Homeless in America Archive

A Leg Up

Posted November 18, 2015 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I rolled to a stop on an exit ramp just as the driver two cars ahead of me began having a conversation with a man who sat on the side of the road. His dog sat calmly at his side as his master displayed a sign that read, “I am really hungry. God bless.”

The driver told the man he would give him money but he’d have to get up off his lazy butt to come get it.

“What if I send my dog for it? Would that be okay?”
The man shook his head. “If you want my money, you’ll have to meet me halfway.”

The indigent man agreed and lifted the blanket off his lap as cars and trucks filed in behind us making a very long line. We all waited as this fifty-something man wobbled on nubs that ended about four inches below his hips. He stood about two feet tall as he maneuvered toward the car. The once very cocky—if not annoyed—driver opened his door and jumped out, hurrying toward the handicapped man.

The embarrassed driver reached deeper into his pockets and pulled out more money, perhaps as a peace offering. My guess it was to quiet his turbulent conscience.

The next car rolled up as the other driver sped off. He, too provided money. Now it was my turn. I gave him a hundred dollars and told him I would bring him and his dog food right back. I turned the corner headed for the truck stop and noticed every car stopped and the drivers did the same thing.

I grabbed food from the burger joint and hurried on foot to where he was. I handed him the food and said, “So sorry you had to endure that. The guy was a jerk.”

He waved it off. “Awww, wasn’t nothin’. Even though I ain’t got none, I sure got a leg up on him.” He chuckled. “Folks felt sorry for me and they gave me over $200! I ain’t made that much money in a month before, much less five minutes.”

Jed (short for Jedediah), lost both legs in a coal mining accident. The mines closed down and Jed was left to fend for himself. He’s not bitter, angry or hateful toward anyone. He said it is just a part of life and takes it all in stride…albeit a four inch long stride on all that’s left of once strong legs.

Jed and his dog Butch make a living on the good graces of others. Waiting for handouts and not knowing where their next meal will come is their way of life. And they have adapted to it. They live in one room at a fleabag motel on the interstate. His disability check covers that but does not leave him enough to eat and buy other necessities.

I asked him how I could help him. He simply replied, “You already have. You treated me like I’m somebody. Like I matter… you know?”

As I hugged Jed, petted Butch and trotted off back to my truck, I couldn’t help but replay the look on the face of Mr. “You have to meet me halfway” when he realize he’d demanded that someone with no legs come get his handout. It’s a very loud reminder that things are not always as they seem. We don’t have the right to judge. It also is a clear demonstration that ALL things work together for good to those who are called according to His purpose.

America stepped up that day and gave to Jed and Butch. They helped their neighbor. They stood for what America is all about. The Heartbeat of America is still alive and well.

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Ladies of the Evening, Children of the Light

Posted May 6, 2015 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Two nights in a row.
Two Prostitudes.
Two southern towns.
Two souls saved.

Just when I thought my friend, Brandilyn Collins’ “Pitchin’ a Fit” is just a great read, something happened.

One night it was “Miz Sexy” in Montgomery, Alabama. The next night it was “Blue Satin” in Hot-lanta. Each of them knocked on the door to my truck hoping I’d purchase her services. The trucking industry calls them lot lizards. I call the lost souls so rather than shooing them away, I hopped out of my truck and struck up a conversation.

They both lived rough lives and had basically been on there own for a LONG time. Not bad gals at all. Just misguided and in life situations where they had to rely on their own survival instincts. I didn’t have Bibles but as it turned out, they most likely would have not been receptive. But I handed them each  a copy of the humorous book written by my friend. Brandilyn had just sent me some copies.

Rain dampened their, umm, business so they had some down time. The next morning a very strange thing happened.

On two consecutive mornings, each of these women knocked on my door a second time. At first I thought they were still working and just didn’t remember that I wasn’t buying. But, I saw tears in each of their eyes. Each of them had read Brandilyn’s book (or at least part of it) overnight.

They said they soooo identified wtih the feelings portrayed and asked me if I could help them. I was able to lead each of them to The Lord and point them in a Godly direction.

Each of them clutched that paperback like it was a brick of gold. The books were damp from the rain and were already showing what would soon become dog ears. Their countenance had changed. It glowed somehow as if they’d been washed clean. I saw hope in their eyes, something boldly absent the nights before.

I’d be foolish to think that would be the end of the story. It would be so easy for them to go back to their business as soon as the kiddie ran low. So I contacted local street ministries in each town and told them what had happened. Each agreed to follow up with them.

Today on the streets of Montgomery and Atlanta, there are two woman. I met them as ladies of the evening, selling their bodies for supper money. I left them as children of the light, filled with hope of a better life… eternal life forged by a God who created them and loves them.

Doesn’t get much better than that. 

Get Brandilyn Collins’ book “Pitchin’ a Fit” here

 

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Auntee Gertrude

Posted November 17, 2014 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

IMG_3040Deep in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains, a house sits alone in a cove. If the walls could talk, you’d hear laughter, tears, secrets shared in days gone by. You’d hear the heart’s cry of twenty-seven children, who have long since grown up and started lives of their own. And you wouldn’t help but hear the affirmation and expressions of love from Auntee Gertrude.

Gertrude and her husband Chester, have provided extended foster care for almost three dozen children who had no place to go and no one to take care of them. It all started with a frantic knock on their door on a rainy night. The sheriff showed up with an  abandoned child and no place to take them. The parents were missing and someone had to care for the children.

They said yes… temporarily… and it set in place a lifetime of purpose. Together they provided not only the basic needs for the Homeless Young Boy Holding a Signchildren entrusted to their care, they raised them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They all grew up to be amazing men and women. Every single one is successful in his or her own way.

