Unexpected Service—Serving the Homeless (Feature Friday!)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, December 19, 2014

you are not alone

Unexpected Service—Serving the Homeless (Feature Friday!)

Posted outside of the church I attended, some years ago, was a sign by a small tree covered in blue ribbons: “While celebrating One homeless Family, these ribbons ask us to remember the homeless with us today.” I had never thought about the Holy Family in that way before.

Some people in the 21st century probably are so accustomed to the Christmas story that their idea of shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night is somehow associated with Christmas cards. But it was life as usual for these working people. An everyday way of life in Palestine. What’s more, being a shepherd was not a particularly high class job. The lowly vocation of shepherd was on the outskirts of society. A possible comparison today is to think of a person selling “Streetwise,” the news sheet sold for $2.00 outside of grocery stores and coffee shops here around the Chicago area.

And suddenly, the angel of the Lord came to these shepherds—came to people in homeless shelters, people selling “Streetwise,” people down on their luck, people on the edge, on the outs of society. The angel of the Lord came to them with good news. Good news. With news of God’s birth announcement. We can see God again breaking through, in an unexpected way, to an unexpected group of people.

Are some of these people the “underclass?” Are these people undesirables? Untouchables? Not to God. And, not to the Night Ministry, either.

As their website says, “The Night Ministry is a Chicago-based organization that works to provide housing, health care and human connection to members of our community struggling with poverty or homelessness. With an open heart and an open mind, we accept people as they are and work to address their immediate physical, emotional and social needs while affirming their sense of humanity.”

The Night Ministry served over 138,000 individuals last year, including more than 12,000 young people (aged 14 to 21) who were homeless. Trying to live—to survive in Chicago on their own, without any family or guardian. The Night Ministry works to reach these teens, as well as adults and new moms who have nowhere else to go.

This vital ministry works in Chicago neighborhoods to build relationships and provide immediate, practical resources. They have a new Health Outreach Bus (replacing the old bus that had clocked over 90,000 miles), offering medical exams, treatment and HIV testing, as well as coffee, conversation and a sense of community. The Youth Outreach teams reach out to homeless and LGBT youth in the Lakeview neighborhood to offer non-judgmental support, guidance, food and self-care supplies.

So—especially during the holidays, at that time of the year when the thoughts of many turn to family and friends, this is an especially difficult time of the year. Think of these homeless people, far from family or friends. Send thoughts and prayers to them. Just as you think of that homeless (Holy) Family, two thousand years ago. I know God blessed that homeless (Holy) Family, as I pray God blesses the homeless in my own hometown, tonight.

@chaplaineliza

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Buying A Street Newspaper, Kindly

A Year of Being Kind blog – Thursday, January 30, 2014

newspaper vendor Lucy Dickens

newspaper vendor
Lucy Dickens

Buying A Street Newspaper, Kindly

It has been cold in the past number of days. And I mean, freezing cold. As in polar-vortex-cold. Too cold for people to safely stand outside for more than a minute or two.

At a grocery store not too far from my apartment, a street newspaper vendor has his territory marked out. Recently, the grocery store has been kind enough to allow him to stand just inside the outside doors, out of the bitter cold. (Immediately adjacent to where the shopping carts live.) Some kind of warmth comes from the inside of the store. It’s not quite toasty warm, since there aren’t any direct heat vents or other heat sources on the floor-to-ceiling window walls. But as I mentioned before, at least it’s not as freezing as being outside.

Occasionally, I go to this grocery store to do a little shopping. Maybe once a week. And as often as not, I see the same street newspaper vendor there by the entrance/exit. I sometimes buy a street newspaper from him. I’m not sure whether everyone knows just what these street newspapers and the vendors who sell them are doing out on the street. This particular street newspaper is “StreetWise.” As the inside cover proclaims, “StreetWise is published weekly and is sold by the poor and homeless of Chicago.” The vendors buy the newspaper at cost and sell it at a nominal mark-up. Then, they are able to keep the profit for themselves. It’s a way for people “facing homelessness to achieve personal dignity,” as the StreetWise mission statement says.

I’m a generally friendly, cheerful person. When I see this vendor, I sometimes speak to him. When I get the opportunity, even though I often pass by him at some distance, I try to smile and nod. Give him some sort of friendly acknowledgement, since many people will not even make eye contact with him. I’ve never asked him, but I think he has noticed. And I suspect he appreciates it. He certainly seems to perk up when I see him, even though I don’t always buy a newspaper from him.

But tonight, I did. I bought a newspaper on the way out of the store. The time was a little later than I usually had seen him, but he was still there. Since I had a little extra money, I bought one. I acted in a kindly way. I wished him a good evening, told him I hoped he would be able to stay warm, and gave him one of my smiles, too. (I do have a cheerful smile.) I am glad he is showing initiative and gumption, and get-up-and-go, too.

I hope he has a warm, safe place to sleep tonight. Even though the weather is warmer than it was a few days ago, it’s still winter! And it’s still well below freezing. Dear God, I pray for this gentleman. Bless him. Nourish him physically as well as spiritually. Help him in the daily routine of selling this newspaper. Prosper him, and I pray that he might stay in good health. God, in Your mercy, hear my prayers.

@chaplaineliza