Living in Eugene has been journey to say the least. Before moving here, I used to believe that I was cultured and possessed a well-rounded view of the world. The longer I live here, the more I realize how little I know. I think the most eye opening experience has come over the last year. To be honest, even what I am about to share can in no way describe the reality among the homeless population. I am writing this as I am watching a documentary that exposes life on Skid Row. I am not even sure why I am watching it, because to me, it is depressing. It’s depressing because the stories are similar to the stories I hear on a daily basis. The hard part is that this issue continues to expand all over the nation. It’s easy to avoid such districts as Skid Row and pretend that this issue does not exist. But it does and the hard part is that the remedy is not always clear.
Once hearing personal accounts it is evident that this is not all about hard working individuals, losing their jobs, in a declining economy. If you listen, you hear stories of tragedy, domestic violence, mental illness, addictions, and the list goes on. We as a society believe the solution to such an epidemic is more jobs. I wish it were that easy. I believe that at least half of the individuals I work with daily are not able to maintain employment for one reason or another. So what’s the solution for these folks? Please note that this is not about any political agenda. I am simply sharing my heart because this is such a struggle for me. I truly am overwhelmed by the needs. This is not about people being hungry or cold. Again, those problems would be an easy resolve.
Moving out of your comfort zone forces you to become a good listener. Apparently I was not a good listener, even after six years of training. It did not take long to realize that I talk too much. I suddenly became insecure and self-conscious of how much I talk. So now I listen. I listen because I’ve been taught that listening makes people feel heard and special. But I also listen because I am not always sure how to respond. You would think that after a while you become desensitized to the stories, to the erratic behavior or even the lack of structure in a day. Every moment is unpredictable. We never know what story is going to walk into the Women’s Center.
To many of the homeless, their life is stuck in a revolving door. They can’t keep a job because they can’t function in society. They can’t function in society because they don’t take their medication. They don’t take their medication because they can’t pay for the medication. They can’t pay for the medication because they don’t have a job. Similar scenarios seem to plague most of the people I work with. And to be honest, not all of the people I serve desire to live a life beyond what they are experiencing. However, there are others who want to move forward, but can’t because they are stereotyped as a thief or an addict.
A few weeks ago, I was completely blown away as I was greeted by a random Eugene citizen looking to hire an in-home caregiver for her mother. She had no idea who I was and I was shocked that she would take a stranger’s recommendation. I gave her some options and within three days a guest who had been stuck in the Women’s Center, seeking employment for over a year, now has a home and a secure income. A week later, I had another guest participate in a news interview promoting the new Women’s Center. She was nervous because she knew that revealing her homeless status would make her less employable. But she chose obedience and a few days after the interview aired, she received a call from a local employer, who heard her story and wanted to give her an chance.
All this to say that while crazy is my new normal, there are days when I get to sit back and watch God work. While in one moment I can have a disgruntled guest threatening my life and refusing to leave until an intervention takes place (kudos to EPD and CAHOOTS) and the next I have the pleasure of watching God restore relationships, rebuild lives, and conquer mental illness and addictions. The latter always reminds me why I am in this season.
I encourage you guys to check out the documentary Lost Angels to learn more. Expand your horizons, it will change you.
Also, here is information about volunteering with the Eugene Mission.