Written by Elisabeth Jordan
I have endlessly struggled with words. When I started working on the streets of South Dallas almost three years ago, words came easily. Everything was new to me. I had never been around poverty in our country before, and in retrospect I realize it was much easier to relay all of these brand new experiences.
Over the past several months, it feels like so much has changed. In truth, very little has changed, but my perception has.
The homeless encampment in our neighborhood is being shut down.
In essence, it felt like everything towards which we have been working blew up. Our work did not stop our friend from relapsing. Our dedication to this small neighborhood has done nothing to stop the homeless encampment from being shut down and dozens of our friends from having to relocate.
What is it all for?
If we cannot fix it — and we cannot — to what end are we working? I want you to know I wish I had never struggled with this question. I wish I had met the pain of seeing our relapsed friend back on the streets with only hope. I wish watching our friends getting kicked out of their tents did not make me weep. I wish it all didn't hurt so much.
It was easier before. It was easier when I understood less. It was easier when homelessness was the result of a couple of bad decisions or an addiction. That was easier because I didn't have to ask the hard questions.
Now, it is harder. It is harder to see that many people with whom we work were raised in poverty. It is painful to listen to stories of daddies giving their six and seven year old sons beer. It is disturbing to hear a friend tell how his high school friend was lynched for dating a white girl. In the 1970s.
I was talking with James today. James is my bearded, overall-wearing, gentle soul of a friend. He told me, "I could leave the streets. But I am out here by choice." To which I replied, "Well, you didn't get here overnight, so leaving probably won't happen overnight, either." He nodded in agreement.
Bearing with ...
Our friend, the one who relapsed. He relapsed after a year of recovery. The kind of backbreaking recovery of someone who really wants it. He was in his own apartment; he had a job. A job given to him by a man who extended it as a "second chance."
And in a moment, it was all over. Or so it seemed.
And then it happened. As we walked towards the overpass one day, a figure in the shadows. "Will?" I whispered under my breath, too hopeful to say it loudly. "Elissa, is it him?"
"I don't know," she replied.
In an instant, I knew — it was him. We bolted across the street. We wrapped our arms around his neck. Immediately we understood, he was coming down off of a high, slow to talk. He told us "I don't want to see you like this."
We looked him square in the eye. "We know you don't, but we want to see you." And so, we grabbed him, arm in arm, and we walked. And talked, and prayed. And then, like we had done a hundred times before, we went to our car, and headed out, to go to our favorite spot, the place we had eaten together every week before the relapse: We had pancakes and hamburgers at Cafe Brazil.
How you can help:
Genuinely, you can pray.
You can take some time on Monday or Tuesday to be on the streets with us, and perhaps offer a ride or a hand to someone moving out.
Please email us if you want to join in: firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com.