The more time I spend here at the Mission, the more I have realized the power of perception: especially within an issue like homelessness. The mind is an extremely powerful tool that can be used positively or negatively to shape our beliefs, and I am convinced that a shift in perception towards homelessness is when we see progress and change. By changing perception in ourselves and throughout our community, we can step up and lovingly help the most vulnerable people in San Diego.
Often times, the perception of those experiencing homelessness is that their story is unique, no one can understand their situation, and that they are unable to change.
The perceptions of many people who don’t understand this issue can be a combination of the following:
- Homelessness is a choice
- Homeless individuals are avoiding work
- The Homeless have an addiction problem and are just chasing their next fix
What both groups have in common is a wrong view of the Truth.
The truth is that everyone can change and there is always hope.
The truth is that when you hear the real stories of those experiencing homelessness, you’ll discover that we are all more alike than different. What if every time you saw a homeless person, your question of “what’s wrong with you” changed to “what happened to you”? When we shift our perception and see others as God sees them—full of potential and worthy of love, hope, and healing, we have an amazing opportunity to extend a helping hand and do the work of the Lord.
The Bible tells us that God has rescued us all. Being the oldest of 4 children, growing up in a broken home and my Father being an alcoholic, God only knows how close I was to experiencing homelessness. The more I spend time with our clients, the more I realize that these individuals are no different from me; they were presented with a set of circumstances in their life in which they were without the skills, resources, or relationships necessary to navigate the many challenges we face as humans.
What is your perception of homelessness? I challenge you to explore this in your heart and spark a new perception towards the homeless in our community. Changing our perception and challenging ourselves to have a new outlook is how we can create change and make a difference TODAY in our community. Will you help us change the perception and end homelessness in San Diego? I pray you will and I thank you for your continued support that allows for change in the lives of our homeless.
“He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of the Son He loves. In Him, we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:13-14
Meet Michelle Smith, our Vice President of Development. Native to Southern California, she has called San Diego home for over a decade, serving at the San Diego Mission for three years. Starting as the Community Relations and Event Manager, she was quickly promoted to Director of Marketing, and then again in February to her current VP role. Known for her contagious smile and love for people, Michelle is a popular friend to all around the Mission!
Michelle studied political science at Point Loma Nazarene University and went on to get her master’s degree in Human Services. “It’s been my heart’s desire for many years to serve the poor and vulnerable.” Working with an issue like homelessness was not initially on her radar. Fueled with a passion to help those in dire circumstances, Michelle devoted her life to reaching those in crisis: at-risk youth, refugees and immigrants, and survivors of sex trafficking. However, when God led her to join the Rescue Mission, Michelle encountered a new depth of His character. “It wasn’t until coming to the Mission that I truly learned the love of Christ, despite being a follower of Jesus for many years.” The challenges facing the Mission are complex but being a part of radical life change every day keeps her going. “I’ve had clients say to me ‘you’re so passionate about the Rescue Mission’ and I tell them it’s not just because I’ve seen it change their lives, its changed mine too. Whether you’re a client, a staff member or a volunteer, if you come to the Rescue Mission, your life is going to be changed by what you witness here.”
How does Michelle’s role directly serve people experiencing homelessness? “I serve our clients by helping provide the resources they need to heal and restore their lives.” The clients served at the Rescue Mission have a wide variety of needs: physical, emotional, and spiritual. From food to beds, staffing to counseling, clothing to job training, Michelle seeks to bless the clients through connecting donors and supporters to each necessity. “Homelessness is an issue that will take all of us to solve so the role of development is to create space for each of you to make a difference – to use whatever God has gifted you with TODAY to love people in great need.”
Ending homelessness in San Diego is no easy feat. Addressing matters of the heart, physical needs, all while working with limited tools and resources makes for hard, emotional work. “There are months that we’re on our knees praying for the resources to come in. God is always faithful to provide, and I dream of a day when our clients and staff truly have everything they need.” Michelle’s faith in Jesus marks her life and is a consistent source in the times of struggle.
