After the pastor’s message and a hearty breakfast, the homeless and some volunteers gather in a tight circle around him for prayer.
Earnestly he says, “It’s going to be getting cold, and it’ll be tough. Now’s the time to get right with Jesus and make a decision to get off the streets. God doesn’t want you to be homeless; you were made for so much more,” tears running down his and their faces.
The people lift their voices to God asking for help and strength to make their lives better. As usual, when it’s over hugs exchange, all are one body helping each other in whatever way. Hearts are full of love.
One Sunday, visiting a different church with a friend, my heart dropped in disbelief where the message was feeding the homeless is enabling them. I immediately think of Saturday’s and the hope offered, and the grieving father of a young homeless man, Joshua, a schizophrenic who died recently.
He came to share the sad news and invite us to the funeral because he was grateful that his son had a place to go where he could hear about Jesus, eat breakfast and get medical attention. Unfortunately, like many of the homeless, Joshua didn’t take his medications on a regular basis and left untreated, the mental illness worsens.
Over one-third of the homeless population suffers from a mental illness like schizophrenia and bipolar. These disorders without medication create a downward spiral to drug and alcohol abuse, leading to loss of job, family and home.
The men and women on the street, for the most part, are suffering from a mental illness and often don’t realize they are ill. In a perfect world, there would be shelter and medicine for all of them; however, some choose to live on the streets rather be confined or medicated. Making sure they eat and receive basic medical attention alleviates some of their sufferings.
One of the best outreaches for the homeless population on the island is a partnership between the Galveston Street Ministry and The Luke Society Clinic. Every Saturday morning at 8 a.m., the homeless population gathers on the parking lot at 20th and Winnie streets.
Pastor Rick brings a word from Jesus; volunteers set up around the parking lot bringing clothes, shoes, hygiene bags and other things. Next door, nurses from the University of Texas Medical Branch, doctors and medical students volunteer their time offering flu shots, asthma inhalers, antibiotics and referrals to St. Vincent’s for additional help. These organizations treat people with dignity. They put love in action.
With rising health care and housing prices and stagnant wages, the homeless population continues to grow all over the country. These problems are hard enough for the average person, but add mental illness and it becomes a perfect storm. One in four people struggle with a mental illness; it’s not too hard to imagine anyone of us homeless, too.
“If you help the poor, you lend to the Lord.” If that’s enabling, count me in. See you at the parking lot.