The day began with sunny skies and unusual warmth for a January day in the Northeast. Low 50s. By mid-afternoon, as predicted, winds picked up and temps plummeted by 30 degrees. Tonight, meteorologists are warning of negative temps by morning.
It’s on nights like these my heart is most burdened. While I sit in my toasty warm living room watching TV under a fuzzy blanket with a hot cup of tea, I hear the wind whipping and whistling around the house, through the trees, and rattling the windows.
And I think of the homeless.
I think of families huddled in their cars, if they are fortunate enough to have one. Although they have a roof of sorts, they are basically in a cold tin can. In this kind of weather, they could freeze to death.
I think of the men and women who waited in line from before the sun went down, hoping for a bed in the mission. While it will keep them warmer for the night, they still need to head out in the frigid morning temps. Some don’t have basic winter gear. Some don’t have socks. Will they be able to hold on for 10 hours before the next evening respite – if they’re even lucky enough to get into the shelter?
I think of the people in the “welfare motel” with cracks around windows and doors that let in cold, no blankets on the beds. Unlike those in cars they can stretch out and lay their head down on a pillow. And unlike those in the mission, their mattress doesn’t need to be reclaimed each night, but their situation is hardly enviable. Most of these places are plagued by bed bugs, roaches, addicts, and the dangerous drug activity that comes with the territory.
Then there are those with nothing more than a cardboard box to keep them “warm” as they try to rest in doorways, on sidewalks and under bridges. “Code blue” weather means a more concentrated effort will be made to move them indoors, but it’s only until the temps rise above 32 degrees. I don’t think a body feels warmer at 33 degrees than it does at 32 when cardboard is all that separates them from the elements.
Yes, I think of the homeless, and as I climb into bed, I pray for them.
It feels like an empty gesture.
I’m warm, they aren’t. I’m relatively safe, they’re not. What good does prayer do?
I may not see the outcome of my prayer, but I believe it does make a difference. It might be what’s needed to keep someone safe from harm. To provide one more bed so everyone in line gets to stay indoors. To encourage those in authority to look for better options to stem the tide of those on the streets. God can move in a myriad of ways.
On the other hand, it keeps the need fresh in my mind. Besides praying, I am motivated to help where and how I can.
It also encourages me to write posts like this one, reminding others to think about those in their neighborhoods, towns, and cities who need to see Jesus through a pair of dry socks, hot soup, or warm blanket delivered with a smile and a prayer.
The problem of homelessness is huge and it grows larger every day. There are so many reasons it occurs. But Jesus never said, “when you ask the least of these how they came to be homeless you did for me,” He said “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.”
So, how can we help practically? Think about the things you use in the winter, then start a collection among friends, family members, co-workers, schoolmates, or neighbors.
Collect clothing such as hats, gloves, scarves, coats, socks. Products like lip balm, tissues, cough drops, hand warmers. Other items including blankets and sleeping bags to fend off the cold. Except for the socks, clothing items don’t need to be new, just in decent shape, clean and free of rips and tears. The same goes for the blankets and sleeping bags.
One of the most efficient ways to get these items to those in need is to work with non-profits and churches who are already organized and on the front lines helping the homeless. They have warming stations or serve meals where people congregate and items can be made available.
Contact your local soup kitchen and contribute to or serve a meal. Then spend some time talking to those you serve. Listen to their stories. Pray with them. You might just be surprised by what you hear and how you can make a difference in a life.
Maybe you have a skill that can help people before they reach homelessness. Can you assist with resume writing, interview skills, GED prep, financial accountability? Offer your free services to social service agencies or other organizations that exist to fight homelessness.
Do you know what the resources are in your town? Do they even exist? There is at least one county in my state that has NO shelters. Make it your business to learn where people can go, who can help and how you can play a part.
Rather than sit inside our warm homes feeling bad for those without one, we need to pray, and we need to act.
1 John 3:17-18 says: If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
The next time you bump up your thermostat, throw another blanket on your bed, turn on a space heater, or bundle up to head outside, think about those who don’t have that option and choose one way you can bring them warmth.
If you have ideas, please share in the comments!