Williamsburg's Homeless & Indigent

P.O. Box 366, Lightfoot, VA 23090
Office: 757-561-3255
"Assisting people in re-gaining hope and a better way of life."

Friday, November 21, 2003


Monday night W&M kicked off their observance of the National Homeless Awareness Week with a three person panel on homelessness. I was honored by being allowed to sit on the panel with Deena (a previous homeless person who has since gotten a home) and a Catholic Nun who helps to operate the P.O.R.T. program in Newport News. The two questions we were asked were: 1) What was your personal experience of homelessness? and 2) What can we do to help the homeless?
My insight into homelessness consisted of "Don't assume it can't happen to you," among other things. See, the first time I was homeless I was with my the mother of my kids. We both had college degrees and we were renting from a missionary to Africa. His wife got some rare disease and they had to come home for emergency medical treatment. It wasn't our fault they needed their house back. So, we had to stay with family while we looked for a house. Then our house didn't get finished properly, so we ended up bouncing around from friend to friend for nine months. The second time I was homeless was when my ex-wife and I separated. She gave me two hours to pack and get out. Again, it wasn't that I was an addict or a drunk (because I wasn't). But it came so unexpectedly that I had no money, nor a place to go, etc. The point I was trying make to these "over-achieving" students is that an education is no guarantee that they won't experience homelessness themselves.
Secondly, as you may have read here if you keep up with this web-page, homelessness is about hopelessness. When there is no hope of ever "being somebody again," there's no point in getting out of the situation. When you don't believe that "you are somebody," there's no point in making good decisions. Then when you've made bad decisions, you affirm to yourself that you aren't "a somebody," and you lose even more hope. And thus the cycle begins and as it continues it turns into a whirlpool that sucks you ever lower. (That was my experience anyway.) So, "what can we do to help the homeless?" Make them feel like somebody! Give of yourself! Don't give money to them. If they need a sandwich, buy it for them. But then, sit down with them while they eat and spend some time letting them know that you care. We can go out and play football in the rain and get muddy and stinky. We can go to a "rodeo" and chase pigs and get stinky. So, why can't we put our arm around "a bum" who hasn't had a chance to bathe in two weeks and let a little bit of their smell rub off on us? It washes off. But the effect you can have on their lives by showing that you care won't rub off!
Deena spoke of her personal experiences, which I won't share here lest I be inaccurate, and how "the safety net" caught her and helped her get into a home of her own. The big turning point for her was when she gave her heart to Jesus Christ. He transformed her life and she became "a new creature: old things passed away and all things became new." What a sweet and bold witness for our Lord.
"Sister Mary", unfortunately, (in my opinion) is caught up in type-casting. All of her descriptive words for the homeless were "these people, the mentally ill, the drunks and drug addicts," etc. I'm sorry if that is all she gets to deal with. But I wasn't one of "those people" and I was homeless. Most of the homeless I know resent being referred to as "these people." It's as offensive a term as what black people don't like to be called. I'm not knocking her, because I've only known her briefly, and certainly not well enough to judge her motives or opinions, but I was personally offended and I've been off the streets for two years.
Following our solo presentations, the floor was opened to field questions from the thirty-or-so sudents who were present. Many of their questions revolved around the theme of "What do we do next?" or "Where do we go to help?". But the most often asked question was, "Why is there no shelter in Williamsburg?" That went various directions, but basically was answered with, "The politicians don't want one."
We were able to field questions for about forty-five minutes. Then we adjourned, but continued the Q&A in private conversations as we ate pizza that the students (or their organizations) generously supplied. It was then that I was at liberty to share with some of the students about my faith and how God put Patti and me in this ministry.
My compliments to the students who planned this forum! It seemed to be an effective venue and the fires of compassion that already burn in these young people were fanned even higher. Thank you for letting me participate.
Geoff McKenzie


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