May-11-2019

One Of The Best Days Of My Life-Part 11 of STREET PILGRIMAGE

On my sixth day of living on the streets of New York City, I didn’t expect it to be one of the best days of my life. It certainly didn’t start out that way…

I woke up that morning in the New York City Rescue Mission emergency shelter and my talkative bunk mate below me wasn’t so talkative. He was sick as a dog and looked feverish. Throughout the night many men throughout the 100-person bunk room were coughing. As you can imagine, the health of those struggling with homelessness is very poor and when it gets cold outside things get even worse. The man I was about to meet at breakfast was an absolute physical disaster.

His name was Jim and he had just spent his first night at the shelter. He was thin, gaunt, scruffy and a little hard to understand. Jim had just arrived from Boston on a bus the night before and his physical condition broke my heart. He looked fragile, like he wasn’t going to make it long on the streets. Jim asked if he could partner up with me for the morning to learn the ropes in NYC. I said, “Sure” and found it interesting that even though I was a “new guy” on the streets, I would now serve as a consultant to someone even newer than me.

Jim had on hospital scrub pants that were filthy and a hospital wristband. I asked him about it and he told me that he had diabetes. He had gotten so sick that he had someone call an ambulance for him, then stayed overnight at a hospital.

On our way out of the mission, Jim dug through his bag and pulled out some old food of which he ate big mouthfuls. He wanted to store his bag at the mission, but they don’t do that. He said it was too heavy to lug around so he would stash it outside somewhere. I was afraid it would get stolen, so I told him I would carry it.

My plan was to take Jim to a New York City Relief outreach located at Chelsea Park on 28th & 9th to get him some help. On our way out the door, the front desk guys at this mission smelled him and thought he hadn’t showered which is against the rules. Jim said he did shower. I told him it must be his clothes which looked filthy. I noticed that he had a bottle of booze in his bag which was against the rules.

Even though it wasn’t clothing distribution day, the staff kindly got him a fresh pair of pants and shirt. One of the staff explained that Jim had defecated on himself last night and it had gotten on his pants. The staff asked me to explain to him that he couldn’t let that happen for the sake of everyone else’s health and that they keep the facility very clean.

Jim and JuanAfter waiting forever for Jim to change clothes they shooed us out. We only made it a few steps down the sidewalk before he started begging people for cigarettes. I told Jim that we needed to leave to get to Penn Station to panhandle, but he said he would meet me later. He was determined to find someone to give him a cigarette. I gave his bag back and told Jim that the mission staff warned that if he had another incident like last night he would have to leave to get proper medical care. He brushed me off and I left. Jim has become degraded to the point that he literally lives moment to moment. He was a shell of a person. I thought I could help him by partnering up for the day, but it didn’t last long. I was quite sad to part ways with him. Ironically, I met him again later that year at the same outreach location that I had wanted to take him to. (See photo above left)

I made my way to Penn Station where I begged outside for an hour. By the end of the hour, I was freezing and had to go inside to warm up. I had collected $7.50 and four hand warmers. Once inside the station, I dug through some trash cans to find a clean New York Post to read. I ate an apple leftover from last night’s dinner and journaled about my night’s experience.

At lunchtime, I headed over to the Holy Apostle soup kitchen which is the largest soup kitchen in the city. As I sat around the table I asked the people around me about the white bus across the street. I was, of course, talking about New York City Relief’s outreach vehicle known as The Relief Bus. The men shared with me that the soup was excellent and most were going over to get some after lunch. The man sitting next to me said that they give gifts out of the back of the bus. I asked what the gifts were and he said socks and hygiene items.

I saw my friend June at another table and went over to chat. (Read June’s story in Part 2, Night Train) She said that she had been looking for me all week and was wondering how I was doing. There was a nice elderly man next to her who started talking my ear off. It was obvious that he was very hungry for conversation. I chatted with him and June about my experiences sleeping in the various shelters that week. I admitted that my toughest night had been trying to sleep on the same subway car as June. The man’s need to talk reminded me of something Outreach Leader Lauren Lee had said:

“New York City Relief is combatting relationship starvation for folks facing homelessness. Men, women, and children living in the streets, shelters, and even subways are deprived of meaningful relationships and it affects every part of their lives. A lot of our friends on the streets have a hard time experiencing hope. We provide meaningful conversations, develop deep relationships, and strive to bring relief to our neighbors struggling in homelessness.”

