Have you seen a homeless person in your community? I’ll bet you have and didn’t know it. They are all around us in plain view….but they’re hiding. Have you been to the local Walmart or Target? You’ve seen them. How about the fast-food restaurants? You’ve seen them there as well. Your children are going to school with homeless children and they don’t know it. These people look just like everyone else. Oh, sure, you have a vision of what a homeless person looks like in your head. You think of a dirty person who needs a shave and is carrying a bottle in a bag or pushing a grocery cart down the street. Yes, there are homeless people who look like that but most of them look like you and me. How about some examples:
- Cheryl (all names have been changed) is 23 years old and has 2 boys aged 3 and 6. She has been physically and mentally abused by her spouse and has decided to leave him for her own safety and the safety of the boys. She’s been sleeping in her car for 2 weeks on the Walmart parking lot. It seems safe and there are 24 hour restrooms. But she’s hungry. She came to us for help and we put her up in our family shelter with clean sheets, her own bathroom and 3 meals a day. Her oldest son is enrolled in school and the younger one is in daycare while she looks for work.
- Bob is 35, married with a wife and 3 boys and has been employed in the gas fields. He made good money while working there but the gas fields have closed and he has been forced to sell everything he has to pay his debts. With no car or home he has to spend all his time finding food for his family and a safe place to sleep. His family came to us for help and after only 3 weeks has gotten back on his feet. He has a new job, a new apartment and he and his family are doing well.
These are a couple of the faces of homelessness that have come through our ministry. I’ll bet you’d never recognize them on the street.
After six years of listening to people’s stories about their own personal journey to homelessness I have heard literally thousands of stories about how people become homeless. It may have been a fire or natural disaster which claimed a family’s home. Perhaps someone is just coming out of jail or prison and has nowhere to turn. Maybe there has been extended medical expenses that have consumed all of a person’s resources. Sometimes a marriage or relationship has disintegrated and one of the parties was forced to leave. Sometimes employment has ended and families are no longer able to pay their rent or utilities. Whatever the circumstance, a high percentage of people today are only one paycheck away from homelessness. Usually, in the final analysis, it boils down to a series of poor or wrong choices or decisions. Financial decisions, social decisions, employment decisions, health or drug use decisions. Many times it is not massively inappropriate decisions but rather a series of small decisions that accumulate with disastrous results. So the bad news is that people get to a place they don’t want to be by the choices they make.
The good news is that by the same process that took them to a place they don’t want to be they can get to a place they do want to be by making better choices. That’s GREAT news.
Here at Johnson County Christian Lodge we assist homeless persons in making better choices that will bring better results. While a person is homeless there are really only 2 things on their minds; where will I sleep and what will I eat? Until those circumstances are taken care of survival is of foremost concern. We take care of both of those concerns so that the individuals can concentrate on making the better choices that will improve their condition. Here at Johnson County Christian Lodge we’ve been doing that for over 6 years for more than 1700 people and we do it without charge. Getting our people re-employed and re-housed is our top priority.
When I began this ministry 5 years ago it was a common occurrence for me to hear, “There are no homeless people in Johnson County!” From what I could see and have seen in the past 6 years, all those people were WRONG! When we completed our first shelter in April of 2010 we were full within 5 days. That has continued to this day and in 6 years we have served over 40,000 bed/nights and 90,000 meals. In August we opened our second facility and that one has remained 90% full as well.
Homelessness spans all ages, ethnicities and genders. When I began I expected to serve mostly men however that proved to be wrong. Over the years up to 70% of our residents have been women, many with small children. At one point we had 15 children in our facility having a capacity of 30 beds. We have housed women who have been abandoned by their spouse, who have lost their jobs and been evicted, who have been brought to us by CPS for protection from abusive mates, grandmothers raising their grandchildren and high school students who were thrown out by their families when they reached 18 years of age. We have served Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists and Muslims. We have served whites, Asians, Hispanics, African Americans and native Americans. One thing that they now have in common, however, is that they have been exposed to the message of Jesus Christ, the son of God. Some come to believe while others reject the message. We do feel it is imperative for them to be introduced to the one who has provided the help they need now and the only hope they have for eternity. Some may feel offended by the message but that’s OK, too. They need to know that we do this because Jesus loves them and has called us to this ministry to provide for them.
How about you? Would you like to help us provide this ministry? We need your monetary support and your volunteer efforts. Go to the “About Us” tab for contact information. We look forward to speaking with you.