When Michelle is not changing the world, she enjoys cooking, eating great food, and live music. You might run into her at the next local Sofar Sounds show, as she helps to organize these concerts. “It allows me to support great musicians and meet new people who share my love of community!”
Michelle’s message to you: “You matter. Your voice matters, your giving matters, your love matters. The need here at the Rescue Mission is great so everything that you do and everything that you give, it’s BIG to us. I personally invite you to come be a part of what’s happening here! It wouldn’t happen without you and so we want you to come, tour the Mission, meet our team, spend time with our clients. Come witness what’s happening here – I promise you don’t want to miss it! “
Meet Kimberly Harris, Community Life Ambassador at the Nueva Vida Haven Emergency Overnight Shelter for Women and Children (NVH). Kim has been with the Mission for over 15 years and in her current role since 2011.
A native of Texas, she grew up “in a dysfunctional and abusive family.” Her home life became unbearable, she says, “really jacked up,” and convinced her that if she didn’t leave she wouldn’t live. So she boarded a train bound for Cabo San Lucas—or so she thought—to party. “But God had a different plan for me.”
The train stopped in San Diego and she found herself homeless. That was August 2002. Fortunately, she learned about the Mission and the help they provide to people experiencing homelessness in San Diego. “I didn’t know at the time but that’s exactly where God wanted me . . . when I didn’t have anyone or anywhere to turn to. It’s all God.”
Today, Kim supervises clients on the graveyard shift in NVH, where they can stay for up to 30 days. Clients arrive from 5:30pm to 7:30pm, complete the intake process, enjoy a hot dinner and then are brought to the dorm where they shower, get clothes, toiletries and other items they need. Before lights-out at 9:30pm they’ll get ready for bed and attend a devotional to hear the good news of salvation, sometimes joined by a local church group.
Kim’s critical role involves offering practical and emotional support during the night, monitoring the shelter, waking them at 5:00am and making sure they get breakfast, among other responsibilities.
But of all this, she says, “It’s really just a matter of loving them and giving them hope, letting them know we’re there for them, hear them and validate them. The Lord has a plan for them.” Like Kim, many NVH staff have been through the same Mission programs. “Who better to minister to someone who’s homeless than someone who’s been homeless?” she asks. “I’m a living, breathing testimonial to the grace of God.”
Kim and the NVH team take women straight from the streets if they have the beds. “It’s much needed, I’m sorry to say.” Once taken in, they are helped one step at a time. That first step is often the hardest. “It’s hard to put your life back together when you don’t know the resources or where to go or how to proceed,” Kim says. “If we can get them plugged into the Lord Jesus, then it’s ‘on’ from there!”
She’s witnessed a lot in her time with the Mission. Asked what memories stand out of people she’s helped, she recalls a mother with two small children who came to NVH as a client several times, struggling with the daily realities of living on the streets. “It’s hard enough to take care of yourself but my heart goes out to women with kids.” Later, Kim saw her at Rock Church and her life had changed dramatically. “I can’t go anywhere without running into former clients and it’s so rewarding to see those transformations.”
This, as with so much else, brings to mind her faith. “Jesus says He’ll put our feet upon a rock and He did that with her. She was so grateful someone took the time to care and validated her. It’s what God asks us to do—love others with our hearts, minds and bodies and in the process to share the gospel with them. We’re just loving them. They might not receive it the first time they’re here but eventually they will.” Kim observes that many people’s pain and defensiveness are so deep they don’t expect love and grace anymore. Reflecting on her own time as a client, she adds, “It took me a while to understand that God was calling me. It will for them too. But it’s so rewarding to see them receive God and all He has in store for them.”
It takes longer for some than others. Kim recalls seeing women in the shelter in 2002 whom she still sees there today, almost 17 years later. “I ask, ‘Aren’t you tired?’ And they say, ‘Yeah, I am.’ These streets will wear you out and tear you down. We’re just changing them one heart at a time.” Then she reconsiders, “Well, the Lord’s changing them.”
