Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Road Trip

Yesterday I headed west out of NYC on I-80, with my 17 year old son Caleb, driving the empty Communitas 16 foot truck to the Detroit area. We are going to leave the truck in Michigan until after Thanksgiving, and then drive it back to Manhattan with a full load... front to back, top to bottom. Full of what, you ask?

Last winter members of Communitas were part of an initiative called “Don’t Walk By? Each Saturday night in January we joined hundreds of other volunteers and hit the streets of Manhattan, covering a different section each week, walking block by block, going down into subway stations and other public spaces, looking for members of the homeless population of NYC. Our goal was to invite them to come for a hot meal, and then to connect them with different opportunities available to get them off the street for good. A different church hosted the event each week, and the men and women who accepted the invitation to come for the meal also had a chance to receive clothing.

By the end of January we had covered all the blocks of Manhattan, I believe from 60th Street to Battery Park. Thousands of contacts were made, many came for the meal, some got into programs to help change their lives, and some received clothing. But for every 1 person who came for the meal, I would guess 20 said “no thanks”. That means that they preferred to stay on the streets on a cold January night. I recall one particular evening in the Wall Street area, asking a man who was wrapped up in cardboard on the sidewalk in the shelter of a store entrance that was closed, if he wanted some help. He said he was “fine”. Fine? That night it was 12 degrees out, and even dressed for the occasion, after a couple of hours on the streets I was chilled to the bone.

Since that time, I have become more aware of the magnitude of the challenge with the homeless. Many will not go to shelters for a variety of reasons. Many are mentally ill. Some are drug addicts who cannot abide by the rules set up by shelters. Bottom line, in spite of the considerable safety net for the homeless in NYC, many will continue to try to survive on their own. That means that this winter, thousands will be living outside.

How many homeless are there in NYC? A friend of mine who has run a shelter in the city for almost 20 years believes that a conservative estimate would be 70,000. 70,000 homeless people! He actually thinks it could be as high as 100,000.

The problem seems beyond remedy. Maybe it is. But that does not mean that nothing can be done. When Mother Teresa was once told that her work in Calacutta, while admirable, was only a drop of water in the ocean, she replied that if she did not do it, then the ocean would have one less drop, And so, she said, we begin with one, and then one more, and then one more, and so on.

Here is the drop in the ocean for Communitas. Can we help some of the homeless fight off the cold? Yes. Easily done. Many of us have extra winter coats in our closets which haven’t been worn for years. And some of us can respond to one of the many Christmas sales and buy a coat at half price. We can add many drops in the ocean of NYC this winter.

So why is the truck in Michigan? Working with Kensington Community Church, we are having a winter coat drive for the homeless of both Detroit and New York City. I hope to drive the truck out of Kensington's parking lot on Monday, November 30 with the truck weighed down with hundreds of coats- men’s, women’s and children’s. All five of the campuses will be challenged to bring coats for the Thanksgiving Services on Wednesday, Nov 25.

If you happen to live in Michigan, come by the Troy Campus and look for the large white truck with “CommunitasNYC written on the side, and imagine it full of love and warmth sent from Michigan to the needy of NYC. (We are also looking for sleeping bags. A few weeks ago our small group brought some food to about a dozen homeless men who live about 5 blocks from my apartment. I had one sleeping bag with me and as I gave it to a man, the others came immediately to see if I had more. I’d love to help all of them!)

Can I ask those of you who read my blog to spread the word? Pass this blog along to others in the Detroit area. Help me fill all 16 feet of the truck. We can't solve the homeless problem, but we can warm things up a bit for people who are of unsurpassable worth to God.


Little Rose of Sharon said...

Saw the truck at the Carin Community center and got rather excited that you would be there.
Have a wonderful week. TMP

Mark Kim said...

I know this blog was written a long time ago. Is this still going on? It'd be great to participate in this kind of event