Wednesday, August 3, 2016

To Those Who Wonder What to Do,

My wife and I had the privilege of being a part of Worth Street Reach close to the beginning of its inception.  While we had deep sympathy for those in Santa Barbara without homes, we were not sure how to navigate the streets and be confident we were going to be helping in a way that was safe, but more importantly, helping effectively and not contributing to existing struggles.

Meeting Deborah Barnes was no chance encounter.  We are certain it was an answer to our prayers that we would find guidance in how to serve.  If you've heard the expression, a heart of gold, Deborah's name is currently being added alongside that definition.  More importantly, it is her faith in a loving God that cares deeply about every person that guides her, allowing her to give generously, and with deep love for marginalized people, relying on Divine appointments.

We began volunteering with Worth Street Reach in Alameda Park on Thursday evenings in Santa Barbara.  What became clear right away was that we had a lot of misconceptions about the type of people that live on the streets, Urban Nomads as Deborah calls them, such as the stereotype that, they want to be homeless. While there are some common themes, each person has a story and deserves the same respect as anyone else.  We started out by striking up conversations with those we met and built trust by truly listening and being consistently available each week. 

What did we learn?  There is no cookie-cutter as to the kind of person you'll meet on the streets.   Nomads find themselves in desperate situations for a number of reasons, ranging from natural disasters, broken relationships, car/motorcycle/bike accidents, loss of a loved one, broken families, medical conditions, and addiction.  Addiction is the one that is so common and easy for us to think of as the reason behind all loss of home and financial stability.  It is sometimes the culprit, but many times a by-product of the aforementioned circumstances. The need that helps them sleep in unsafe places; to stop the fear; to stop the voices. What starts as an aid becomes an addiction.

From our time serving with Worth Street Reach, we learned a lot about life, others, ourselves and God.  We saw how afraid people are of those living on the streets, mostly because they stand aloof and allow their stereotypes and/or fear to permeate their thoughts and ideas.  We met kind, talented, amazing street nomads who had much to offer but had found themselves without a way to get out of their deteriorated circumstances.  We realized how much we take for granted each day.  A few of these include not having to worry about what our next meal will be or where we’ll have to walk to get it, the freedom to walk into businesses without feeling looked down upon or being turned away, and the luxury of having a clean, comfortable, safe and consistent place to stay each day and night; an address--a safe place where our most personal effects will not be stolen from us.  

During our time serving with Worth Street Reach, we had the incredible privilege to not only serve with amazing people, but to serve and be served by street friends.  We hope you will step out of your comfort zone and fear to see what joy there is in being able to offer street nomads a smile, a little kindness, respect, encouragement, and provide simple things like a pair of socks, a meal, and guidance to community resources. But also the gift of listening and recognizing street people as human beings and by not providing your answers or judgements, you will grow in astounding ways as we did.

Serving with Deborah taught us in ways we now use every day. We were open minded, which is what is needed, but we needed the guidance that was provided by Deborah and Worth Street Reach. Don’t be afraid, just get in touch and go!

Nolan & Elizabeth Hunt, Los Angeles