George came in yesterday. He was walking on cloud nine. “Cancer Free!” He shouted. He was so excited and we were too. He went on to tell us, how he had been cared for so well. People had given him boxes and boxes of food. He’s a very thin older man, but “We’ll fix that,” he said “I gotta big ole bag, heavy bag, of Ensure waitin fa me down the street! Its too heavy fa me to carry all over town, so Im goin out ta Wal-mart get me a new warm coat with this here gift card somebody gave me then Im goin down air en get ’em Ensure cans!” He was a man with a plan, “blessed and highly favored” in his words.
On the other side of the table, where we were all talking sat Tim. Tim just recently came off the streets. He too has been so excited. He sat there with us as we listened to George go on and on about how he’s going to get all his weight back on. It was a fun conversation, really. Light hearted. We laughed a lot. George soon left and I turned to Tim and asked him how he had been feeling. He’s had some health issues lately. “Oh I’m going to be fine, just fine” he said. He was on heart medicine now, and his doctor is taking good care of him.
He told me that the last two times he had been to see his doctor, he was down 20lbs. He had lost nearly 40lbs in two months.
“Why have you lost 40lbs in two months Tim? That’s not healthy.”
“I know,” he responded,”but like I told my doctor, its the best I could do.”
“What do you mean its the best you can do?” I asked.
“Shannon, I’m off the streets, that’s all that matters.”
Tim was spending all the resources he had to get into a place to live. Sacrificing what he needed to make sure he was off the streets, even if it meant food. I quickly learned, that he didn’t have the first bite of food in his house at the moment. So we immediately went and got him a short supply of food. Tim expects to be on Food Stamps within the next ten days.
I’ve thought a lot about Tim over night. I walk into my kitchen, open the fridge and take out something to eat any time I want. I walk back to the pantry and stand there and look for the right snack to ease my late night cravings. On the other side of town, lives a man. . . a friend, who has a microwave, and a cooler but no food to heat or keep cool. I’m bothered by the reality that there is another side to homelessness and I see why some people chose to stay homeless. On the streets, you can find someone giving out a free meal at just about any point in the day, at least in Chattanooga. When you come off the streets, and if you live out of town, like Tim does now, you don’t have the access or the resources to meet your basic need of food. The Area Food Bank is a great option, but again not necessarily accessible to someone like Tim who has no transportation.
I can so easily celebrate when someone like Tim gets off the streets, and go on like “alls well that ends well.” But Tim’s reality, and that of many other people in poverty, isn’t that simple. Having a roof over your head is one thing, but food on your shelves is another. Right here in our city, there are kids that sleep on floors who have no beds. Kitchens without refrigeration or stoves to prepare food. Families that choose not to turn on the heat, because they can’t afford the electric bill. Thankfully there are organizations to help but they can’t help everyone.
So I pray.
God – Forgive me for choosing to look at the world through stained glass windows. From my vantage point everything looks so much better, prettier, easier to digest. But on the other side of my stained glass windows there are people in need, hurting, hungry, and alone. Help me to look past my stained glass windows, to never lose site of the needs of those on the other side.
photo credit: jcarter2595