I had an idea, an idea to take to the streets.
I thought it might be dismissed outright. But I also thought it worth the chance someone might latch on.
First, I talked to "Jim." He started opening up about his "problem," as he called it. He said, "I'm too ashamed to tell you what my problem is, but you can probably guess."
I said yes, I probably could. "When did this problem start?"
"Ten years ago," he replied, resignedly.
"I bet you wish you could go back ten years and never start, huh?"
Same story I've heard a hundred times. If only I could go back before I started using, what a life I would have!
It was the perfect segue to share my idea. So I brought out my small sheets of paper, and I asked, "What is your gift? What are you good at? See the list ... there's writing and pottery and painting and building and I'm sure many other things I've haven't thought of."
"Me?" Without hesitation, he smiled and said, "Building and painting."
Then, I told him the idea. What if you built something here, something that we could help you sell, something to help you out with finances?
I asked him, "Jim, what could you build with your hands -- something small -- something to sell?"
"A birdhouse," he didn't miss a beat.
"A birdhouse! How perfect!"
Jim was on break and had to get back to his construction job, so I meandered down the street and sat down with some of our oldest friends in South Dallas.
They would be the true test of the idea because they will tell me when something won't work. After we chatted for a little while, I said, "I wish we could build a small arts center. It would be a place where people could make things with their hands that we could sell, to give people something to do and to help provide a way for people to move off of the streets."
And then I asked the question: "What is your gift?"
One jumped right in: "I'm good at all of it." He was referring to the list I had created.
We all laughed. Mr. B said, "Nope, you're not good at singing. Cross that one off."
Instead of dismissing the idea, each person in our little circle said they would give it some thought. I saw a sparkle in their eyes I'm not sure I've ever seen.
In my opinion and from my experience, one of the biggest issues causing chronic homelessness is getting stuck in a rut. Like Jim, some have been raised in poverty, and they literally can't see a way out. Perhaps drugs or alcohol have complicated their state as well. Some got to the streets hoping to get a job again and move into their own place, but then got lost in the system. Depression can ensue. Who wouldn't feel depressed losing everything and not seeing a way out? So people do get comfortable, but it's not the kind of ease we often project onto the homeless. It can be resignation to "this is just how life is and how it is going to be." Many of the homeless often aren't sure what they want to do or could do with their lives. Some of those who are older feel washed up, or like their best days have passed them by, and it seems they are merely surviving however many years they have left.
The question "What is your gift?" has the potential to say "Don't give up! You still have something to offer."
My four friends who sometimes laugh (kindly) at my grand ideas didn't laugh this time. The most skeptical of them actually said, "I will give it some thought." That's the best I could have hoped for. We are starting to dream together.