We sat over coffee and I asked Gertrude why they did it. “Well, when a need shows up on your front door step, there’s overwhelming evidence that you’re the one God chose to meet it.” 

A simple woman by design, Auntee Gertrude lives her life for others. She could not sit still without asking me if I wanted more coffee. And we were at a Travel Plaza, not her home! As I let the java grow cold, I drank in all the love, caring, and genuine happiness that flowed from this lady’s heart. Interestingly, she didn’t want to talk about it. She’d much rather discuss the amazing and unusual sunrise God gave us that morning.

But I finally did pry some information out of her. For decades, every time there was a knock on the door, Gertrude would yell out the back door to Chester’s wood shop, “Better get another bed ready. Somebody’s coming!” They were always needing room for one more child. Chester would build and Auntee Gertrude would sew, knit and cook. 

When I asked this couple what was the greatest blessing they’d received from their lifetime of caring for underprivileged children. She became quiet for a moment as if deep in thought. Then with conviction she said, “We were able to teach these children how to grow up to be responsible adults. And patriotic Americans. That’s something you just don’t find too much any more.”

IMG_3021Auntee Gertrude and Chester are heroes. They not only helped these children in a desperate time of need, they gave them the heartbeat of America. And they introduced them to Jesus. 

No, I don’t think it gets much better than that. 

Gertrude and Chester shuffled off into anonymity once more. To see the elderly couple, you’d never know who they are or what great things they have accomplished. As they drove away in their old Buick, it made me wonder how many amazing heroes I pass by on a daily basis without realizing it.

That old song, “Stop and Smell the Roses” fluttered in my head. I was once again reminded it is the people-the heartbeat of America- that provide the wonderful fragrance in this amazing nation we call home. 

I salute you, Auntee Gertrude and Chester.

 

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They’ll Find a Way…

Posted January 16, 2014 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

If you’ve read my blog this week, you’ll know I’ve spent a lot of time around homeless people in recent weeks. It has been quite an eye-opening experience. I’ve learned so much from these people. 

We’ve had some of the coldest days on record where I am right now. Fortunately, I’m not in the frozen tundra of the northern United States so it hasn’t been thirty below. 

But still…

One thing I’ve discovered about these people who find themselves homeless is that, no matter what challenge life throws at them, somehow they’ll find a way to get through it. With no resources other than their ingenuity and a resolve to overcome, they creatively do the impossible with nothing. 

With no money, they stay warm. How? by stuffing discarded newspapers under their shirt. Common newspaper is a great insulator. And their choice of inexpensive foods is important. Peanuts take longer to digest than, say, potato chips. So a handful of peanuts will leave them feeling fuller longer.

I wrote an article once about Marcia (pronounced Mar-See-Uh), a bag lady I met under the bridge in Jacksonville, Florida. She pushed a shopping cart filled to overflowing with God only knows what. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why she didn’t just clean her buggy out and toss most of it. After spending time with the homeless, I know why. Everything is needed. EVERYTHING.

When you’re fortunate enough to have some coin and go to the store, you NEVER throw away the plastic bag. You’ll need it one day. When you finish that jar of peanut butter, you clean out the jar and use it to store things in.

I learned this from the people who live on the streets of a well known city. They are quite remarkable people, very bright and would desperately trade everything they own just to get a minimum wage job. They are courageous survivors of a very unfortunate hand life dealt them. 

These people–Connie, Romeo, Delores, Malcolm, Henry, Jonathan, Penny and others–are my heroes. Each time I see them, I’m encouraged in my own life. I want to be like them. To have their passion. To approach life and challenges with a tenacity like super glue on fingertips, because I know they’ll find a way through the problem. Or around or over it. 

They are amazing conquerors who stand so tall, I can only dwell in their shadow. They are warriors of a life that shouldn’t exist. They are America’s homeless. 

Have you had to find a way where there seemed to be NO way? Did you feel empowered? lShare your story here!

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Heart of the Homeless

Posted January 14, 2014 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to know the homeless people where I am. It’s been simply amazing, but I’m afraid I have a horrible confession to make.

There was a time in my life I thought homeless people were either skid row bums or a few bricks short of a full load. Well, either that or rapists, murderers and convicted felons who couldn’t make it on the outside. I don’t know that I’ve ever been more wrong. I’ve asked God–and the homeless folks I’ve met–to forgive me. Now I’m asking you to do the same.

You see, I’ve discovered that homeless people are good, honest, decent human beings. Somewhere along the way the storms of life hit them with full force and they lost everything. Well, every physical possession at least. These Americans are wonderful, bright, educated people who can’t find a job, despite applying for thousands. 

Some of them have given up but the overwhelming majority still have hope. And they display remarkable resilience. Life’s been hard for them and the mountains they climb are seemingly insurmountable. Yet, each day they rise with a new commit to conquer their plight and rise to the top of their world again.

They are my heroes. I’ve grown to love them. Admire them. Want to be like them. They have a fire in their belly that keeps them putting one foot in front of the other day after day after day after day. Many of them don’t even know where their next meal will come from. The lucky ones sleep in shelters with dozens of other unfortunates. Some weather the winter in tents. A great number of them attempt to sleep in dumpsters using blankets made of cardboard boxes. 

In them I do not see sadness, but rather resolve and the pioneer spirit. It’s that inner strength that takes what comes and just deals with it, walks through it and overcomes it. No fanfare. No woe-is-me sobs. They just quietly work their way out of their challenge. It’s the heartbeat of America and it is alive and well. It’s the American spirit that attacks challenges with a tenacity that even the fiercest enemy cannot beat.

I’m so glad I’ve gotten to know these people. I am humbled in their presence as their strength towers over me. One day, I want to be like them. I pray I will one day have the unstoppable heart of the homeless.

Have you ever had an experience with the homeless? Do you know someone who is or was? Share it here!

 

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