Each Thursday of every week, a group of volunteers meets up at Mokah Coffee shop to get ready to go the streets. We come from all different walks of life with different stories of how we ended up here, but this one thing we all have in common: a desire to go befriend and love the chronically homeless right where they are.
One of these volunteers that has shown up faithfully every Thursday for the past 4 months is Edward Thomas.
If you've been around The Human Impact for any time, you have probably met or heard of Edward. Edward was once chronically homeless himself, staying many nights at Austin Street Center, and battling a drug addiction. We met Edward several years ago sitting on a sidewalk outside of the shelter as we came to the neighborhood to build relationships.
Our journey of friendship with Edward began that day. Since meeting Edward, he has left the streets to address his drug addiction, graduated from the Salvation Army 6-month intensive rehabilitation program, moved into a sober living home, and just celebrated 20 months of sobriety last week! It has been a joy to have Edward by our side as we go to the same neighborhood each week that he used to live in.
Edward sat down and shared his heart with us about why he volunteers and what it's doing for his life.
"It's my way of giving back. You know, I stayed homeless on and off for 10 years, and I was back and forth in my addiction and kept relapsing. And no matter how much help I got, things weren't feeling right. Every time I tried to clean my act up, I would clean it up physically, but not spiritually. And that kept me going through a revolving door in my life. I had to surrender my life to a power greater than myself—God. It helps me to give back now. Helps me realize that where I came from, others can do the same thing. Where we go volunteer out by the shelter, some of the same people are still homeless that were there when I was there, so by going back out to them I can give them hope to tell them where I am and how they can get there too."
What is one of the biggest things you've learned since volunteering with the homeless on this side of things? When I was on the other side of the fence, I thought volunteers would come out & bring things like clothes, hygiene products and bus busses, but as a volunteer, I've learned that’s not what it's all about. Its about encouraging people; praying for those in need. Volunteering is about going out on a power greater than yourself.
How do you prepare for weekly volunteer time? It's a prayer thing. You have to be prayed up, you have to stay prayed up, and keep the faith. Life on the streets is unpredictable, but when you stay prayed up, God lets you have peace of mind. He will give you the wisdom you need to go out and deal with those in need.
Share with us one of your favorite things to do while volunteering? Listening to a person's problems. I know as a previous homeless person, their problems probably aren't that different from what I experienced. I like to pray for them and give them hope. I love praying and talking about their problems.
What's some wisdom you can share with us about interacting with the homeless? Sometimes, a homeless person has certain attitudes, but if you show that person love and prayer, it has a way of soothing them. Listen to their story. Don't put money in their hand, cause when you do, they will expect that from then on out. Pray for them and pray with them.
What keeps you coming back to do volunteer and befriend the homeless alongside The Human Impact? I can see change in so many people, and I know they can do this. I know they want to change their life, but they are afraid. But I can see the hope in them. I was afraid of change, but I knew I had to change or I would die. I look at these people on the streets and say Lord, just give them one more day to surrender their life to you. Let them see in me what you've done for me, you can do for them too.
I have a lot of people on the streets say to me when I'm out there, "You were in bad shape back then, and you look good now. You're doing good. You're changed now." I read my Bible every day. I read the Big Book every day. I have a sponsor. God has given me a way to change. I prayed to God, Please don't let me leave this life with crack in my body, and it has come to pass. I praise God for that. It came to pass.
How does this weekly volunteer time personally help you? Volunteering helps my sobriety so much. It's better than meetings for me. When I come out on the streets and show people what God has done for me, it helps so much. I 'm so grateful to have 20 months clean as of April 4, 2019! I give all the blessings and glory to God.