“I got hit by a car on Wednesday. It drove away.” Phil* sat in the chair at the resource shelter I was volunteering at, explaining why he had a huge open head wound. Phil was embarrassed to be seen with such an awful wound, so he had covered his head with a hat that week. Unfortunately, this caused his wound to become deeply infected. His hair was literally encrusted in his wound. As I watched Samuel help Phil apply for a housing application, Lindsey and I worked together to delicately disinfect his wound and cut his hair.
I was angry with the woman who had hit Phil with her car and driven away. People treat dogs better than the way she treated Phil. It was clear that Phil was in a lot of physical pain, but he didn’t complain at all while we pulled his hair out of his wound and cut it. When Phil heard that his homeless friend Jake* was dying in hospice, though, he wept. His tears for Jake moved me and reminded me of the close community formed on the streets. My anger at the woman subsided when I saw Phil’s tears. How I wish she could have witnessed this moment and seen the love and compassion that Phil had for his friend.
* * * *
“Watch out for this section; it’s steep here,” Lindsey warned as we climbed down the edge leading down to the underside of the bridge. The temperatures were dropping, and we heard that two men had died outside the night before. We brought blankets with us to give to the people camping underneath the bridge. As I looked out across and saw LP Field I was struck by the vast inequality represented on two sides of the river. We live in a city with fame and wealth, yes, but we also live in a city with overwhelming poverty and homelessness. While no one was underneath the bridge at the moment, we found nooks and crevices where people had been sleeping and left blankets. A few people who had spent the night outdoors were sitting on a bench and gratefully accepted blankets. Lindsey offered a man a second one to keep warm and he replied, “No, I’ll give this one away to someone who needs it.”
* * * *
“Here, I’ll give you a tour of the place and show you my artwork,” offered Henry* when I showed up with Lindsey to his camp for the first time. His camp was an impressive collection of tents, tarps, furniture and woodwork. As Henry led me around he proudly pointed out a series of large wooden crosses he created out of driftwood for a local art show. “Jesus was homeless; I’m homeless. Jesus was a carpenter; I’m a carpenter,” Henry explained.
When Lindsey approached him about going to rehab Henry was nervous. He did not want to be torn away from his beloved camp in the woods to a cold, antiseptic room in rehab, but he realized he needed help to be the kind of father he wanted to be for his daughters. He and Lindsey agreed to talk further about rehab later that week and we prepared to leave. Before we departed Henry placed one of his wooden crosses in my hands. “Here, keep this,” he insisted. “It’s a gift from me to you. I want you to have it.”
The beautiful cross Henry gave me hangs in my living room now. It reminded me to say a prayer of thanksgiving this week when Lindsey told me Henry had entered rehab. It reminds me of the generosity of our homeless friends on the streets who struggle every day to stay alive, keep warm, and preserve their dignity. It reminds me that we are all interconnected in a beautiful web of God’s kingdom, where all lives are sacred and valued.
(from our intern Teresa)
*Names have been changed for privacy.