Since I took on the role of President and CEO of the San Diego Rescue Mission there have been a lot of changes, including my own perception of what homelessness looks like. I used to think a homeless person was defined as someone walking the streets alone, looking a little crazy with one shoe on and one shoe off… I know now that they’re just like you and me, but a series of events happened in their lives that caused them to be without a place to live. And a series of unfortunate events can happen to anyone. It could happen to you. It could happen to me. The more I’ve gotten to know our clients in this first year, the more I know for sure that no one chooses this path. It’s no one’s choice to become homeless.
Here are 3 more things I know for sure after my first year with San Diego Rescue Mission.
1. The greatest obstacle to overcoming homelessness is not addiction, job loss or housing. It’s shame.
Every Thursday afternoon I meet with the men and women who came to us off the streets in hope of finding help here at the San Diego Rescue Mission. At this stage of their journey they can’t even look me in the eye. They show up crying, heads down, broken… A few weeks ago, one of the men asked me, “Do you know what my first thought is every single morning when I wake up?” I asked him to tell me. He said, “Look at what you have done with your life!”
There’s a tremendous amount of guilt and shame among our population experiencing homelessness. The shame feeds on loneliness. When you feel ashamed and lonely, you think everyone’s judging you and you don’t want to ask for help. I’ve discovered that helping our clients overcome the shame of bad decisions, and negative thoughts over what happened in the past, is the biggest obstacle we face when helping to put a life back together again.
2. People want to help those who help themselves.
Volunteers and donors are the primary drivers of San Diego Rescue Mission. And I’ve learned over this past year that our community really does want to help the lost, homeless and hungry—as long as they’re willing to help themselves, too.
We’re reminded of this powerful principle with the crippled man and the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:5). In the story, there’s a man who was sick for thirty-eight years. For thirty-eight years he lay next to a pool hoping to be healed. But before Jesus healed him, he asked the man, “Do you want to get well?”
So, I ask the men and women who first walk through our doors here at the Mission, “Do you really want to be made well? Are you ready for the responsibility, questions, rules and structure that come with being well? Because if you truly want to get better, there’s a whole community of people and resources available to help you.”
3. Rescue Missions should lead the way in reducing the number of people living on the streets.
After spending a year as President and CEO of the San Diego Rescue Mission, I know for sure that it’s our job as a rescue mission to lead the way in solving the homeless crisis here in San Diego. Here’s why: We don’t take government funding and we’re faith based.
I know there are a lot of other agencies and nonprofits providing critical services to San Diego’s homeless. And I’m thankful for all of them. We need them. These other entities are doing a great job of helping to clothe, feed and shelter our homeless population.
But because we aren’t government funded, we can do things a bit differently. We have more freedom to do what needs to be done. And, most importantly, we can talk about Jesus—the One who can truly change a man’s life.
Because of these factors, we have the opportunity to create a treatment model that gets people off the streets long term. This is the difference between meeting the symptomatic needs of the homeless and addressing the causes of their homelessness. We’ll continue to meet the needs by providing clothing, food and shelter. But we take it a step further by helping those who want to get well, through drug and alcohol recovery, spiritual training, job training and client advocacy. This combination puts the San Diego Rescue Mission in a unique position to lead the way in the rehabilitation of our homeless population.
We’ve already accomplished so much together in this first year and I look forward to continuing our important work. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and for your continued support of the San Diego Rescue Mission and our critical programs helping San Diego’s homeless. Together, we can help those who want to be made well, rebuild their lives and become contributing members of our great community.