I spent my Friday evening at the Calgary Dream Centre Christmas banquet for the donors and residents of the centre. We had been invited to come sing that evening. We found our seats and met Patrick, a very shy young man in his twenty’s. As my friends chatted through dinner, I noticed Patrick had no one to talk to. He was withdrawn and looked very nervous. I asked him how he was connected with the Dream Center. He replied very softly that he was the weekend chef. I was looking for something else to ask to keep him talking, but my mind was blank. In my lack of creative interaction, Patrick went back into his own world.
All evening, I couldn’t stop wondering who this young man was. I was determined to crack his shell. I’m glad I did because what he was about to tell me would impact my view of brokenness in ways I hadn’t experienced before.
After some digging I found out that Patrick was a resident of the Dream Centre. His story broke my heart; a young man with a house, great paying job, only to be lost because of his addiction to drugs. With nothing left, the only place he could think of turning to was the Dream Centre. He had lost it all and still carried his struggle to shake his addiction. He had now been at the Dream Centre for eight months, graduated from their program and was getting back on his feet. He was employed as their chef and continuing to see his counselor.
I stumbled over my words to ask him one more question I was dying to know. I had just read that week in Scott Todd’s book, “Fast Living” that the those living in poverty and addictions are constantly faced with great deception of hopelessness, keeping them chained to their circumstance. Hopelessness is what keeps the broken down. It’s the lie: “You can’t, your worthless”. I wanted to know if this was true, so I asked Patrick about this lie.
For the first time that evening Patrick looked me strait in the eye and replied; “That’s exactly what I fight against every day”. Then he sank back into his introverted world.
Looking at him, you would never guess his story. He was a funky looking guy with bright blonde spikey hair and had a great sense of style. He didn’t look like he had just come from this walk of life. I wanted to tell him what I saw in him. I didn’t see a druggie sitting in front of me. I didn’t see someone who looked like he had no hope. I wouldn’t label him as “worthless” or “useless”. No, I saw a young man with a great future in front of him. Strong, vibrant, full of dignity and nobility. I wanted to tell him that, but he left before I had the chance. I wish somehow I could tell him.
Imagine losing everything, having no where to go, trying to live on the streets where people scoff at you all day as they walk by. You feel numb, hopeless, like there’s nothing left for you, like you have no dignity left in you at all. By the time you get the nerve to head somewhere like the Dream Centre, your humanity has been defaced.
“The disempowered state is a ‘causequence’ of poverty. There are other causequences of poverty as well; hunger, corruption, illiteracy. These simultaneously cause poverty and are consequences of it. But disempowerment is the most insidious cause of poverty and the most painful consequence.” (Scott Todd)
What can you and I do to speak against this lie in people like Patrick? They need to know they have what it takes. They need to know that even though answers aren’t always there in front of us, with God, they CAN.
It can start with how we relate to them on the street. Do we treat them with dignity, or a piece of garbage left on the sidewalk? Can we look into their eyes and smile? Can we speak something encouraging that may just get them through their day of being scoffed at?
Maybe you’ll find yourself at a dinner table such as the one I experienced, or perhaps you won’t. Regardless, can you see homelessness through a different lense? Can you put aside your preconceived notions and see a person….. a person who needs the lies spoken to them broken by people like you and I?