What comes to mind when you hear the expression, “homeless people?”
It may conjure up an unpleasant image of someone who is dirty and smells; addicted to drugs or alcohol; someone who should be feared.
I’d love to say that image is 100% wrong, but in some cases it’s bang on. In others, it couldn’t be further from the truth. It may be a little of column A, and a little of column B.
Regardless of appearance or demeanor, however, there are deeper things that connect us all. As humans, we are all in need of love, and feeling valued and connected.
At River City Vineyard, it is an honour to meet and serve and just to get to know some of these “homeless people” staying at the Sanctuary.
One phrase I often hear used by staff to refer to our guests is “the guys.” No special words needed. We get to know them by their names, and they get to know many of our names.
Beyond simply providing food and shelter, we have the chance to establish friendships.
I am not trying to only show one side of the coin. Running a homeless shelter is time consuming, financially straining, stressful, and it can be extremely frustrating.
It’s cleaning up messes, it’s dealing with addicts who are high, it’s seeing valuables in our building go missing, or areas vandalized.
However, it’s also being told, “Without this shelter I would likely be dead by now.”
It’s needing to bring boxes downstairs and having “the guys” offer to help. It’s seeing some of the more seasoned guests take younger and more recent guests under wing, and mentoring them.
It’s finding out a guest is buying extra food with the little bit of money he has so there are snacks in the shelter for everyone. It’s seeing some battling their addictions because they have the support they didn’t have before.
It’s seeing someone who is broken be able to smile again. And it’s having my own wrongful stereotypes challenged, and my heart changed.
Is it easy? No. Can we help every single person who walks through our doors? No. Is every guest a success story? No.
But our goal has never been success; it has always been to do what we can to help those in need.
Our Sanctuary is simply an extension of what the sign says on our door: “Come as you are, you’ll be loved.”
Renee Card is a Sombra resident and member of the pastoral team at River City Vineyard.