing life together. At the same time, the team fully entered into the 24-hour experience of those who otherwise, would not have a place to lay their head at night.

The WR America team members did an amazing job of consistently confirming with management at the shelter that they were not taking a bed from someone else in need. Their intentionality to let go of any ‘privilege’ they possessed which wasn’t afforded to any other resident of the shelter was both honorable and humbling. Team members followed the same schedule as any other person who needed a place to sleep for the night. Each day this included:

Lights on at 5am, shower then chores before breakfast was served at 6am. Everyone was required to be out of the shelter by 6:45 each morning and back out into the open air, with temperatures typically hovering in the mid 30’s. They would then walk around the streets for about 90 minutes to stay warm until a nearby day shelter would open up providing coffee, a roof from the rain/snow, 4 walls from the cold and some dignity. After lunch, there was a women’s devotional before everyone would be back out onto the streets until the doors were opened back up for dinner at 4:30pm. After that meal there was a prayer service, then chores at 7pm before an open hour of free time before lights were turned off at 9pm sharp. Following an often restless night of sleep, the entire process would start over again at 5am.

Western Asheville Winter.jpg

In conversations with a few folks on the street, we discovered that there were a select number of people who very deliberately chose not to stay overnight at WCRM. While many of the longer term residents have certainly become accustomed to, and many deeply appreciate, the rules that have been created here, for others without homes, their preference was to live outside of this structure (random breathalyzers, drug tests, etc.) and spend nights out on their own.

Once the team was in the shelter for the night, I found myself driving around the streets of Asheville, in search of anyone who may be in need of help. On Thursday night, I came across two young men in just that place. After I moved Toby’s car seat into the trunk, Jim and Tom placed their bags in the car and buckled their seat belts. I asked the guys if they were from Asheville originally and how they were doing. Jim was open to sharing how he had traveled to NC from California for a job that fell through while Tom stayed quiet in the back seat.

I drove the pair across town to the VA shelter, which I hoped would accept a couple of last minute arrivals. After being turned away, I asked the guys if I could purchase them a room for the night at a motel next door. Jim nodded his head in acceptance as he thanked me.

The guys stepped out of the car for a smoke while I entered the building. As I reached for my wallet I realized that it wasn’t in its normal back-left-pocket resting place. I returned to the car and searched the glove box to no avail. With my head hanging down, I asked the guys if they could wait a few minutes for me to drive back to the camper to retrieve it.

As I pulled back into the motel parking lot I could see the surprise on Jim’s face as if there was no chance that I would be returning. The three of us walked in together as I explained to the receptionist that I wanted to purchase a room for the night. After paying the bill, we started walking toward the exit as Tom held the door for me and Jim. As I walked past, Tom spoke up for the first time in an abrasive voice “Tell me your name”. After my hesitant reply, he barked back again, “No, I want your last name.” I paused just long enough for him to open his mouth one final time, “I need to send you a check for this man.”

I reached my hand up onto his shoulder, as we looked each other square in the eyes,

“You’re good Tom. God is good.”

He wrapped both arms around me and leaned in without saying another word.

I’m convinced that we all still have so much to learn. About others. About life. About who He is.

 

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