*written by Summer Intern Kaitlyn*
Puzzled looks. This is what I encounter when I tell someone I got sunburnt playing kickball at work.
“Don’t you work at a place for the homeless?”
My experience with homeless youth has been vastly different from most other college students. Throughout college I've received many opportunities to connect with the street youth community in unique ways, one of them being this internship. This summer I've been able to build relationships not only in drop in, but on activities and around the office here at SYM. Most of my friends can’t fathom why playing kickball would be beneficial for anyone, especially someone who is homeless. A few years ago, I might have agreed. I might have believed the answer to “curing” homelessness would be food and shelter. Easy. Simple.
So why haven’t we found this cure?
Perhaps it is because some of us treat people who live on the streets like we would a run down home. We look at it. We think it needs to be fixed but we don’t actively do anything about it. We don’t take it upon yourself to spruce up the garden or paint the shutters. We just look. It needs to be cared for and yet it’s only looked at. No time invested. No energy. No devotion. No love. Just looks. One difference, however; this is a person.
A person is more complex than a rundown home. We know that. Yet why do many of us forget it when we see someone in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk? Why are we so quick to dehumanize? We forget about the spiritual and relational needs that help give a person a sense of purpose, belonging and hope. We forget about those times when we fell hiking and laughed so hard with our friends that we cried, the fun of getting our friends together for a birthday lunch or the time we earned bragging rights for winning that game of rec center baseball.
When we remember these times, the importance of activities for youth becomes a lot less puzzling.
Instead of being categorized as homeless and not homeless, we become teammates, competitors or even – quite simply – friends.
And perhaps it’s not our job to “fix” someone. My favorite thing about following Jesus is no matter where I am in life He meets me where I am at. I don’t need to fix myself to be loved by Him. He’s all about meeting people where they are. By not asking youth to fix themselves, we can demonstrate some raw, Jesus-like love. All we have to do is extend the invitation to be themselves and hang out with us. In her book And It Was Good, author Madeleine L’Engle says, “Caught up as most of us are in the complexities of daily living, we forget that we are surrounded by the creative power of Love” It’s a creative kind of love, for sure; not asking someone to change but instead meeting them where they are. And as creative it is, it is at the very same time extremely basic and easy.