The Homeless – ‘Mentoring’ a New Approach

The journey of the homeless is often down a very crooked way on The Jericho Road. Rockford, IL has become a ‘go to’ for regional homeless folk because of all the services we provide to them and their needs. There are over 130 places to find food. There are at least 20 or 30 “clothes closets”, among them Goodwill and the Salvation Army stores. There are 127 Churches. There are ministries that target the homeless population which include the Salvation Army, The Rockford Rescue Mission, Love, INC. (Love In The Name of Christ). Many churches have ‘OUTREACH’ or Evangelism boards/committees. There are free medical clinics, the hospital “ER’S” which are required by law to treat, one mental health clinic targeting the homeless, and little or no addiction services. Even though the Jericho Project’s surveys suggest that 95% of the homeless have addiction issues, stated-funded resources for treatment are nil. After all, this is Illinois. Did I mention that there are over 4,000 abandoned homes? There are two on my street!! Is it any wonder that there were two unexplained fires in two of these abandoned homes this past week. Did I mention that the overnight temperature dropped to the low 50’s?

Rockford does not like the homeless. They do not like poverty. They seem confused as to what to do with it. So the agencies and ministries that try to serve the homeless are up against a steep, up-hill climb. I think many of us silently suffer at the reality of what Jesus said, “The Poor you will always have with you”. We’d like to make a dint in that teaching. We’d like to be able to say, “Out of site; out of mind”. We’d like to see a ‘before & after’ – all done in an hour. We keep watching the T.V. reality show, ‘Biggest Loser’ hoping it might rub off on our efforts.

Robert Lupton’s work, “Toxic Charity – How Churches & Charities Hurt those They Help” made the rounds. The book stores in Rockford sold out of it. A large community group arose called “Transform Rockford”. The book was required reading. I read it, too. I think most folk never got past the title. The title offered us an excuse to dismiss community need, put away our soup kitchens and food pantries, stop our charitable giving, and ignore the homeless person begging for a buck on our downtown street corners. That’s not at all what Lupton’s work is about. For thirty years, Robert Lupton has lived in three inner-city neighborhoods of Atlanta, GA. He is not clergy. He took his white family and his own white face and moved into African American neighborhoods. He focused on only one block of his neighborhood and began to live out that long slow journey of transformation, hope, and moving forward, living it among his neighbors.

All of us need mentors. Think about that! Mentors abound in our culture. We have access to spiritual mentors, job mentors, Grandparents, Aunts & Uncles, big brothers, big sisters, parents, teachers, the next-door neighbor. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have adult mentors. For those of us who went to college, most will remember a special professor, or teacher who clarified our path for us. Our churches are filled with those who have a faith that is steeped in experience, commitment, and listening skills. We all need mentors. The homeless don’t have any. All they have is each other and the information their fellow sojourners have of where to look – for the next meal, a safe place to sleep, an old pair of shoes in exchange for an older pair of shoes.

Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered, there am I in the midst of them”. Think on that! Think of the possibilities of that! What would happen if you were to stand beside a homeless person. What if you told him, “I have a promise to share with you!” You know, he or she would ‘bite’ on that! Then you’d share the promise. “Jesus is here! Let’s walk”. That’s mentoring. You can’t let go, because you know his/her name. You can’t run off, because he doesn’t know that Jesus is still with him. ‘One’ & Jesus makes two, right? So a journey begins. It’s a dangerous journey. He/she may suffer from addiction. He/she may carry disease. He/she may not know even the very basics of a family life-style. He/she may be so beaten down that a job seems like the Holy Grail. But you are the vessel of hope to that homeless, impoverished lump of human clay. You are the Potter at the wheel.

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