Charlie has been on the streets for over ten years. It all started when he walked in on his wife with another man. Since then Charlie just hasn’t been the same. It seemed to trigger a mental disconnect which was probably always there in the background. After some time in a mental institution he was released onto the streets, and that’s where he’s been the last ten years. What’s remarkable about Charlie is that he never got involved with drugs or alcohol or crime. He simply lived on the corner, befriending passers-by, doing the odd job, and looking out for those who looked out for him. Charlie’s situation may be one of the best you’ll find for a chronically homeless person. But even though it may be the best, it still eats away at your humanness. It still leaves you lonely with your dignity bruised deeper every day. Even though you might get along fine with others, few are really your friend. Much of what you receive is pity.
I met Charlie about a year and a half ago. And, like most others, quickly got familiar with him. But, in keeping with Church on the Street’s mission, I didn’t want to be familiar with him, nor did I want to pity him. Rather, I wanted to know him and to be known by him. In other words, I wanted to be friends. Over time this is what began to take place. We have had some blow ups, some tough conversations, and lots of laughs. I helped Charlie, but be sure of this, Charlie helped me. There is much to tell, and much I have already told, about Charlie and I’s relationship. But let me get to the point…
Today is Charlie’s birthday and today Charlie is no longer homeless. After more than ten years Charlie has had enough and love’s himself enough to take care of himself. It’s a long story as to what precipitated this homecoming, so allow me to just briefly rehearse what took place today. We decided this week that Church on the Street would buy him a ticket to Tuskegee where he could enter into the VA hospital and address some of the issues he has neglected these many years and then be able to be placed in permanent housing to unite with his family. But first there were other things to attend to. He wanted to spend the day with me. So first thing in the morning I brought him into my home out of the cold. Until today he has refused to come inside for fear of getting too used to it. He took a long, hot shower. Put on fresh clothes. Then fell asleep in my chair watching a movie and in mid-bite of some lasagna my wife made the night before. The harsh life on the streets has taken its toll on Charlie’s body and you could see it in the violent way he slept. My wife and daughter returned home and Charlie said his good-byes to them. Then, “after procrastinating too long” we left for the bus depot. After standing in line to purchase the ticket, we walked outside together. We embraced and he said a few things I will not soon forget: “I couldn’t have made it this far without your friendship. Now I know I can make it the whole way because I know I have you behind me.”
If you ever wondered what Church on the Street really does, Charlie is the answer. We are friends to the friendless. Lovers of the unlovable. A voice for the vulnerable. A presence with the lonely.
I thank God for my friendship with Charlie. Thank you for allowing me to be your missionary to the streets.