Tuesday, May 4, 2010


The day is still young, and I'm already frustrated and infuriated. I just returned from hanging out with the young married couple I met last week who are homeless (the wife newly pregnant), Jamie and Ashley. They've been staying in a stripped, graffitied, tin can of a camper on a crazy lady's property. This lady happens to be a crackhead and a clepto, a weak and miserable human being who preys on those with less power than herself. She's allowed them to stay in the camper in exchange for Jamie working her property and both of them basically being at her beck and call. They have no electricity, no running water, no lock on their door. Whenever they leave the camper and come back, their meager possessions are mysteriously missing. This woman owns a shotgun that she keeps loaded, and her house is known in the neighborhood as "the house where people go to get high." Her neighbors walk around with a wary guardedness, a tiredness.

Last week, after hearing that my new friends eat only every few days, I brought them a load of unperishables to stock in their camper. Ashley works at a local dollar store once or twice a week, and outside of that, sits on the sidewalk in front of stores trying to sell her artwork. Jamie has not been able to find a job and is restless, agitated, like a ticking time bomb ready to explode. Unable to do much on their own without a phone, Mom and I helped them get their prepaid phone going for at least a month, so they could make and receive calls for themselves.

When I showed up this morning to take them to an appointment, I hesitated before walking through the gate with the multiple "No trespassing" signs and crossing over to knock on the camper door. No stir, no answer. I knocked again. I half expected the crazy lady to open her front door and yell at me, but there was no sign of her. She was probably passed out. My friends were no where to be seen.

I waited in my car for a few minutes before I noticed Jamie striding up the street toward me, looking upset, with Ashley trailing twenty feet behind. He informed me they slept outside last night, in a nearby field, clinging to each other for warmth in this uncharacteristically cold May weather. The crazy lady is trying to sell the camper and kick them out. She's banished them from going inside. Their phone has been stolen, as well as much of their food. They haven't eaten in four days. As I'm listening to this, it's all I can do to keep from marching up to her door and giving her a piece of my mind, but I know this won't do any good. In fact, it would only make things worse. And that frustrates me, greatly, that I, too, feel so powerless. I tell them as much. "Welcome to our world," they said. "This is our life, all the time." I just nodded and stared at them silently as this news seeped in.

We went out to breakfast. They were anxious to get out of the cold. An enormous amount of food was spread before them, and they ate gratefully. While eating, Jamie vented, wondering again and again why he hasn't snapped yet. He's an ex-Marine with a self diagnosed anger problem, and it's really eating him up inside that he's being treated like cow dung by this lady, and that his pregnant wife has to sleep outside and work while he doesn't. He's lost several people close to him in the last month, and that, combined with all the other pressures, is like a fire smoldering at the ends of a frayed rope.

As I'm listening, I'm wracking my brain for what resources I have to help them. I have no extra room in the apartment Mom and I share. As it is, I sleep on the floor. I have no basement, no backyard, no tent to give them. I know no one who has an old junker car they want to donate to a couple in need. I can't afford to buy them another phone that will probably get stolen again. I can't help them get state assistance yet because they don't have an address. There are no shelters with openings for couples - they said they've called all of them, before their phone was stolen - and they don't want to be separated because they are all each other has. I know of one person with a business who is willing to give Jamie some occasional work, but I have no way to connect them since Jamie has no phone and no car and no bus pass.

We leave the restaurant and head to Value Village to look for a tent. There is absolutely nothing, and we have no time to look elsewhere. So they find a few hooded sweatshirts, Jamie finds a pair of shoes, and Ashley finds a pair of work pants and socks. I feel like I've failed them as I drive them back "home" and park in front of the crazy lady's house. Their stomaches are full for a few hours and they have a few extra layers of clothing, but it's all just bandaids. And bandaids just seem outrageously insufficient when you're staring at a person whose multiple, gaping wounds are gushing blood everywhere.

I apologize to them, for being unable to do more. I tell them I'm thinking and I'll keep thinking about possible solutions. I'll make any phone calls to people or places I know that might be helpful. But I won't see them again for a week. They thank me for my help, and I know they mean it, but it feels like what they aren't saying is, "We forgive you, Amber, for not being able to do more, even though we think you could." I watch them walk away, to sneak into the camper and change clothes so Ashley can go to work. And I feel ill, knowing they'll be sleeping outside again tonight and I've done nothing about it.

So this is my venting. It's not to berate myself. I know I can't be their savior; I know I'm limited as to what I can do. But beneath my immediate frustration with my own limitations and my anger toward this woman who is oppressing them and getting away with it, there is another frustration: the partial ineptitude of the Church, which I am part of. With so many churches in the Seattle area, I don't understand why I don't know of any who would open their doors to take this couple in. When social services fall short, shouldn't the local churches be able to stand in the gap as a sort of ER for broken, hurting, desperate people in our community? With all of our church buildings that we use only several times a week, why are so many people sleeping on the streets or in fields, under bridges, or squatting on the porches of drug houses? There's something terribly wrong when a homeless person is granted reluctant access to sleep on a church's property but isn't allowed inside for the night.

And I'm not just talking about churches, as in buildings. I'm talking about us, the body of Christ, supposedly walking around as his ambassadors in our communities. Again, I know this includes me. Why, in these instances when I meet people like Jamie and Ashley, can I never think of a person I can call to ask if they have space to house a couple temporarily? Is it that we don't want to be inconvenienced? Are we so afraid of being scammed or taken advantage of that we are paralyzed from taking risks? Are we afraid for the safety of our families? I'm not saying these aren't legitimate concerns, to some degree, but I dispute that they are legitimately the final word in the kingdom of God.

Some people have wondered if this couple is pulling the wool over my eyes. If they're manipulative and taking advantage of me. And my response is to shrug my shoulders and say, "So what if they are?" I don't think that they are, but really, that isn't the point. Even if they were lying and manipulating, would that mean they needed love and assistance less than if they were telling the truth? Why would I only help someone if I was guaranteed they wouldn't take advantage of my kindness? Somehow I can't believe that Jesus was or is too concerned about these things himself. After all, he's helped me. He's loved and helped a lot of us who have taken advantage of him and given him nothing in return. If he's my model for loving people, then I cannot hide behind my own wall of self protectiveness, only offering myself to the people who seem "legit."

If this is true for me, I believe it's true for the entire community of people who love Jesus and desire to follow in his footsteps in the ways that we live. I know it starts right here, with me, and I pray to God I have the wisdom and courage to walk with Jesus and to love sacrificially, beyond my comfort zone. But I pray, too, that the kingdom that Jesus announced to the world - the kingdom that is here, available right now - would spread like wild, unruly brush in our city, offering something more, something different, than what the world's resources have to offer. And not only resources, but family. A place to belong and be loved, a safe haven, a place to find rest and healing. That's what I want so badly for Jamie and Ashley. I have hope that we can get there eventually, but I just wish I knew where I could point them to today. There must be more than bandaids.

1 comment:

  1. B_Ber,
    If Jamie is a Veteran, I wish to help by giving him some work in my yard and helping me paint. Either way I will give you some food for all 3 of them (soon to baby too)...
    I would like to meet them.