Caring about and loving homeless people can lead to heartbreak. Let me share several reasons by telling you about “Joe” (not his real name), one of my homeless friends.
I first met Joe at the dinner called Bread and Cup held for the needy and homeless every Friday at the church I was then pastoring. He and his brother showed up the first time we opened the program, almost two years ago now. Joe was living in a shelter apartment provided by a program called New Beginnings. He felt the program was too restrictive, required to much of his time, etc. etc., but he was progresssing toward getting his life back together. Joe was a graphic artist, and a talented and well educated man. He’d made some terrible business and personal decisions and lost his shop he worked out of and ended up on the streets. He almost made it—and then he fell back into the pattern that I now know he has followed for several years—-live on the streets—get into a program and almost make it—–get a job and make some money—-get drunk and thrown in jail—-back on the streets again. I watched him follow this pattern three times while I pastored that church and it broke my heart each time!
My wife and I tried to break the cycle. Joe needed psychiatric counseling as well as rehabilitation for alcoholism. We found a great program in the midwestern town he was in—but they did not accept Medicaid and only accepted private insurance or payment up front in cash which we could not afford. We finally found a program that sounded good , sponsored by the state. We packed up Joe and took him 60 miles to another city. He was really excited to try and start a new life with some real help! They kept him one day and released him. He was so disappointed, but he had lied to them and told them he hadn’t been drunk for a week and he had been drunk the day before we took him! They said they had to, by their rules, believe what the patient told them and not what their sponsors told them.. It breaks my heart that help is not available for folks like Joe.
We tried to get Joe on Medicaid before we left that pastorate. We helped with the paperwork and took him to SRS numerous times. There was always one more form or one more interview or one more doctor’s exam that was needed. I’m afraid he finally gave up. That breaks my heart, because he needed medical attention.
The last time I saw Joe he was back on the streets. Since them I’ve left that pastorate and moved to another city. It breaks my heart to see people like Joe, children of God, waste their lives and talents because they can’t get the help they really need to break the vicious cycle of life they are caught in.
When will this society begin to “love their neighbors as they love themselves?” Joe is your neighbor. You may not see him, because to remain invisible to society is one of his well developed ways of self protection. But he is there. He’s on the streets of our towns and our cities. There are so many Joe’s and Janes, including children who are on the streets. It breaks my heart!! Is your heart broken? Do you care? If all the people who say they are followers of the one who said—“Love your Neighbor as Yourself”—really cared, then steps would be made to solve this problem. God’s heart is broken, I’m sure, because of our LACK OF HEARTBREAK!!!