The Motivation to be a Homeless Outreach Worker
On any given month, my team and I head out to the streets to minister to the homeless four to six times. We are a grassroots team known as Supports on the Streets. Sometimes it’s just a few of us and sometimes we team up with another group of people who want to step into the world of the homeless. Guest workers often have some ideas of what it means to be homeless but are lacking the clarity of what the day to day implications are. My motives for outreach are twofold. The first is to come along side the homeless. The other is to partner with a largely informed body of Christ as we walk towards the mess that is the city of Rochester.
The main goal of what we do while on the streets is building relationships. We meet them where they are at, listen to their story, and ask them how we can partner with them for help. This is not a one-time interaction. We have to show up consistently to make any potential for long term outreach possible. Change and growth for someone on the streets can be painfully long. No two stories are the same but some hold similar patterns. Many who choose to reside on the streets feel that they have nowhere to go or the places that are potential options are not a good fit for their needs. Instead they find refuge in tents, stairwells of parking garages, abandoned buildings, or in bus stops. The thing that surprised me the most was how the relationship of ministry goes both ways. People are just as excited to hear how my life is going as I am to hear about theirs. When it comes down to it, I am just as broken as they are. My personal life is just as much in shambles. I personally bring nothing to offer them. There is this illusion that because I have a job, car, and apartment, I have it together. That is a lie. The only thing I have is the grace of God in my life through Jesus Christ. That truth and the offer to walk through life is all I have to offer to anyone who calls the streets of Rochester their home. A second reality I am reminded of on each trip is that just because you are homeless does not mean you don’t know our Heavenly Father. In fact, faith in God alone is the only thing keeping some of the homeless going. They understand that God’s grace penetrates beyond their situations and into the darkest places in our city. They are living testimonies that God uses all circumstances for our good and His glory. When I interact with homeless who are stronger sons and daughters of the King than I am, it’s a strong push to better love those around me who do not know Jesus as their savior.
About twice a month I am given the opportunity to partner with others and take them to the streets. Most are uncertain about homelessness as a whole and hold stereotypical ideas of why someone is homeless. My goal is often to challenge these mindsets and ask people to rethink how they approach the needs in our city. I often question them if their faith in God has them stepping outside their circles for Christ. Does their faith recognize that the homeless in our city are just as much in God’s plan as you and I are? In 21st century American Christianity, it’s tough to get someone to understand that their faith should strum up in them a desire to love others. Not just your friends, family, or the co-workers you like. I do my best to prep people for what they are going to see and what they might encounter. The answer to the material poverty is not the supplies we bring them. The answer is Jesus. As Christ-followers, it’s our responsibility to share it. Talking about Jesus and walking away is not the answer. We have to earn the right to be heard by partnering with the homeless in life. Sharing your faith with the homeless is no different than sharing it with a friend. You have to be praying for them and investing in them through a relationship. Showing up with clean socks or a hot meal and walking away is not enough. It only helps them short term. I tell people that I am in this for the long haul. This means being consistent no matter what state of mind a person is in, what drug they are addicted to, or why they live on the streets. It means recognizing that my sins are no less in the Kingdom of God then someone who lives on the streets are. I tell them that my faith is made whole by the way God uses me to further his message. That the eternal needs of those on the streets are no different than the eternal needs of the people who are in my community group. I say to them that if I was in need, I would want someone to love me. I tell them that I want to live out Matthew 25:40 and do everything I do as if I am doing it to Jesus. Those reasons are what motivate me.
by Allie Dentinger
Supports on the Streets Director