Going through a couple of camps today, to my surprise, I found only abandoned winter shelters and a couple people where there were so many before. I’d seen expansion before and perhaps in other places there is. Sometimes people are chased away from camp sites for a variety of reasons. Whatever the reason, it seems some lives are in transition with the seasons. I’ve decided to shift focus back to the corner for the time being and pick up the camps again when the weather turns cold.
Those in Omaha who have found themselves homeless often seem transient to me. Since the beginning I’ll see faces for weeks and then just never again. Some I only see once or twice. No one I see has been around “since the beginning” 5 years ago.
I’m beginning more direct work with a local shelter as well. It too is seeing some big changes on the Horizon. Perhaps I will look back on saying this as being terribly prophetic but things are changing and I like where it is all going but I do know it will never be the same.
Winter is ending and the tent cities will expand because of it. I’ve always been amazed that they exist at all in these coldest months of the year. Today it’s a little chilly, but nothing like it has been. It sounds so odd to say right now, but soon I will be freezing water for cold drinks in the Summer! While I spoke with a Native man and woman, a white older man was going in and out of consciousness, yelling something incoherent as he did. A bonfire was going and others were gathering around, some in discussions and some getting supplies from our donations. This is a popular hill near the tents and sort of a social gathering spot.
These two were letting me know today that they had happy news. They had decided they would get married and asked me to get a hold of her daughter Amber. Unfortunately, when I got home and looked up the name, I couldn’t find her anywhere. From what I understand, there is no rush as the marriage is part of a set of longer-term goals they have.
I’m sometimes reminded how life goes on despite finding oneself homeless. It’s easy to think that life just stops until this “crisis” passes, but people still socialize, develop relationships and find ways to take breaks from the stress. Some, like our friend on the ground find those breaks one way, and others find those moments with good company.
For the past year or so, my husband has been delivering to what he calls “tent cities;” these are places where the homeless set up camps. One of the reasons for the change of “tactic” was that other organizations have started delivering food to the corner on Sundays, which is great! Except that a lot of times, they just come, drop off the food and leave… they don’t stay to minister or see what the needs are, and unfortunately, they also leave their trash behind. To avoid getting linked to these organizations, and also, to serve the ones that cannot make it to the corner, my husband started searching for those hidden areas where the homeless gather.
Today, I went with him, which is something I normally don’t do, because while he is doing this, I’m usually sorting and preparing donations from Bakers.
He found a new spot where some homeless where gathering, in what I can only refer to as “stealth mode.” You couldn’t even see they were there. My husband approached them only to discover they all spoke Spanish… so, he came back to the car and asked me if I could talk to them instead… oh! Yes, I speak Spanish.
There were young and old men, and here is why I have to write this post: none of them were drinking, or smelled of alcohol, there were no beer bottles around, they were not smoking, nor smelled like they had been…. I mention this, because it is one of the first misconceptions people have of the homeless. People think of the homeless as drunken jobless people who do not want to improve their lives, and in our experience, it is usually NOT the case. All of these men I spoke to today, are here in Omaha to work.
They gather at night in a different area where they start a bonfire to keep warm at night. The younger ones, who came after my husband had already called me to translate, spoke English… not perfectly, but I would say they could communicate very effectively.
There were 9 total at the time, but one of them asked if he could grab extra food for others who will come later to gather, and I thought it was sweet that he referred to them as “brothers.”
I don’t have the full story yet, but one of the tent camps has been cleared away. When we arrived to deliver supplies, the land between the trees had been scraped clean. There are many more like it, but it was a bit sad to me to see what little the folks staying here had just erased like that. It wasn’t like the land was needed for another purpose, at least none that was readily apparent. It was just gone.
I had an opportunity to counsel someone with addiction issues this last Sunday. Obvious addiction issues are not as common as the myth would have us believe, but we do see them. The guy I was speaking with is as friendly as they come, and very well spoken. But towards the end of one of his stories he was speaking on how alcohol had gripped his life for over 30 years with no signs of letting up. He was immensely grateful for all he had, but he was just mentioning how this was something he wasn’t having much luck getting away from. He had seen a doctor who, you would think counter-intuitively, had told him not to immediately stop drinking, but rather to taper it off so he wouldn’t have a bad reaction. Sound advice in some circumstances but I did wonder if the danger of continuing wasn’t worse than the very real dangers of suddenly halting his use.
I just explained to him that sometimes things such as anti-depressants can help resolve an underlying issue that may contribute to the addiction. He seemed unconvinced, and I don’t blame him. It’s a lot to expect from a pill, but I thought I would tell him about it and maybe it will spark an idea that will help him later. I can only pray.
His advice for me was equally sound. Never stop praying while doing this ministry, even though some may not seem interested, it makes a difference in their lives. We handed out the usual foods like always and some good supplies for winter including gloves, hats, personal care items and heat packs. For those who haven’t read back that far, these heat packs would look to you or I like nothing big, but I’m told that in a well insulated sleeping bag they are the difference between merely surviving a night in these awful temperatures and having some measure of comfort. As my friend also said, every little kindness matters and pleases God. God Bless.
I just wanted to post a little update on the people that we help.
We are still delivering to the Stephen Center, but we have had some transportation issues and we haven’t been able to deliver to Y.E.S. since our Travis was deployed. Of course, we hope that we can solve this problem soon, since delivering to Y.E.S. is extremely important to us.
On the other hand, we are happy to know that we are helping 3 disabled veterans, one disabled lady, 3 single mothers, a family of 3, and 2 college students.
As usual, we are still bringing food and personal care items to the homeless in Downtown Omaha, and soon, we will start going to the little tent city in Omaha as we did during the summer, bringing these items to those that cannot make it to the corner.
Last Sunday, the donations were amazing… they usually are right after thanksgiving, and we were able to make these beautiful boxes for our families with so many good things and so many different things in them! So, I was extremely happy to spend most of the day sorting and packaging.
Thank you so much to our volunteers: Travis and Crista, and of course, this wouldn’t be possible without the help of Baker’s and Panera Bread!