First, I’ve very recently begun using our prayer blog/website more aggressively to share what is happening in our ministry and for prayer requests. You are also always invited to call me, email me, or swing by and chat with me anytime. We’d love to have you share directly in the ministry work with us.
I received a phone call about a month ago from a man—we’ll call him Vin for anonymity—he was homeless in Hays and had been given our ministry’s number by another homeless man who had told him we might be able to help him. I was a little hesitant off the bat as the person who had given him our number had used us as much as he could before it became obvious that we were happy to help him to a long-term solution at the Salina rescue mission but could no longer provide him places to stay locally. We had been getting more and more phone calls from homeless individuals or individuals in distress since we were the fifth ministry down on the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance web page and First Call for Help, Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities (the big three that provide assistance in Hays) are not able to help everyone who comes to them. Due to budget decreases and other restrictions, many people are falling through the cracks.
When we met Vin, I was struck by how honest he was. Unlike several of the other individuals we have worked with, he would always tell the truth—if he needed money for cigarettes he wouldn’t lie and say he needed money for food. When he said he had paperwork from Social Security and a check coming, he really did. He was going through hard times for several reasons—his wife had died awhile back and his son and him had sold the trailer they shared in Nebraska. After living off that money for awhile, he was called to Hays to stand trial for failure to appear in court over a bounced check. Now on probation, he was unable to move to the Salina Rescue Mission because he was ordered to stay in Hays. Without enough money to pay for first month’s rent AND the security deposit for an apartment, he had been homeless. As cold as it was, he was primarily surviving by panhandling for money for rooms at the cheapest hotel in town.
Once we had a feel for him and for his honesty, we connected him with a local landlord who had a VERY rough apartment that Vin could move into right away without a full month’s rent (as Vin had no money) provided that Vin could help clean and repair it. The landlord was very generous as this room would not be ready for a month for general rent due to its condition, but Vin had nowhere else to sleep that night. I helped Vin get food and clothes from our free store, apply to a few ministries in town for additional assistance, and I bought him a radio from the ARC since he had requested a radio a few different times. He also snagged a Bible from our Free Store shelf for reading material. Things seemed to be looking up for Vin that week, then Vin disappeared.
One week later I got a call. I’m uncertain whether Vin tried to actually kill himself or if it was an attempt to hurt himself to get into Larned State Hospital where his room was paid and he had three solid meals a day. He obviously thought about it in advance by the way he spread out plastic bags on the floor to catch his blood so he wouldn’t stain the carpet. He also had a lot of reasons to be legitimately depressed—he had no money, no plan, no local friends, and he was very lonely even though he now had a home. Regardless, he was in Larned now. When he was released, we worked with him and the landlord, and he was able to resume living in the apartment while cleaning it up. Things seemed to be going up for him a second time, but then he disappeared again.
One week and two days later, I was overseeing The Emergency Federal Assistance Program’s government food distribution, a new project that Unite has taken over, in which we line up cars from surrounding counties down at the Armory on Main Street, use a forklift donated by Heartland Building to
unload pallets of government surplus food, and then manually load cases of food off the pallets into the cars to go to community food banks throughout Northwest Kansas. In the middle of this logistical challenge, I get a call from Vin. He’s at a local church and needs help. His liver had started failing two weeks ago, and he had been rushed from HaysMed ER to Kansas City; on the trip, he nearly died—they pulled 13 pounds of fluid off him in Kansas City’s ICU. Luckily, he’d lived through the ordeal. Now, fresh out of the ICU with stitches and a satchel full of confusing medicines, they’d loaded him onto a Greyhound bus and sent him back to Hays, where he lived. He didn’t have his cellphone, wallet, IDs, or clothes—all had been mistakenly kept at HaysMed. Instead, he was alone in donated sweats from a charity in Kansas City. I told him that I’d hurry down and help him as soon as we were done.
Upon meeting him there, we started to work on his immediate needs. First, he needed his check from Social Security to pay rent. The landlord wrote the necessary eviction notice proving an urgent need for the check, then I took him and the notice to the Social Security office on 27th. There, he was able to get his check—it appears that he also had another check on backorder due to confusion about his address; he had been living in the hotel so it had gone there instead of his new apartment. We figured that out, but we were unable to cash Vin’s check for him to use to pay rent since he had no ID—even though he had enough pertinent personal information to get Social Security to issue him his check on the spot. As such, we took him to HaysMed to get his wallet, clothes, and birth certificate—all of which had been mistakenly left there. After he had that, we still couldn’t find a place to cash his check since he owned no photo ID—he only had his birth certificate. With some convoluted work, we were able to work with my bank to cash his check—but only because I banked there and had the right connections. With his money in hand, I helped him pay rent and got him back to his place; there I found out that he had only two chairs for furniture and a concrete floor to sleep on—even though he had fresh stitches.
With additional work and God’s providence (and a story longer than I can fit in this newsletter), the next day we were able to get a trailer and help and give him a sleeper sofa from The Gamers Guild that actually had a nice bed inside of it until a real bed could arrive in a few days. Thank God, he could now sleep on a bed instead of a concrete floor. He also gained two very nice connections with Christians who would follow up on him and care about him. With further work, we got him a TV for his entertainment while he was home and some places he could go socially if he needed.
I share this story because first, it was astounding for me to learn how hard it is for someone who is homeless and has legitimate social security to draw upon to access it functionally without Internet, a cell phone, a legal place of residence, and a ton of identification and knowledge of the system. Many ministries in town STILL can’t help Vin since he doesn’t have proof of local residence for another week when his bills come back with his name and address and PAID marked on them. If I didn’t work with these ministries for a living, I couldn’t even help him get help. Second--when we came back with the sofa for Vin, he was sitting alone in his room with the little clock radio I had purchased him playing. For me it had almost been an afterthought to get him the radio with all of his other pressing needs for food and shelter and my need to hurry back to other urgent things, but to him it had been a constant companion and it was a critical need for his mind to be distracted. It was obvious in that bare room how important it was to him. In my desire to help him and hurry to meet his obvious needs, I hadn’t taken enough time to slow down and really listen to him to see how critical some of his other needs were—to really love him.
When you see someone panhandling or meet someone in need, I want to encourage you to stop and take time to really listen to them. Hear what they have to say in the same way that God, who greatly loves them, hears them. See how you can come alongside them and help them or connect them with help directly. It may be that your resources will be needed for them to get through the assistance agencies and get actual help. Quite possibly the one that Christ sent to answer their prayers is none other than you.