My hope in writing this post is that we can all enter into a healthy conversation about faith based organizations and homeless services. I strongly believe that if the faith based community worked as a team with others in their local communities, and opened up to sharing resources, we could end homelessness tomorrow.
Please note that the views in this post are all mine and are not the views of anyone I am connected to professionally. If you have issues with what I am about to say, the place to respond is in the comment section below. I simply ask that we all keep this conversation civil. Emotions run wild every time the word "Jesus" is used. I get that. Please keep in mind that through healthy discussion real change is possible, and we desperately need change!
The first time I was in Denver walking the 16th Street Mall a homeless man stopped me and asked if I would pray with him. I was honored! As we were praying an older women, with a bible in her hand, came up trying to "win us to Jesus". I'll admit, to her I am sure we looked like two homeless men, but we were already praying, so right from the start it was a little funky.
The homeless man asked her if she'd like to join us in prayer. She noticed the cigarette in the homeless man's hand and started to condemn him for smoking. She would not pray with us because he smoked. She then started to throw scriptures at him because she felt smoking is a sin. The homeless man was well versed in scripture, as most homeless people are (just to eat, often several times a day, homeless people are forced to listen to preaching and know more bible than most pastors), and the two started off into a scripture battle. To me, this woman not being willing to pray with this homeless man spoke volumes. She wasn't there to help this man, she just wanted him to say the 'sinners prayer' so she could add another check mark in her bible. Please know it's not that this woman is bad, she is just repeating what she and millions like her have been programmed to do.
This week I was once again walking down 16th Street Mall in Denver and I saw several people with bibles under their arms out on the hunt for homeless people . I looked around and saw people of all different walks of life, and I started to wonder why Christians just target our homeless friends.
I then tweet this:
Question: I see a bunch of Christians with bibles in hand targeting homeless people. Why don't they target the people shopping?
-- Mark Horvath (@hardlynormal) September 2, 2013
Meet Doyle Robinson, the founder of Sox Place, a drop in center near downtown Denver. Doyle is a former youth pastor who started to hand out socks to homeless youth. Of course, Doyle is faith based and loves God. Having worked for a church he knows the bible, yet he was just building relationships with the simple act of handing a homeless youth some "freshies". He wasn't asking the kids to say a prayer or for anything from them in return. He was just loving on the kids the best way he knew how - giving out socks!
That simple act of intentional kindness grew into a drop in center for street youth that now provides meals, clothes, crisis intervention, and referral services. When you walk into Sox Place, you won't see a bible anywhere, unless one of the kids brings it out. See, the reason Sox Place exists is to provide real love to kids who have been at war with love. As Doyle says in this video, everything that we talk about being love - family - church - school - has been bad to them. Yes, homeless youth face serious problems every day, but the real problem is what happened to them 'back then' - when they were beaten - abused - neglected - and situations that are unthinkable.
I'll tell you what, we need more places for homeless youth like Sox Place. Heck, imagine if church was a place where we could all just go as we truly are - to be loved on without judgment! I'd even start going to church again!!!
Faith based organizations in this country have an army of workers and lots of resources that could be used to end homelessness, and probably help fix a lot of other social problems. Instead of sending out millions of people to get people to say a prayer, imagine if all those people started to be an answer to other people's prayers!
And maybe you're not faith based, funding a drop in center to get kids off the streets is much more cost effective then passing laws to arrest them. If you have a homeless problem in your community, the solution is ending homelessness not filling jails!
So, what do you think Jesus would do to help homeless youth?
This Invisible People road trip is made possible by Sevenly and Virgin Mobile USA, who are partnering to end youth homelessness through Virgin Mobile USA's initiative, RE*Generation. For more information please click here.