March 1, 2011

temporary shelter VI - endings and beginnings


After I put my kids to bed this evening, I automatically began to think about making preparations to spend the night at First Presbyterian Church tomorrow night. For the last month and a half, I've spent at least one night a week staying over night at the church for our temporary shelter project. Yet, as soon as the thought entered my mind, I realized that this would not happen this week.

On Sunday morning, our guests that have been with us for the last six weeks slept in (certainly glad to have avoided the storm that blew in over the weekend). Then they enjoyed breakfast brought in by volunteers, joined First Pres' for worship, joined Ladle Fellowship for our weekly Sunday lunch and then left the campus. And for the first time in six weeks, they would not plan to return that evening.

It's been a rich journey, even if brief. Yet, there is the question, What did we accomplish? It's hard to sum up all we learned and experienced. Some of what I drafted for a report to the church's elders included these points:

Three of our guests became members of FPC during the project. One guest is now moving into permanent housing. One into temporary housing. Four applied for assisted housing. One guest is now employed in a full time job. One has interviews lined up. Four guests are currently taking college-level classes. Each have made personal progress. For some, it has simply been learning to trust others once again. For others, the chance to receive a good night's rest has given them the courage to pursue work, education and housing once again.
To be honest, we can't take all the credit for these steps. The people that are taking them deserve the credit. It has to be incredibly difficult to take these steps considering their situation. Still, it does show what a little help can do for a person. What is more, it shows what friendships can do. Just as much as a warm place to sleep, I have to think that relationships of love and trust made some of these positive steps possible.

Today, I sat in a City Council meeting and watched these officials approve steps to provide a permanent intake facility in downtown San Diego. To be certain, providing the services that will be offered in this location is a huge step in a (mostly) positive direction. But I have to imagine that if a group of 50 volunteers could see such progress in only a few weeks with a small group of people, than there is even more that could happen over the long haul.

What have I learned from this experience? I'm not sure if it's something I learned as much as it was something confirmed inside of me. And this is that our wealth and poverty is defined in great ways by the quality of our relationships. Most people on the streets need healthy and accountable relationships with friends. This one thing can make a world of difference.

I am richer for the friends I developed through this experience. I am certainly glad to be able to have more rest throughout the week. But I already miss the community I experienced every Wednesday night. I have moments where the "bleeding heart" in me wishes and wants to do more. Yet, I think I am doing the right thing; developing relationships, committing to be honest, asking the hard questions, giving honest answers, not doing for someone what they can do for themselves and doing the hard work of being a friend to be a person in a hard season. If more of us did just that... well, I do think things would change in San Diego.

Go make a new friend today Or, simply recommit to those in your life in a hard time. Don't take all the steps for them. Just be their biggest fan. You both will be richer for it.

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