Homeless Archive

A Soldier and His Dog

Posted October 20, 2014 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Homeless VeteranSitting at a traffic light on an overpass, I was grateful to have risen above the heavy traffic I’d fought since leaving Charlotte. As I gazed mindlessly at the cars, trucks and general nothingness that one sees when their mind has numbed from hours on the road, my eyes locked on a man sitting to my right at the end of the exit ramp. 

He was not alone. When cars exited the freeway and pulled to a stop, he stood and coached his dog through a series of tricks. Drivers handed money out the window as payment for the great show. The pup jumped up snatched the bills from their hands. The show repeated until the light turned green. Then the dog immediately stopped, sat down at his master’s feet as he sat back down on his duffle bag awaiting the next group of cars.

I could not believe what I witnessed and could not resist the opportunity to meet this man. Fortunately there was a truck stop a half block away so I wheeled my rig in and walked back up to the intersection. I stared deep into his eyes and saw a pride that had been wounded by life and its bullets that pierced his heart. 

His name was Walter. He could have been my brother, or my uncle, my grandfather or father. Years ago, he’d stood in line to sacrifice his life for my freedom. He laced on boots, picked up a gun and went off to fight. The war had not been kind to him. When he returned to the greatest nation in the world, he found it difficult to adjust and walked away from life as he knew it. 

Today Walter and Gigi the wonder dog live in the woods and entertain passersby for a living. He’s happy living a simple life. No worries. No deadlines or stress. No one shoots at him or ridicules him for his work. He just shares his day with his dog and total strangers. He’s living HIS American dream.

Walter, I salute you. Thank you for ensuring that America remains free. Gigi, my hat’s off to you. Your spirit made my heart soar. 

Everyone has a story. When you see someone on the side of the road at an intersection, don’t look the other way. Don’t judge them. They could have fought for you so you can drive that fancy car and have the right to self expression, albeit turning your nose up at someone you don’t even know. Remember that is a person who is dealing with real challenges in life. Never forget that except by the grace of God, any of us could be there. Walter was not a vagabond. He is a war hero. He fought for us in Iraq not once but twice. When I look at him, I don’t see a homeless man. Now that I took the time to learn his story, I see a soldier and his dog.



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Not Looking For a Handout

Posted January 21, 2014 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

On Friday, I was running and noticed a gentleman crossing the road. It see,ed a bit odd for two reasons. First, he was weaving in and out of cars rather than crossing at an intersection which was only twenty yards away. And, he was walking straight toward me.

He made his way to the sidewalk on my side of the street and, just as I expected, he approached and stopped me. I paused the podcast I’d been listening to, wrestled the ear plugs out of my ears, and gave him my attention.

He was looking for a homeless shelter. He was new to town, looking for work and had spent several nights out in the cold.

“I was promised some work but not only can I not find the man, I can’t even find thirty-five cents!”

I thought he was going ask me for money but he did not. “I just need to find a warm place to stay at night and I need work. I can do almost anything and am willing to. I just gave my heart to the Lord and I have to trust Him to provide, like the Bible says.”

As he continued, I realized this man was serious and definitely NOT looking for a handout.

I brainstormed with him for a few moments and suggested he walk around the corner to the local Christian bookstore. I figured they would either know specific people at the men’s shelter they could connect him with, or they’d know who to contact.

A wide smile creased his face and he set off in the direction I’d pointed with a new pep in his step.

I’d given him hope.

I watched from a distance as he boldly stepped inside the store to ask for help in locating a shelter, inspired by his resolve to get back on his feet again and make a go of life.

And, as he disappeared behind the glass storefront, I had no doubt whatsoever that he would indeed overcome his current circumstance.

I continued my run to the grocery store, the once intriguing podcast no longer holding my interest. As I walked the isles of the store, I was tempted to buy food for this man. I wondered what he would enjoy eating that didn’t have to be cooked.

I reached for a couple of things but then put them back. This stranger who walked up to me on the street was not looking for a handout. Though down on his luck, he was also self-sufficient, intelligent and resourceful. He would make it through.

As I ran home with grocery bags in hand, I marveled at the inner strength of this total stranger. I also lamented that I’m not more like him. I prayed that I would become more like him.

I also prayed that YOU would be more like him. A chance encounter on a cold sunny morning with a total stranger who shouted by his actions, “I’m not looking for a handout” compels me to a new commit. What about you?

Have you had a chance encounter that changed your life? Gave you hope? Or perhaps a swift kick in the pants? Share it here!

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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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