Look Beyond the Surface

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Look Beyond the Surface

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My mother once told me, “Believe nothing of what you hear and half of what you see.” She didn’t mean this literally, but was warning me to be careful of gossip and judging what I see. Sometimes things are not as they appear to be. It’s easy to misinterpret what we see without knowing all the facts.

For instance, what if I were to invite you to come to work with me today? We’d park in the lot behind the building where I work and walk around to the front door. As we walk along the side street—oops! Be careful; don’t trip over that man sleeping on the sidewalk. He must be a lazy bum!

Oh, look at that woman. She’s here every day, squatting against the building, drinking coffee, smoking, and bothering everyone walking by asking for change. Why doesn’t she do something useful?

See that man over there, pushing the cart? He has all his possessions in the cart. He’s walking kind of funny, staggering a little, I’d say. He must be drunk again!

Don’t judge a book

These people could very well be my clients. These are the people I work with everyday—people with mental health issues, various addictions, homelessness, or any combination thereof.

In Psalms 7:8 Psalms 7:8The LORD shall judge the people: judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, and according to my integrity that is in me.
American King James Version×
it says, “The LORD shall judge the people: judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me” (KJV throughout).

It is easy to look at someone and figure you know all about them. It’s easy to judge someone whose lifestyle is different from ours and sees the world differently—but we need to look beyond that.
Homelessness has happened to people who seemed to have everything in life. Circumstances beyond one’s control can cause one’s situation to change drastically; no one is immune to happenstance. Each morning I pray for wisdom to know how to work with my clients, the right words to use to show kindness, respect, and patience, and for the wisdom to help them. I pray for the same kind of love and compassion that God has shown to me.

I work with our city’s very vulnerable citizens. These are people who live with mental illness, have addictions, or even deal with both. These people cannot advocate for themselves, as they don’t have the confidence or the ability to articulate their needs. People who have an acquired brain injury, for example, have a terrible time remembering things like where their money went, where they are going, when they should be there, or where they left their cell phone.

There are people who have had such horrendous lives and have made some bad choices. But, if we were to walk in their shoes, under the same circumstances we may have made the same decisions. And we might be where they are now. We don’t always know what has transpired in a person’s life for them to be in this position.

Homelessness

According to the Government of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/homelessness/), there are many causes of homelessness, including insufficient affordable housing, low income, mental health and/or substance abuse issues, family conflict, violence, job loss, breakdown, and inadequate discharge planning (ex-offenders, mentally ill persons, and persons leaving the care of the child welfare system).

An estimated 150,000 to 300,000 people are homeless in Canada, living in shelters and on the streets. On any given night, 40,000 people stay in homeless shelters. Single men are the largest segment of homeless people in most Canadian cities, but homelessness is rising among both single women and lone-parent families headed by women.

Most of the street people I see are more to be pitied than scorned. I know there are a few who have chosen to live on the street: some because they don’t want the responsibilities of life, some because they really don’t know any other way of living. For them it’s an attitude of “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.” But when it’s freezing cold outside, I can’t believe anyone wants to be on the street.

Pretend to be homeless for a minute:

    * You have no place to go.
    * You have no place to sleep.
    * You have very few possessions which you keep with you at all times because you’re afraid someone might steal them.
    * You have no ID—how can you prove who you are?
    * You’re dirty and you smell.
    * Where do you go to the bathroom?
    * You’re afraid—especially if you are a woman—nighttime is very scary. You don’t know whom to trust and you don’t know what’s around the next corner. You keep moving and moving.
    * You’re hungry.
    * You’re tired because you’re afraid to sleep at night.
    * Your feet hurt because you’ve been walking all day or all night trying to stay warm and safe.

It isn’t a very pleasant scenario, is it?

There’s also another group of the homeless you may not have considered. Did you know there are a number of homeless working people? These people have low—paying jobs and can’t find accommodations they can afford. If they can afford them, they are often uninhabitable.

Hidden homeless

And then there are the hidden homeless. These are the people couch surfing, which means they stay at a friend or family member’s home for a day or two and then move on to another place. Others are living in their vehicles, such as the woman we found, who is living in her van with her one-year old baby. She had been living with a friend who had given notice to the landlord to move but neglected to tell her. At the end of the month, the friend left while the woman was at work. When she got home, the apartment was empty and the landlord told her to leave because the apartment had been rented to someone else. As a result, she began living in her van. No one knew the dire straits she was in—not people at work or the daycare. Because she was working full time, she could not look for another place to live. She was not eating well or sleeping properly as she had to keep starting the van to keep warm. We found out about her and had her housed within a day. We also gave her some start-up money to buy food and essential items.

Back to the beginning

Remember the man we saw sleeping on the sidewalk this morning? It turns out that he had lost his job and his family when he was in an accident. The injuries were bad enough that he could no longer do his job. It hit him so hard that he hasn’t been able to regain enough confidence to move forward. One day, however, he will.

Recall the woman asking for change who I mentioned? She had been abused so badly that her mind is protecting her from much of that pain by closing off part of her memory. She goes to agencies that provide her with lunch or supper but I don’t know where she sleeps.

Remember the man walking funny, who was pushing the cart? He pushes the cart to help him keep his balance so he won’t fall. His legs and hips have been damaged so often that he walks with a very unusual gait and is often thought to be drunk, when he isn’t.

While we realize that some people take advantage of these kinds of situations by playing the role of a homeless or disadvantaged person, overall we must not judge those in need by putting them into a preformed box. God says, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1 Matthew 7:1Judge not, that you be not judged.
American King James Version×
).

Think upon the words of God in I Samuel 2:7-8, “The LORD maketh poor, and maketh rich: He bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and He hath set the world upon them.”

Let’s look beyond the surface and show compassion and mercy to those whose lives are different from ours. Let us thank God for what we have and pray for those who have so little.

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