Feb 20, 2009


It's the new buzzword of homeless care. R-E-L-A-T-I-O-N-S-H-I-P. I have heard it in about 6 presentations and talks over the last 3 months. And it's a good word. Let me share a few sound bites with you, and then a story.

Good is done most often through relationship.

Homeless have a felt need ("what they think they need"), a perceived need ("what we think they need"), and a real need (what they actually need). Most often, we discover the real need by walking with them, talking with them, and getting to know them.

It is difficult to hate those you really know. Can you spot someone to make fun of, ridicule, or fear on a crowd of people you don't know? (YES) Can you think of any friends who evoke the same feelings (UNLIKELY) It is pretty easy to hate, be disgusted by, shun, or misunderstand people you don't know.

I often tell people interested in donating to my ministry, that I am not primarily a ministry of relief. I am first and foremost a ministry of daily presence. That means relationship. I am delighted to have things to give away, most especially when it meets a real need, but I make no apologies for not having enough or for running out. It may sound harsh, but I could exhaust myself trying to relieve all suffering and I don't believe I would meet the real needs. I firmly believe that the real need of homeless street youth is for restored relationships, with themselves, with a loving adult, with family, with society, with God.

And now a story....

I see one particular homeless young man on a regular basis. We'll call him "Joe." Joe is angry (with good reason if his descriptions of growing up are anything like accurate). Joe also has some preoccupations with some potentially very destructive ideas. However, Joe is usually receptive to talking, and describes feeling much better and less dangerous to himself afterwards.

Joe is very bright but his history keeps him on the street for now. As we have walked together the last few months, I have gotten to know about him. He has also gotten to know me.

This week, when he saw me, we exchanged the usual greetings and pleasantries. I asked him about how he was feeling and intended to follow-up on some of his compulsive thoughts and tendencies. However, he said, "Wait... before we get into that. How is your [family member]." I told him that my [family member] was not doing very well and having a very hard week. Without hesitation, he gave me a huge hug. This guy, who has all sorts of problems to deal with, was seeing beyond his own need and seeing that his caregiver needed a hug. Now that's a relationship!

I believe that this is a typical moment for the type of ministry I strive to create. The walk together nourishes both the caregiver and the caretaker. By walking together, everyone is helped to thrive.

[For those concerned, rest assured that the self disclosure is limited and occurs in appropriate moments. Disclosure about my family is even more limited, and my family is safe.]