On the Brink

One of our guests–I’ll call him D.W.–has been attending our Wednesday night Bible study and dinner for years. He’s been on and off the streets since he was 18, and is middle-aged now. While fleeing his abusive father at age 8, he, his mother, and sister got into a devastating car accident. His mother died in the hospital a day later. He was put into foster care and lost contact with his siblings and extended family. After suffering physical and sexual abuse from his foster parents and siblings, he finally decided he’d had enough. He left San Diego, moved to Arizona, and ended up homeless and drug addicted. He started stealing to feed his drug habit, and that landed him in prison.

After prison, he came back to San Diego, worked some odd jobs, and tried to stay sober. Haunted by his past, with no family or support system, and with an incomplete education, he eventually ended up homeless again. He’s been surviving outside ever since, sometimes winning and often losing the battle with depression and drugs.

When you meet D.W. for the first time, you wouldn’t guess all that about him. On a good day you might not even realize he’s homeless, aside from the big backpack. He has a humble demeanor, kind eyes, and good manners. You can tell he tries earnestly to do the right thing, to help others, to stay sober when he can.

A few weeks ago, D.W. stopped by the church midday on a Friday, dropped off a note, and walked away. As soon as I read it, I ran outside to chase him down, but he had already rounded the corner–and I wasn’t sure which one. The note said that he couldn’t do it anymore, that he planned to intentionally overdose on heroin (not his drug of choice) and go “lights out” that night, but that he wanted to say goodbye and to thank us for all we had done. After tracking him down and eventually finding him an hour later, he was shaking with tears, and he refused to talk to me. I tried to approach him but he told me to get away and took off down the sidewalk.

For the next two weeks, I was calling hospitals daily and eventually tried calling the morgue, but nobody had him. That was both distressing and relieving. Then, weeks later…he came by the church on a weekday once again.

He wanted to tell us that instead of finding heroin that night, he had gone to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. He apologized for scaring me, and told me that he knew God loved him and was taking care of him. Now he is back at the our Bible study every Wednesday night, with his humble, grateful, sober demeanor still intact.

We know that he and so many like him are still living lives on the brink of despair. But when you see God save someone’s life right before your eyes like that, there is reason to hope.

Being Family

One of the hardest realities about life on the streets, especially for the chronically homeless who have been out there for years, is isolation. You get the flu and no one takes care of you. Or, worse, you end up in the ER and no one goes with you. Many of our friends from the Ladle have no family, or they haven’t spoken to their families in decades. Many have become accustomed to highly solitary lives. Sometimes it’s painfully obvious: someone will be visibly jarred just by being spoken to, or being called by their name, or being touched.

The isolation of many homeless folks is especially highlighted when people go through medical crises. Hepatitis A is currently ravaging many of the homeless in San Diego, including some of our Ladle guests. This week we had to admit one of our most faithful attendees to the hospital for this disease. This individual has no living family members, and he has been isolated on the streets for a long time, suffering from episodic anxiety and schizophrenia. Yet he is truly a brother in Christ. His faith in God and his humble heart, despite everything he has gone through, is something remarkable.

John sat with him in the ER for half the night on Wednesday. Otherwise, he would have been there alone, physically ill and mentally troubled, with no one to speak up for him or make him feel safe in the uncomfortable and scary environment of a hospital waiting room. Our goal at the Ladle is to break into the isolation of our guests and become family to those who have no family; that’s exactly what happened in that waiting room.

I got to go visit him today, and another friend of his from church is going to see him tonight (despite this whole get-up the nurses make us wear). He is not alone. He is deeply loved, and he has a family.