For the second summer in a row, seven college-aged young men have joined us on the streets on Fridays as a part of a summer program called the Dallas Fellows. They work Monday through Thursday in business and as a part of the program get to volunteer their time on Friday.
Most of them come in never having worked on the streets with the homeless. They are very brave and face the sometimes-awkwardness of going without material goods, just being available for friendship. We watched these young men move from hesitation to developing incredibly special relationships with some of our buddies on the streets. It all culminated in one hot July morning basketball game, followed by trash pick-up (pictures below). The thoughts shared below are from one of these young men, Troy Schmidt, about what his experience taught him.
by Troy Schmidt
Immediately stepping outside of the car at Tent City, I realized just how unprepared I really was. [Last summer, Troy led high schoolers as they reached out to the homeless in a shelter.] Last summer, most of our interactions with people came at lunch where we were handing out popsicles, or at a free food market we helped run with food rescued from a grocery store. Walking around from tent to tent, with nothing to offer but a conversation, felt pointless at the time. I also felt intrusive—this is their space, their home, and we’re walking around uninvited. Just as I was starting to disengage, I turned away from the group and saw a cross. It was built from wood and a little crooked, but it was a cross all the same. An overwhelming sense that this place is exactly where Jesus would have done ministry washed over me. His presence calmed me and allowed me to get past my own discomfort (and the smell), pushing me to really get to know the people staying here.
I saw shame in a woman who spoke to us with a black eye and obvious bruises. I saw guilt, as one of our friends gave into addiction instead of coming for a meal with us. I saw fear in our own group as a situation with one of our friend’s neared violence. I saw discomfort, in a woman dealing with obvious mental health issues coupled with the stress of her situation. I saw hate, in the form of white supremacy among some members of the community. I saw anxiety as people worried where they would go after the city delivered “eviction notices” to Tent City.
But I also saw hope in our friend who left shortly after greeting us because he had to go to work. I also saw interest, as people listened to where we were from and told us about their own hometown. I also saw pride in the many Cowboys fans who heckled me for wearing a Titan’s jersey. I also saw joy, as people began to look forward to our visits after weeks of coming by. But most of all I saw a desire for relationships. People wanted us there, even when we had nothing but ourselves to give them. Not everyone. Some people were too ashamed, tired, or straight up uninterested to talk to us. But that’s okay, because it was genuine. I got to meet people where they were, even if where they were meant they didn’t want to talk to us.
Life has a funny way of humbling you. Before we went to the streets I felt pretty confident that I would excel in building relationships since I had spent last summer developing that skill. Tent City very quickly helped me understand that forming relationships doesn’t always look how we want it to look, and I had to realize that’s okay. God’s love for us is steadfast, and that’s the same kind of love we look to spread on the streets.