Living in Chicago for three years, I saw homeless people as a daily experience. While being a Moody Bible Institute student was great, letting a homeless person know this fact about me was not. Moody students were
notorious well know for helping the homeless out. While more experienced Moody students would buy a meal for a homeless person, the notorious ones would just give money, usually resulting in soothing an addiction rather than a hunger pain. I have no problem with the idea of meeting the tangible needs of a homeless person. But I did have a problem with the fact that many of the homeless people I experienced were in negative situations. They were stealing Bibles from the Christian bookstore where I worked to sell on the streets. They were going down the street to the Starbucks where my husband worked to rudely badger Starbucks customers to buy them things that they would later try to return for money...all for the same purpose: supporting their drug and alcohol habits. So my confusion began. How do I support homeless men and women without supporting their habits? The easy answer seemed to just ignore them, but how is the church truly supposed to respond?
Under the Overpass by Mike Yankovski addresses this in a very personal way. Yankovski chose to live on the streets for five months in six different cities in order to experience homelessness on a daily basis and see how the church is responding. He, along with his partner Sam faced heat waves and rainy days. They begged for money, hoping to scrape together enough to get some 99 cent hamburgers or a 49 cent burrito. They slept on hard sidewalks, played their worn guitars for money and slept in $3.00 sleeping bags that they found at a thrift store. But most important to them were the faces of the men and women they met on the street and the realization of their huge, festering needs.
For many of the individuals they met, the issue was not whether or not they could get a job and support themselves. Instead it was an issue of addiction and hopelessness. After living on the street as long as these men and women had, going back to what many people view as a "normal life" was hard for these homeless people to fathom. Many of them didn't have a family or friend to return to. Instead, their family and friends were on the streets with them, and to leave them meant to be alone.
Under the Overpass challenged my thinking. Although the church is not doing all it should, I am not responsible for the church. I am responsible for myself. Yankovski's experiences brought about a question: what if I could change the way I see a homeless person? Instead of viewing them as freeloaders, simply making a living on the street to support their addictions and ignoring them, I need to see each of them as a person with a face and a name. While my wariness will remain, my assumptions should not. While I will still be cautious when faced with a homeless person, my hardened spirit should not. As Yankovski pointed out, one of the most positive responses a believer can have towards a homeless person is acknowledging them with a smile. As a person. As an individual. As a man or woman in need of God's grace and rescue in their life.