Violation of Sacred Trust

“Of all people, you should know better.”  His words pierced my soul.   These words and this day will be burned in my mind forever.  Seven years ago, but it seems like yesterday.

I had just started with OIM and everything seemed like chaos.  I guess it was chaos for me, trying to balance everything, be fair, help people, and do intervention in a culture that was strange to me, potentially explosive – all the time.

About 200 people at the drop in on a hot summer afternoon.  I was watching two men: one of them was pacing the floor across the room strung out on drugs and aggressive.  Probably crystal meth, I thought.  Crystal meth was in abundance on the streets – not good.  It’s the kind of drug that can make you feel invincible, feel no pain (literally), and you can become aggressive.

The other man was using, maybe some blend of alcohol mixed with prescription drugs – he was having a heated argument, with no one, someone or anyone.  Have to keep an eye on him.

Another man comes up to me and engages me in conversation.  In just a few short minutes, he has told me some of the highlights of his unbelievably traumatic life.  His earliest memories seeped in torment, a childhood of abuse, loss and damage  so severe that it’s almost unimaginable.

Across the room the ‘pacer’ has a violent verbal outburst and I look to see who is the target.  Then immediately to my left the second man throws a wild punch into the air- trying to keep his invisible tormentors at bay.

The man in front of me says, “I can see you are too busy for me.  I’m going to go.”

Cut to the quick.  I quickly explain: the guy across the room, the guy to my left, I’m in charge, so sorry, I want to hear you, I am listening, but things are happening…

“You’re in charge here?  Of all people you should know better. I’m going to go, you have no time for me.”  He turned and walked out, ignoring my desperate pleas to remain and give me another chance that I really didn’t deserve.

Burned on my memory, I had done the greatest misdeed that could be done to someone who was in the midst of crisis – in a  moment of confession where all he needed was a friend to listen.  Too busy, preoccupied, otherwise engaged when I should have been engaged – with him.

People experiencing poverty and homelessness, living on the streets have two things they have complete control over, that they can choose to give or not: one is their real name, the other is their story.  If someone gives you their real name and their story, they have given you everything.

A violation of a sacred trust: a lesson I will never forget.

Street Youth Outreach

She cuts herself to deal with the pain of her childhood.  She’s lived a lifetime in eighteen years, and drinks regularly to cope.  We met her on the streets, and over time have become friends.

She lived at home in intervals: until the fights with her mom got so bad she had to run to the streets.  Mom’s moved away now, so the choices are fewer nowadays.  Hard times, especially in winter. 

Elgin Street, Monday night outreach learns she had been arrested for drinking in public at 8 am that morning, and she would be released at 10 pm.  It was 9:45. 

At the police station we introduced ourselves and asked if Amy could be released to us. Sure, no problem.

When the door finally opened, a bedraggled little girl emerged: bare foot, ripped jeans, dirty t-shirt, scared, sullen, disoriented.  She didn’t know what was happening.  Then she saw us.

Her countenance flashed from darkness to light like lightning sears the black sky.  That someone had come for her – unbelieveable.  Even more disbelief – that someone actually cared for her.   “Thank you.”  “Thank you.” “Thank you.”

A  sudden slap back to reality as questions flooded her mind.  How am I…? What am I…? Where can I…?  Who can…?  The uncertainty of street life rose defiantly and mercilessly – driving her back to those age old problems .  No shoes, no clothes, no coat, no place to go, no way to get there…

An interruption from outreach: “Hey.  It’s going to be O.K.  We can help.”

Words of comfort seldom heard bring a sense of calm.  Disbelief that these people wanted to be her friend, and have come for her.  For her.

Sometimes we are able to offer hope in a world of darkness.

Sometimes we see hope birthed in people minds.

It’s a critical cornerstone in building relationship.  A small thing for us, but huge for Amy.

Just a little thing: but it might be enough to change a life.