What I used to see as failure, I now see as growth.
In our work on the streets, we first build trust and friendship before we ever work on root
causes, or the deeper reasons why someone is homeless. When we get to the “root
cause” work, we celebrate. A person has trusted us enough to tell us their deeper story,
to share their hopes and dreams for their life and their obstacles to getting there.
Then, sometimes, maybe even most of the time, we get demoted back to building trust.
(Except what I’ve learned is that it’s all forward progress, if only I will open my eyes and
This happened today with a friend I’ll call Tom. He had met with our staff member
Dante, and had shared with him that he wanted to address his drinking.
You can't change me
A few weeks after that, when we saw him, Tom told us “You can’t change me. You want me to go to AA/NA. I don’t want to.”
Dante said, “When did I say that? You’re the one who told me you wanted to stop drinking.”
Tom replied, “I changed my mind.”
“When did you do that?”
“This morning,” Tom retorted.
Dante chuckled, “Well I haven’t seen you until right now. So I didn’t know.”
After that, we sat for almost an hour, listening to Tom tell us all of the reasons he
doesn’t want – or need – help...
Even though I’m out here, I’m really smart.
I can take care of myself.
I worked a job for two years living out here. Do you know how hard that is to do?
You’ve never been in my shoes. You don’t understand.
I can get my own apartment.
And again and again we heard, You can’t change me.
We don't want to change you
What we shared back…
We don’t want to change you. We know we can’t.
No one can do it alone. We all need God and each other.
We’re out here for one reason: to love and be loved. We need you, too.
Tom asked, “Oh dear… How do you need me?
I told him, “Well, just today, that guy made a pass at me, and I brought it up to the
group, and you ran the guy off. You protected me.”
I used to leave days like today feeling discouraged, as though the person was taking steps backwards. But today, I left with a huge smile on my face, feeling honored that Tom had trusted us enough to tell us all of the reasons why he didn’t want help, and how we couldn’t help him.
I was imagining all of the things he’s heard that he launched back at us—people
assuming he doesn’t work, or that he’s not smart because he’s homeless. People
coming out trying to change him, rather than just loving him.
This day wasn’t about rebutting what he said, but rather about listening, hearing,
receiving. Our work is not about fixing but about loving, being present.
And ironically, this non-fixing, this simply loving… this is the thing that heals. Not
overnight, but slowly, over time. We are healed, and they are healed. And that is the
transformative power of this work!