What I Learned from the Homeless That Can Save Lives!
By Stephanie L. Mann – 7/11/21
America has been a free society since 1776 when the Constitution was signed by our Founding Fathers. Our basic freedoms include freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right to peaceably assemble. However, today our freedoms are threatened by politicians seeking power and control over our American way of life.
A recent poll stated only 36 percent of young adults 18 to 24 are proud to be Americans. What happened?
When society fails to make children a national priority, and “we the people” don’t work together in our homes, neighborhoods, schools and communities to improve children’s lives, we should expect a decline in our Democratic way of life. Today, taxpayers spend a staggering $80 billion a year on child abuse and neglect without investing or discussing prevention. Over the decades, youth grew up with abuse of drugs and sex with increasing problems with gangs, violence and homelessness. No wonder many young adults are no longer proud to be an American.
Working with the homeless showed me why we see a decline in America and how we can create change.
As a crime and violence prevention specialist, I’ve worked with police departments to help strengthen their “Neighborhood Watch” programs. While working with the Office of Community Services in Oakland, Calif., I noticed homeless men hanging out around the building, and we gradually got acquainted. One day they invited me to join them at the neighborhood park to meet Mother Wright. She was an amazing mother of 12 children and instead of retiring, she worked nonstop to feed several hundred homeless people every Saturday in Old Man’s Park. That was the beginning of my four-and-a-half-year journey with the homeless.
One Saturday, we didn’t have enough people to serve the food, and Mother Wright asked for a volunteer. A young man stepped out of the line. After we finished cleaning up, James asked if I would help him. My first thought was he wanted money, but that wasn’t what he wanted at all. I learned he was on a methadone treatment program to help with his drug addiction, but it was about to end. He was scared and didn’t know what to change so he didn’t go back to San Quentin prison. Since I didn’t have a clue, we sat and talked every Saturday. I listened to his story of pain, abuse and drugs.
After several meetings, James said some of the other guys wanted to join us. I wasn’t about to meet a group of homeless men in the park, but there was an old church on the corner. I suggested talking to the pastor. Since James was still struggling with drug abuse, our meetings didn’t always occur, but James showed up eventually and we talked to the pastor. He was welcoming and agreed to let us meet in the basement. We decided to give it a try and meet every Wednesday for three months.
Much to my surprise, at the first meeting 18 men showed up, and the pastor was there to help. It was bizarre as some men fell asleep on the floor – they had trouble focusing or even listening to each other. The smell was overpowering but no one seemed to notice. I wondered if this was a good idea, but I didn’t want to back out. My brother had been abused and homeless. I wanted to find out why some people turn their lives around while others stay locked into drugs and homelessness.
The pastor took charge which was something a white woman from the suburbs could not have done in this chaotic situation. I saw how important prayer was to help the men calm down. It took two meetings to get them to sit still and listen without angry outbursts. Over time, the group dwindled as some men couldn’t focus, and on days they got money for food, some bought drugs and couldn’t function at all. It seems so strange that taxpayers were paying for drugs but not for support groups to help the homeless with their struggles.
The men who showed up wanted to change their lives. As they grew more comfortable, they shared personal stories and listened to each other. They realized they were not alone in their pain which helped them support each other. We heard horror stories of child abuse, drugged adults, sexual assaults, whippings, beatings and starvation. As the group got more comfortable, some men bragged about abusing women and how many babies they had. They even discussed selling drugs and children for sex. Most of the men didn’t think they had any options growing up in their neighborhoods. It became clear that no amount of counseling or rehabilitation would help if individuals were not willing to change themselves.
The pastor was a critical factor for this process to work because he told them God had already forgiven them, but they had to take back their power and forgive others who had inflicted pain, or they couldn’t heal and move forward. Since the pastor was a former alcoholic and wife abuser, he had his own life story to tell. He helped everyone realize they had the power to change, but they had to find the will and courage from within. The pastor helped the men break the cycle of abuse by asking for God’s help. Some men became humble which gave them a new understanding to turn hopelessness into hope. I saw how God gives all of us the power to save ourselves.
At the end of three months, five men got jobs and three men enrolled in drug rehab who didn’t think they had a problem. It was a small success but after listening to the many life stories I had heard over the prior four years, I learned what the homeless never learned as children which is a warning to all adults who care about kids.
The homeless opened my eyes as to why some people stay locked into pain, hopelessness, fear, drugs and social isolation and continue abuse from one generation to another. Many of the homeless never learned how to discover their own power to stay safe and healthy. Children need to learn at an early age, they can NOT rely on the government or other people to save them. Family love, respect and support help children discover the power of the human spirit to overcome any adversity.
I saw the importance of helping adults and youth learn how to tap into their personal power to develop courage, character and a self-protective conscience. When young people value themselves, they value others and become spiritually centered so they don’t become bullies or victims. They can develop healthy relationships and will not be manipulated or controlled by others.
If we focus on empowering children and working together, we can create peaceful families and communities. Let’s break the cycle of abuse and stop tolerating angry, violent people. We can raise children to trust their God-given instincts and intuition to stay safe. Freedom and democracy will thrive, which can keep everyone safer. It will be “we the people” working together in our homes, neighborhoods, schools and communities who can overcome evil self-destructive behavior. We have a choice. We can be weak and dependent on politicians and government, or we can trust God to save our children and our American way of life. It will be up to all of us to decide which path to follow.