Those People by Patty LaRoche

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my experience while working alongside Misty, the kitchen director, in a homeless shelter. Referring to the ones she served, Misty reminded me that any one of “us” could end up like “them.”

She is right, of course. Every one of us, if broken enough, is vulnerable. That message was reinforced a few days ago when I ran across sociologist Brene Brown’s TED talk which addresses this heartbreaking issue. “Most of us are one paycheck, one divorce, one drug-addicted kid, one mental health diagnosis, one serious illness, one sexual assault, one drinking binge, one night of unprotected sex, or one affair away from being “those people”—the ones we don’t trust, the ones we pity, the ones we don’t let our children play with, the ones bad things happen to, the ones we don’t want living next door.”

Possibly some of you readers have no idea what Brown is talking about. I do. And so do many of my friends who are praying for a loved one who is making destructive choices: to drink too much; to “shop-‘til-they-drop”; to have sex with multiple partners (I am witnessing to one such person now); to refuse Christian counseling; to click on porn; to ignore the needs of their spouse and children; to turn their backs on God.

The list is endless.

Last week I wrote about “Agnes,” a homeless woman I encountered who spends much of her day on a bench near the ballpark where my husband works. For over a month I have tried to help her. Her only possession seems to be a ragged Kleenex which she uses to dab the sweat from her brow. She doesn’t want water. Or food. Or clothes, even though the pants she wears (every single day) have an 18” hole in the back of them. She doesn’t want a ride to the new, $20 million women’s shelter located two miles from where she hangs out. So, when all my offers failed, I called a police hotline and was told an officer would pick Agnes up and take her to the shelter.

The next day, when Agnes’ bench was empty, I celebrated, only to be disheartened within 24 hours when she was back at her usual spot. When I stopped to check on her, she told me that her credit cards “are in a red window” and she “can’t get them out.” On one visit, she shared that she and her “group are fine.” I questioned what “group” she meant, and she said, “They are here.” I left, frustrated and sad.

Because of Agnes and the dozens of homeless who live in my neighborhood, I volunteered to work at the nearby homeless shelter (Aug. 18 article). There were two interviews before I officially was vetted, and at my first meeting I described Agnes to the director and asked if she knew her. She did. Her answer should not have surprised me. “Some people are so mentally ill, they don’t want to be helped. The volunteers can’t make someone take a shower or change clothes or come to a class on how to find a job.”

All she has to do is ask,” I was told.

Which, when you think of it, is all I had to do—to ask if I could help.

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