Friday, December 20, 2013

Do we ever give up on someone?

We helped someone a few weeks ago who was homeless for 40 years until he decided to come off the streets.  Over the years, many people had tried to convince him to leave the streets, and he always said "no".  Until one day 18 months ago he said "yes" and then embarked on a new phase of his life.

He served in Vietnam and saw things he said were too horrible to describe.  When he came home, he was not welcomed back by his family or his community - he felt the brunt of society's anger for the Vietnam War.  Looking back, he understands that the lack of support, coupled with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused him to detach first from his family and eventually society.  He entered the world of living on the streets and stayed there for 40 years.

When he agreed 18 months ago to get help, he was diagnosed and treated for PTSD and referred to the Veterans Administration (VA) for help in entering mainstream society.  He has received services from the VA, and at the time he came to CCSC, he had an apartment he could afford and was about to start a skills-building program that will help him to find work. 

He came to us needing food.  His benefits are enough to pay for his apartment's rent, but he often runs out of food before the end of the month.  His demeanor was serious and focused.  He has been through hell and is not light in spirit, but he is quietly grateful for the turn in his life. 

I have thought a lot about him these last few weeks.  I wonder why he finally said "yes" to coming off the streets.  I wonder how many people gave up on him: his family, friends and others who encountered him.  If I had been his friend, would I have given up on him? Or would I have persevered in trying to help?

Who knows.  But my encounter with this gentleman highlights an important spiritual truth: no one's life is disposable, and there is hope in even the darkest situations.  I am grateful to him for his living witness of life's redeeming possibilities, and I'll bet he has positively impacted everyone who has worked with him these last 18 months.

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