Sunday at Virginia-Highland Church we launched The River, an innovative ministry that will provide support networks for the homeless. This week, I am sharing some thoughts from those who created the program, why they care about this and why they think you should, too. Today, steering committee member Emily Woods shares her snapshots of homelessness.
In January 2013 there were 610,042 people living without shelter in the United States. Homelessness, however, is not a number. Homelessness is not being trusted by those in power. Homelessness is not knowing what, or even whether, you will eat tonight. Homelessness is needing to watch your back constantly. Homelessness is losing your right to make choices.
So often, we talk about “the homeless” as if they are all the same. The reality, however, is that they are, first and foremost, people. They just happen also to be homeless. Yes, homelessness can lead to a common set of problems, but people who are homeless are unique individuals.
I have had the privilege of meeting a number of these individuals through volunteering at the Intown Collaborative Ministries’ food pantry. Many of them are happy to have a listening ear, and they have blessed me with insights into their lives. They often share their troubles: frustration over a stolen tent, exasperation over a friend who was arrested, weariness about the police forcing them to relocate yet again. Sometimes they share their joys: the birth of a niece, promise of a job in North Carolina, an interesting book at the library.
I have enjoyed seeing these snapshots, but that is all they really are, snapshots. That is one of the reasons I am most excited about Virginia-Highland Church’s new program, The River. In The River, church members will be paired with a person who is homeless and come alongside that person as a friend. No longer will we reduce our experiences to mere sporadic snapshots. Instead, we will have the opportunity to build more longitudinal friendships. As friends, we will no longer be tempted to see “the homeless” as some homogeneous, faceless statistic. Only when we forget the numbers and learn to appreciate all people as individual children of God can we hope to abolish that statistic.
Whether or not you will be participating in The River, consider taking a moment today to reflect on how you view the people around you. Do you dismiss them easily because you see them only in light of extrinsic traits, or do you cherish and honor them as individuals?