When There Are None

In talking to my friend Greg yesterday, I was reminded of how long it took for us to see just one person get clean, move forward in their life.

He asked me, “Since you started this, how many people you seen get out?”

Christena Dowsett // christenadowsettphoto.com  Elisabeth & Greg

Christena Dowsett // christenadowsettphoto.com

Elisabeth & Greg

I said, “Maybe five.”

Which reminded me that just last summer, after having worked for a year in South Dallas, I had seen none. Zero. Nada. Nilch.

Nobody I had spent time with had gotten clean, or gotten what they needed to get off of the streets. It’s not that no one got housed during that year; it’s that I wasn’t part of the reason anyone I knew got to leave homelessness. 

Basically, I failed. When I thought about my work when I started in July 2013, I thought the point was going to be getting people out of homelessness. Right? Doesn’t that seem logical? People are home-less. If I “do the right things” and help people in the “right” way, they’re gonna stop being homeless. 


I can’t make anyone get out of homelessness. I can’t make them want different. I can’t make them dissatisfied with their addiction or living outside. I can’t put a drive in them for more.

What can I do, then?

I can show up. I can be faithful with my part. My part is being there. My part is going under the bridge on cold days; it is waking up early to take someone to rehab when they are asking for it. It is listening to someone’s story, letting them tell me whatever it is that they need to tell me.

But I can’t awaken them. I can’t awaken their spirit.

I think it's God who does that.  

I can be there when he does. I can be the ride to rehab. I can be the friend who listens to the pain. I can use my cell phone to call domestic violence shelters for the friend being abused.

Yesterday, Greg described the role other people can play in trying to help someone move forward in their lives – either out of homelessness or addiction. 

He said, “I was running the other day, a timed mile. And I done wanna quit. But then, this lady came up behind me, and she said, ‘Greg, keep going, you only have a quarter mile left.’

“If she hadn’t come up behind me, I woulda quit. I was done. But she gave me that last push.”

That’s what other people are there for – not to make someone start running and not to get them to the finish line. Only that person's mind working with their legs can make them start and help them finish. But we can be there for that last push, that word of encouragement.

He finished that timed mile only because of her words. Good thing she was there when he needed her.