Monday was an amazing and emotionally exhausting day.
Bryan and I volunteered at the Minneapolis Project Homeless Connect. It is a one day fair aimed at ending homelessness one person at a time. They have every service imaginable for homeless people. There are free haircuts, medical services, legal services, food, IDs, free voicemails, job fair, housing info, dental services, veterans services and youth services. It was held in the huge Minneapolis Convention Center which was donated for the event. They have been doing this twice a year for a few years now and have helped and served many homeless people.
This time there were over 1400 volunteers and around 3000 homeless people attended. The homeless guests come in and find a volunteer/guide to take them around and help them get the services they need most. The opportunity was eye opening for Bryan and I and gave us a chance to get to know a few homeless people really well. We understand their situations a lot better and hopefully we helped them a little too.
I had so much fun getting to know Erik. He suffers with mental illness and is 52. He is highly educated and used to have a stable life about 9 years ago with a good paying job and girlfriend. He has been homeless or been couch-surfing, as he liked to call it, for the last 9 years. He did not like me to refer to him sleeping "on the streets." He finds a bench or semi-comfortable spot to rest but you don't get much sleep, especially when you are paranoid about what people will do around you. He tries to nap during the day and walk around at night. He has some income but also some debt but really needs some treatment for his mental illnesses. He was very talkative and entertaining and surprising clean. I got to know him very well and really hope that I run into him again someday. I think he enjoyed the homeless lifestyle to some extent. Well, maybe not enjoyed, but at least could make the best out of it. He was incredibly grateful for all he received yesterday. I really hope and pray that it is a step in the right direction for him. He will remain in my prayers. He truly touched my heart and made me more compassionate for homeless people.
Thinking of all that Erik goes through without a home, brings tears to my eyes. I know that God has a plan for everyone but it is so hard to think that about the suffering of homeless people. There are many reasons people are homeless: mental health, job loss, unstable family, living on the government system or frequently a combination of these. But no matter what the reason, you can't deny that homeless people have hard, very hard lives. My hardest days are still nothing compared to their everyday. My heart has a soft spot for homeless people. I would like to see them not homeless but at the same time, some of them just need resources to survive. I don't ever want to walk by a homeless person and ignore them. I want to care and do whatever I can. I will give them money, buy them food, pay for their transportation or even leave my leftover restaurant food on top of a dumpster or garbage can (the newest advice from Erik). I want to help them and show them God's love in any way I can, no strings attached. I want to love the homeless unconditionally, not assuming the worst, but with hopeful expectation.
Project Homeless Connect takes place in cities around the country. The next one in Minneapolis will be on Dec. 7.