Mississippi like many places in the south has a transient homeless population. The homeless in this state are drawn to the urban areas in search of food, clothing, shelter, and transportation. They lust for a life off the streets. The number varies at any given time and the majority of the homeless in the capital city are men.
William and I volunteer for various missions that aid the homeless. There are many shelters available for assistance. These shelters provide services that will help get them off the street and programs for substance abuse if they choose to enter it.
This is the story of a homeless man on the streets of the inner city. The circumstances of this story are a compilation of the many stories that we hear from the men on the street. The ministries we volunteer for generally have conversations with men and their stories are more often heard.
John steps off the bus at the inner city bus stop. The night is warm as he searches for a place to spend the night. There has been talk from the last town about how life is better in the inner city. This night he walks around the corner and spots another homeless man.
The other man’s name is Joe and he has lived on these streets for more than thirty years. His skin is wrinkled and hair dark gray. It has been a hard life on the street filled with alcohol and drugs. He looks much older than his fifty years. Joe calls out to John to come and join him in a drink.
Homeless people often congregate together on the streets. It is a social network that provides a certain amount of safety. There are gangs in the inner city that will steal money and beat a homeless person found alone. The social network also details where the best place to get food, clothing, and shelter. This network also discusses the best places to beg and hustle money if one chooses to take this route.
John joins Joe and takes a swig of the whiskey that is offered. Joe begins interviewing John to find out his story. John begins his story telling of a neglected childhood. His father left the family when he was about two years old and has not been seen or heard from since. John’s mother was addicted to drugs and would often leave the apartment for days. Often there was no food or heat leaving John and his sister hungry and cold.
John became homeless at age fifteen and the street became his life. Ten years have now passed and the future looks grim. He was given a choice in the last city he called home to either leave or go to jail. A woman gave him bus fare and now this new city is his home.
Joe tells John that this is a good city to roam the streets. Every day there is a community center that will serve lunch to all people. There are also several local churches that have a ministry that brings food and comforting words every Monday and Wednesday. Many of the local restaurants will provide free food each night to cut down on the harassment of their customers. Hunger will not be a problem in this city.
This city has an occupational center that provides a free place to spend the days, do laundry, internet service, a postal address, and help with job placement. On cold winter nights the occupational center is a night shelter. The people at the center are friendly and helpful.
John smiles and thinks that he has entered paradise. Joe explains to him that the reality of crime in the area has made these places unsafe at times. There are groups of homeless men that create issues due to alcohol and drugs. At times guns are fired and people are killed by the violence.
Six months pass and John’s life is again in turmoil. His alcohol usage has increased and now has a problem with crack cocaine. He has learned the language of the street and manipulation has taken control. The people who have tried to help are now his enemies. John has learned how to tell people what they want to hear in order to have money for alcohol and drugs. He has tattered clothing and is thin. Alcohol and the crack cocaine now rule him.
One night John and Joe are in the woods with other homeless men trying to warm themselves with a small fire. A big fire will attract the attention of local authorities and many of the men have warrants for their arrest due to crimes committed. Suddenly two men get into an argument over a drug deal gone bad. One man pulls out a gun and begins shooting into the crowd.
John dives for cover and is spared. Joe is not as lucky and a bullet hits him in the stomach. No one calls for help since all the men do not wish to attract the attention of law enforcement. Joe dies a painful death alone from internal bleeding.
John is scared and has a moment of epiphany. He has a vision of his life from the beginning to this point in time. There is a choice to be made. John can either live or die. The next morning John walks to the community center and enrolls in an alcohol and drug rehab facility. He is ready to change and get off the street.
One year passes and John is now working at the community center. He struggles everyday to remain sober. John now has a new life with a job, home, and friends. For the first time in his life there is food, clothing, and shelter. He relates his story to anyone who will listen. Now his goal in life is to help other men get off the streets.
William and I meet men like John every time we volunteer at community shelters. John is one of the lucky men that we meet. The majority of the homeless men are too far entrenched in alcohol and drug issues to want to get off the street. This is unfortunately a cycle that is hard to defeat.
We are grateful and blessed for the opportunity to meet and work with the homeless. They remind us of how blessed we are and how much work there is to be done to fight this problem. We pray to God for the day when the suffering will end and for His guidance in how to solve the problem of homelessness.
Copyright 2017 Debbie Pierce