Last night, Grant and I joined Stephanie Gillespie, Arlington police officer and Pantego Bible Church attendee, for the 2009 Tarrant County Homeless Coalition "Homeless Count." In one evening [all over the country], a team of volunteers canvasses their city looking for the truly homeless staying in temporary encampments, under bridges, behind buildings and near vacant homes.
First, we met a beautiful women, on the road to recovery, who has recently adopted a young boy (from another mother who is an addict) and is re-starting a new life. Susie was a picture of hope and a reminder that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can dramatically rescue a person from sinking sand.
Next, we travelled to the pay-by-the-day motels in east Arlington. Tenants, living under the shadow of a multi-billion dollar stadium are packed into 300 square foot rooms--sometimes 7 or 8 in a unit. From there, two teenage boys led us back into the dark woods to a little settlement of a tent, blankets, rain tarp and folding metal lawn chairs. Nobody home.
At a nearby park, we interviewed "Bob" who claimed to be a former white collar worker, now on the street because of unemployment. We talked to "Jimmy" about how accustomed he's become with jumping around the social services that keep him making it day to day. Through a toothless smile, he spoke of a dream of having a steady income one day. We passed by pimps and their call girls, street corner drug dealers, a couple living out of the trunk of their car and grade school kids too young and innocent to be playing outside at 10 o'clock when the temperature was below freezing.
As we approached the end of our night, we spotted a pile of blankets on the back dock of a warehouse. As we pulled closer, a head poked out from beneath the mounded cocoon. A fifty-something man, unshaven and a wild mane of hair, was clearly put out by the disturbance. I wrote "unresponsive Caucasian male" on my survey and we left him alone.
The unshakable truth from our evening ride is that people are ever-moving toward something. The motel misfits are "moving" each day just trying to make it to the next. Kids caught in the cycle of poverty are "moving" through life, perhaps looking across their classroom [the only structure to their life] and dreaming that they might have a home and vacations and cool back packs like the other kids...one day. The "Bobs" and the "Jimmys" of the streets are "moving" from place to place. Home is where they lay their head. They have the keep "moving" because movement is survival.
And Susie---the adoptive parent that started our adventure---proved that God can "move" anyone to new places. When His Spirit is on the move, He can move hearts and move obstacles and move the hopeless to higher ground. With this in mind, I am once again reminded that people matter. All people. The mentally incompetent who picks up trash in his shopping basket, the deceptive drug pusher, the child with lice and a shirt she has worn for a week, the prostitute who waves and winks, the man who sits on the sidewalk and tells us mostly half-truths. The homeless do count. They count to a God who numbers the hairs on their heads, the fears they posess and the days of their lives.
May God move me more and more to make the poor count in my heart too.