It is frustrating to me that homeless people are looked at as problems here in the Midwest. This afternoon I taped segments with five different people in NLEC’s Thirty Day program. Two white men, Two Black Men, and one Black woman. Every single person interviewed had a positive attitude. Every person is either working a job or is willing to work. All five are not from downtown St. Louis. One man was brought by the police from St. Charles, MO. One person had been living with family for two years. One man works from 5pm to 1am and then rises at 5am to volunteer here in our building.
Everyone has a different story. A preacher was among them. He said that he’d been a minister for decades before drinking and drugs ended his marriage and left him homeless. He seemed ashamed of himself, but then I asked him how long he’d been sober. Three weeks. I reminded him that it was by God’s grace that he was sober today, and I thanked him for his sobriety today. His story is a testimony to an addict out there who says he can’t stay sober even one day.
Homeless people are not problems in downtown St. Louis. Each person has a story if someone would just take the time to get to know them. I work at NLEC as a pastor because I believe in the grace of God to restore families, and to set free people who’ve been bound by selfishness for years. I believe the Metro St. Louis area needs this ministry. We don’t charge any of our clients for the services they receive.
And yet the homeless get talked about in the area like they are social pariahs. They get talked about like they’re trash, an eyesore, crime magnets, etc. One guy told me today that he never believed he’d be one of “those people” who come to Larry Rice. And that’s how it is. As George Carlin said, the poor get used by society to scare the middle class to keep working. “Don’t worry it’ll never be you.” One guy told me, “If I only had back the money garnered by my employer and given to United Way I wouldn’t have to be here.” And so it goes.
I draw strength from the stories of people here at this church. They stay positive, and they trust God, no matter how bad things seem. I dropped off a grandmother and her two granddaughters at the Greyhound bus station yesterday. They came to St. Louis two weeks ago for a short trip that turned into a nightmare. But they made the best of it in our shelter. She asked me, “Why does fear come to me so easily?” and “It seems like things went from bad to worse and are not going to get any better.” I tried to assure her that life is not all bad all the time. But truthfully, I don’t know what I’d do in her position. How does she stay strong for the grand kids? We prayed together, and I drew strength from her faith.
Because God makes a way for all these people, I believe it is wrong when churches don’t trust God enough not to welcome people without income into their families of faith. It is wrong that St. Charles Police bring men into downtown St. Louis. It is wrong that the MO Balance of Continuum, all these years after the promise to end chronic homelessness, still think its fine to rely on the city for its rural regions.
If the gospel is really for the whole person, then what kind of believers are we to not welcome strangers without income into our faith community?