Today, I found myself in a familiar and frustrating situation. A woman came into the Ministry Center asking about a few of her needs; shoes for her work uniform at her new job and shelter. I listened to her story, she has been homeless for several months and how hard she had worked to get this job.
She told me she would be fine once her first paycheck came in, but right now she needed somewhere safe to go…somewhere she could study for the menu test for work tomorrow and shower so she could show up to work looking presentable. The shoes were a need we could meet, but for shelter, I had to tell her the same thing I tell people over and over day after day: “There is no emergency shelter in Conway or Faulkner County.”
She was asking for a hotel room. “We don't pay for hotel rooms”, I told her. The Ministry Center could easily spend $1,000 a day on hotel requests, but they would still be homeless tomorrow just perpetuating the cycle. She proceeded to tell me how hard life was for her on the street. She told me how far she had to walk to go to the bathroom, to get something to eat, to take a shower.
She was exasperated, “Every organization does something different. It takes you all day just to walk back and forth in the heat and get what you need to survive. It’s exhausting.” She told me she was sick of all the policies and procedures. She was sick of walking mile after mile and getting told “no” over and over.
Our client was getting angry now. she was yelling and on the verge of tears. I heard the bitterness and hurt in her words as she told me she would have to go back and squat in an abandoned house infested with fleas because it’s the only place she knows to sleep. She told me how she would have to wake up in that hot dirty house and walk several miles to work and pretend everything is okay so she could keep her new job. She told me I didn’t understand and I didn’t care…that none of us did.
She said she was going through this because Christian organizations don’t help and the church doesn’t care. That we’re not doing what we’re supposed to. She had been to church after church, organization after organization, and no one could help her in the way she felt she needed help.
I know all about the shelter issue. I know why the policies exist and why we all do something different to prevent duplicating the same services. I know that the way she feels is just one perspective, but my heart broke as she said those words. At the bottom of everything…she’s not entirely wrong. She’s fighting and working and doing all that she can…and I can’t offer her a safe shelter, not today at least.
I offered her information about a program that may be able to help her get housing long-term, but that program takes weeks. This week, I could do nothing. My heart broke because I wished I had some way to show her that I loved her, to show her that I cared, to show her that she is not alone…but my words meant nothing to her. She was just tired of feeling worthless and uncared for.
I pray she will take me up on the long-term solution. I pray she will come back and the Lord will redeem her perspective on how Christians care for her. But there are countless others who don’t. I have this conversation often. People get mad, they cry, they cuss me out, they scream…but none of that matters. What does matter is if that bitterness stays in their hearts. I think of that often, hoping and praying that God would redeem the times that people felt we didn’t love them because we weren't able to meet their needs.
I know we work hard and strive to do our best. I know we can’t possibly help everyone, but sometimes the need is overwhelming. Some days it seems that for every person we help, we have to turn ten more away, angry and bitter. I can only pray for God’s love to somehow shine through it all and find hope in those we do get to help.