As the cars passed by at the intersection of Gervais and Lincoln, I sat inside Starbucks, sipping on a Pumpkin Spice Latte and gazing out the window. Tonight I sat watching as college students and adults walked to local bars, restaurants and clubs, many without a worry insight. The Weatherman said the evening low would be 34 degrees. Growing up, when the temperature got that cold, we made sure the dogs slept inside where it was warm. Soon the bone chilling cold would set in, the lights that once lit up the Vista District in shades of red, yellow and blue would dim, and most would return to their homes, out of the cold.
Tonight was Coffee Night with Midtown. It’s the night when new attenders at our church fill our local Starbucks to hopefully start the process of connecting to our church family. Some weeks, attendance at Coffee Night is high. I often consider those nights a success and that it was worth the measly hour of my week to be there. Tonight however, no one showed. There were no new faces. No volunteers. Just some homeless guy who, Sunday night, had exchanged glances with me at The Gathering.
If you know me well, you know I’ll quickly admit that I don’t have a heart for the homeless in our city. Sure, I’ll support ministries and causes that act to do away with the overwhelming problem, but my support is only with my checkbook. There is Homeless for the Homeless, but that’s only one weekend out of the year, leaving me free to enjoy my remaining 51 weekends guilt free. Tonight all that changed.
My friend Toni is passionate about serving the homeless. I’ve never understood where she gets her passion. She’s never been homeless. She’s your typical middle class, white college student. Yet, for some reason she is always talking about the homeless, always eager to serve them. I’ve prayed that my heart would become more like hers. She loves them. She calls them her “homeless friends.” Until tonight, I have simply called them “homeless.”
Tonight I got to hear the story of Adam. (That’s not his real name. I’ve changed it to protect his identity.) At first, Adam didn’t want to tell me his story. He said “On the streets we don’t do that. We keep to ourselves. My struggle in mine… I don’t want to burdon you with my fears, my pain and my problems.”
After some prodding and a Venti cup coffee, Adam finally started to open up. Adam was recently released from prision after serving 17 years. What he did to get himself in there isn’t important. Adam has no home. No place to stay warm. He doesn’t have the luxury of going to Which Wich and getting whatever sandwich he is craving that evening. He’s fearful of the police. He’s alone. He’s been hurt. His mother was murdered years ago. He has no idea how to function in society after being behind bars for 17 years. Adam said, “A lot changes in 17 years. I have no idea where to begin. Some days I would rather go back to prison than be homeless. It’s easier there.”
Oh, and did I mention that Adam has AIDS?
All I could do is sit and listen. I wondered what Adam dreamed about when he was a child. Did he want to be President? A teacher? Maybe a doctor? I can assure you of this: He never dreamed of being homeless, begging for food, infected with AIDS, and wondering were he could go to get out of the cold.
Tonight, deep in my heart, I felt God starting to break the coldness I have allowed to build up in my heart toward the homeless in this town. Homeless for the Homeless isn’t just an event, its a chance to help change the story for Adam and the other 1,700 homeless men, women and children in Columbia. I’ll be there, hopefully with my homeless friend Adam.