A few years ago I spoke of and promoted this particular idea. The idea was to “adopt” or mentor a homeless person. In my case I was very lucky. During the 10 years of my own personal homelessness there were 3 or 4 people who did just that along with several others who touched my life in many ways. In my early years of homelessness I ran into a Christian Men’s group who met every week. The 2 leaders of the group not only helped me to recover my faith, helped me through my addictions, made sure that I had what I needed and most important, listened to me. In this case they helped me with basic equipment for my camp such as a tent, a cot and other assorted items. After some time of getting to know each other they even helped me with cash and supplies. They encouraged me to find something to do with myself. If I couldn’t find a good job I at least could do some day work or failing that I could go to some of the places where the homeless people in my area went during the day. This is how I discovered the BeautifulFeet Ministries. For a time I talked to my peers there at the Beautiful Feet and towards the end of my homelessness I was actively working and advising other homeless people.
Now back to the people who helped me. With the men’s group I would be picked up on the night of the meeting and while in the beginning we trod very carefully developing the trust needed to be successful in good communications. They did more than help me with my lack of knowledge regarding my faith but let me talk about myself. In other words, they listened to me. Over time as our mutual level of trust grew I became more honest and forthcoming with them as they did with me.
The other two people I have to mention arrived in my life about the time I started this blog almost 5 years ago. They are a simple family with the usual family issues. They started simply by emailing me and we started a conversation. This went on for a couple of months. Because I had developed a cautious but honest method of talking to people and the fact that they were very easy to talk to we went to the next stage. They came to my camp one Christmas day. From that point on we developed a relationship that just grew. They saw to it I had food, stove fuel and other items to make life easier if I needed them. I was even invited to their home on a regular basis for a meal and companionship. I met the rest of their family and became an unofficial member of their household, welcome at any time. I still, to this day, get together with these people and their family.
So far I have discussed how these 4 people and assorted others provided material goods, food, tents, fuel, and other things to make my camping lifestyle more comfortable. Many people think this is all that is needed to help homeless people to recover from homelessness. But the truth is it wasn’t the material goods but the honest and open conversations I had with all of them over the years. In every case I talked to them about the barriers that homeless people run into. They helped me become a real person again with real appreciation of me as an individual. This is not something that happens overnight. As I’ve said in past posts, homelessness is a lifestyle. As with all lifestyles there are specific thoughts and ways of functioning that are part of the lifestyle. Homelessness in some of its forms are not appropriate in other settings. Even myself after 10 years of living in a camp I had a difficult time readjusting to something more “normal”.
On a daily basis a homeless person is in a mad scramble of survival. As many as 60% of homeless people have a mental health issue, some more severe than others. As many as 50% of homeless people have a substance abuse problem usually because they are self-medicating themselves to survive or ignore their problems. A fairly large number of homeless people have a criminal record or are hiding from the legal system. Some have been rejected by family and have no place to go. There are all kinds of reasons that people become homeless.
The topic here is to “adopt” or mentor a homeless person. To do this is not going to be easy and depending on the homeless individual and the mentor, can be easy or difficult. One thing to remember is never disparage or talk down to a homeless person. But most importantly, in order to learn what a homeless person really needs is to get to know him or her. That is not going to be easy either and may take several visits before they even begin opening up to you. Trust is a big issue here.
There is an organization I discovered that is based in Dallas. They are called Sponsor the Lost. Their purpose is to mentor homeless people and assist them as needed. Take a look. They have some good ideas. There are other organizations around as well who do similar things.
With that being said there is no reason a church group or a small group of concerned people can’t do this sort of work here in Ft. Worth. Of course sponsoring a homeless person is more than just providing them with material goods or counselling them. In almost every case you will run into a homeless individual who needs something that you can’t help with. This is where you develop a list of local resources who can do some of the things you or your group can’t. This is something I developed while I was working as a homeless outreach worker. Even my resource book is not complete but knowing others in the homeless service or mentoring field can be a great help in solving those issues every homeless person faces. Just relying on the homeless services community, most of whom are located in the homeless shelters or nearby the shelters, to help homeless people is unrealistic as they are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of homeless people and a lack of resources. Small local groups can help. Especially with the homeless person who does not wish to have anything to do with the homeless district along East Lancaster.
Got some homeless people in your neighborhood or nearby? Stop by, say hello and maybe you can really help. It just takes patience and the desire to help.
Lastly, I’m going to sort of stick my neck out. If you have any questions or need information on some of the resources I spoke about, send me an email. My address is Homelessinftw@live.com