That is a Bible verse, which I first heard as a child. It was one of the few passages from the Bible that I can accurately recite.
It is one of many things from the Bible that I really only came to understand as an adult.
I have lived a sheltered life. But I’ve never lived in a shelter. Like most families, mine always had a roof over our heads, always had food on the table, and always had a warm bed to climb into at night. We took safety and happiness for granted.
Only as an adult have I learned how close each of us is to homelessness. Thankfully, I don’t have to experience a problem myself to have empathy for those who do.
I have always told my children: “You don’t have to make every mistake yourself. Learn from the mistakes and bad choices of others.” Thankfully, that is what I have done with homelessness and substance abuse.
Although I am a native Texan, I lived in California for almost 10 years as an adult. I have seen a lot of homeless people with signs pleading, “Will Work for Food.”
I observed this driving to work every day. It is a serious problem everywhere in this country, but particularly evident in California. The weather is warm and the liberal thinkers with many tax-supported social services available make it almost too easy.
I could see that given the right-or wrong-set of circumstances and timing, it could happen to any of us. Once started, the dominoes fall fast. Many of us are unbelievably close to that initial domino falling – one missed paycheck, one bad accident or illness in the family, the unexpected death of a supporting family member and the spiral leading to homelessness begins. Without help, it will likely end very badly.
The devastating impacts of chronic substance abuse on families are topics that have been very important in my shaping the lives of my now grown children.
This is not because our lives were directly impacted; it is just the way I was raised to believe. My father drank. He may have been an alcoholic. I never thought about it. We may have been close to losing our house. If so, I never knew.
For many years my family volunteered our time and resources in feeding the homeless at Thanksgiving in California.
The rest of the year we made a commitment as a family to continue to help. This continued throughout my kids’ lives, wherever we have lived.
My oldest daughter cooked meals at the Austin homeless shelter several times each month as part of her required high school community service project. I am very proud of the traditions we set and thankful for the lessons we learned.
I recently moved to Dallas and married a woman with young children (fodder for many articles). My new wife, Debbie, and her family have lived in a small East Texas town for almost as long as the kids can remember.
There are not many homeless people in the streets of Gun Barrel City.
Unlike my own kids growing up, Debbie’s kids haven’t seen many truly homeless people.
This realization was triggered as a result of my seeing the fear, wonder and confusion in the eyes of Debbie’s 12-year-old daughter upon encountering “HOBOS” (her word) in the parking lot at Fair Park when we were seeing a theater production recently.
They approached as we were getting out of the car, asking for money. It scared the girls and I very firmly told these people (likely homeless) to go away.
The girls wondered why I didn’t give them money. I really didn’t know the correct answer. So I asked a professional, Leann Starne, what the correct response should have been.
Leann and her husband John are the owners/directors of a local program that feeds the homeless and provides resources to integrate them back into society. Their ministry, “Hands & Hearts” provides prayer meetings and brings the teaching of the Bible as a source of hope to those who have none.
To pay the cost of this ministry, they run Urban Relics, a resale shop on Main Street in between White Rock Lake and Deep Ellum. They sell a very eclectic mix of high-quality furniture, clothing, glassware and lots of unexpected treasures.
To paraphrase Leann’s answer to the question of what to say and do when approached by people asking for money on the street:
1. NEVER give them money. A “rock” of Crack is $5 on the street.
2. Always look them in the eyes. It validates them as people and helps their self-esteem.
3. If possible, buy them something to eat. That value meal hamburger you can get for a dollar could be all that they eat that day.
4. Tell them that you cannot help right now but that you will pray for them.
I went back to my 12-year-old stepdaughter and told her Leann’s answer.
I also reminded her of the passage that I know her mother taught her from the Bible, “There but for the GRACE of GOD go I.”
I hope that she will remember both. I know that I always will.
David Hollowell is a freelance writer living near White Rock Lake. He can be contacted by e-mail: David@DavidWHollowell.com.