Others move more quickly. Some leave NVH and move into the year-long program, Haven of Hope (HOH) and then into transitional housing and “up and up and up.” Kim adds, “Just seeing them grow in God’s grace is wonderful.”
She loves serving people at the Mission, and especially serving with the team the Lord assembled there. Differences of age, background, testimony and more all contribute to her appreciation of the community. She feels especially grateful to see all the youth coming in, wanting to serve and help people.
Kim’s work background when she joined the Mission didn’t involve all the social and trauma-related aspects she’s so skilled in now. How did she learn? “It’s all been God teaching me, along with training at the Mission.” She thinks about her time here and adds, “It’s a privilege to get paid to live out your faith with people. That’s usually reserved for pastors and people who work in the church. For God to give me a job where I can live out my faith and he can guide me and teach me . . . it’s just phenomenal.”
As we prepare for another holiday season and the busyness that comes with it, I’d like you to take a moment and think about the importance of human connection or in some cases re-connection.
As humans, our need for social connection is as strong as the need for food, water and warmth. And when we experience social pain, like feeling degraded, undeserving or unloved, the feeling is as real as physical pain.
In fact, this is one of the first things God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” We were created for connection. We were created in the image of God and The Bible says God is love. And to love, you have to have somebody to love.
I come from a broken home. My parents divorced when I was in 8th grade. However, even divorced, we still got together and celebrated as family – with grandparents. I was fortunate that my family valued connection and an ability to look past differences and come together to celebrate the holidays.
This is why I’m so grateful for San Diego Rescue Mission. Our holiday meals provide an opportunity for those experiencing homelessness to feel taken care of. To feel loved. It’s a place where the lost and lonely can find connection and feel part of a family.
I saw this need for connection in the eyes of a women who joined us during this year’s Thanksgiving Outreach Meal. As she headed out the door after she’d finished eating, I saw her crying so I leaned down and asked what’s wrong? “I’m just so happy”, she said.
This feeling of human connection can extend far beyond a holiday meal. It is often the first step needed to begin the healing process.
In fact, one of our recent graduates, Nathaniel, first came to us during last year’s holiday meal. He was struggling with health issues and under great financial stress, which lead him to homelessness. When he showed up at our holiday meal, he explained:
“I’m crutching around the dining room tables, looking for a place to sit and I can’t fit down the aisles because there’s so many people. So, I find a seat at the end of the table and a man named Phil comes over to me – he was very kind – he takes my crutches and moves them for me, and then serves me like I’m at a restaurant. And when he brings my food, he asks how I’m recovering and what my story is. He was genuinely concerned so I told him my whole story.”
The connection they made that day inspired Nathaniel to join Phil’s church. Phil and other members of his church began to mentor Nathaniel and have continued to walk with him as he’s worked on his program.
Nathaniel has not only had an amazing recovery and is walking again, but this October, he graduated from our year long recovery program. Thanks to the encounter he had at our Thanksgiving Meal he’s developed an incredible support network of friends and mentors at his local church that will continue to walk with him in life.
We were created for connection. A loving, supportive relationship can literally be a matter of life and death.
By the time San Diego’s homeless men and women walk through our doors, they have exhausted all relationships and resources. They need to regain a sense of connection as much as they need a meal and safe shelter. And that sense of connection starts with Jesus.
So this holiday, and into the new year, I invite you to focus on connection. Strengthening connections to those around you, those who need you, and to Jesus.
Thank you for your continued support in helping us lovingly address the needs of those experiencing homelessness in San Diego. We wish you a grateful and joyful Holiday Season!
P.O. Box 80427 San Diego, CA 92138
(619) 687-3720 |
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San Diego Rescue Mission is a non-profit homeless shelter and recovery center serving thousands of homeless, hungry, and poor men, women, and children in San Diego since 1955.