As we parted ways, I watched June drag her broken suitcase down the street and was deeply troubled by her labored efforts. I knew that I had to do something to help this sweet friend of mine.

As I walked down the street I found myself in the fashion district where all the stores on the block sold fancy purses. I wondered if some of the stores might have rolling suitcases. I did find such a store where a nice Asian woman showed me some bags. I talked her down on the price from $50 to $45 and we struck a deal on a very nice pink hard-shell rolling suitcase. The bag looked feminine and just the kind that June might like. I was off to Penn Station to find her.

I gave her the new suitcase and she was utterly shocked and hugged me.

I found June in her normal spot at the New Jersey Transit waiting area. I gave her the new suitcase and she was utterly shocked and hugged me. I explained to her that I had purchased it with the panhandling money I had collected that week. I told June that she was a good friend to me that it wasn’t right for her to have to drag around a broken suitcase. She said that people had stolen her bags many times over the years, but that they weren’t going to get this one. June was so thankful that it pierced my soul in a way that was unexpected. It reminds me of another story that Lauren Lee had shared about a friend of hers named Warren (See photo of Warren and Lauren below):

Warren

“Warren has one of the most soft and genuine souls. For over a year now he has kept a gratitude journal and every week he would walk over to Chelsea Park to tell me everything he was grateful for that week and every week what he shared would be different. Warren has taught me that no matter how little we might have, there is always something to be grateful for.

“Warren sees the beauty in the person just not the beautiful of the person. So grateful to be learning from such a wise brother of mine.”

What Lauren shared reminds me of the verse in James 2:5,

“Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?”

I know that I have a lot to learn from people who are rich in faith like Warren.

 

June suitcase

The next day I saw June sitting in Penn Station and because her vision is so poor, she didn’t see me. June touched her new suitcase over and over–stroking it and moving the handle up and down. (See photo at left) It was obviously a priceless treasure to her, which brought me to tears. Who knows when she had last owned something new? It was a reminder that she is loved and she is special-worth nice new things.

It’s hard to describe how grateful I am that God led me to help June. It was a moving experience that I will never forget. When you experience the love and compassion of God, it changes you forever. I felt the heart of Jesus for June, but also for myself. He came after me when I was broken and alone. He came to love me and bless me with everything I could never earn or deserve. He gave me everything my heart had ever craved for and his love restored my weary soul. Although I was having a rough week living on the streets of New York City, that day turned out to be one of the best days of my life.

Stay tuned for my next article, Flabbergasted On Fifth Avenue-Part 12 of STREET PILGRIMAGE.


Posted under Uncategorized
May-8-2019

Episode 8 of 36 QUESTIONS

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Killers on the Appalachian Trail, teaching mime in a Muslim school in Uganda and piles of dirty dishes. What do all these things have in common? Find out on Episode 8 of 36 QUESTIONS. Listen on iTunes, Spotify or this link.

#juangalloway #tracygalloway #marriedinministry #housingworks #provokedthebook #freewalkingtours #irisministries #heidibaker


Posted under Uncategorized
Apr-19-2019

PROVOKED BOOK NOW ON SALE ON AMAZON!

 

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How to Love People Relentlessly
and Do Beautiful Works That Make
You and Others Come Alive

This book has been a long time in the making, and my prayer is that the stories and lessons that God used to change my heart and my life will mess up your life, IN A GOOD WAY!

For the last 17 years I’ve been working with the most amazing people, from all walks of life, who have taught me how to love like Jesus.

Wherever you are at in life, Jesus invites you to love unconditionally and experience the transformative power of laying down your life for others so that both the giver and receiver are changed together.

Click HERE to buy your copy of PROVOKED on Amazon!

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DaveJ

 


Posted under Uncategorized
Mar-20-2019

Episode 3 of PROVOKED, The Podcast

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We have a new episode available of PROVOKED, The Podcast.

For those of you who aren’t sure what a podcast is, it’s kind of an audio talk show online. You can listen to it while you’re on the treadmill, commuting in your car or folding clothes.

In this podcast episode we discuss chapter 3 of my new book PROVOKED, How To Love People Relentlessly And Do Beautiful Works That Make You And Others Come Alive. This chapter is titled Logjam Of Love.

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PROVOKED is now available for Pre-Order at newyorkcityrelief.org/provoked

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Posted under Uncategorized
Mar-9-2019

PROVOKED, The Podcast

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Who are these crazy looking guys? The guy pictured at far left is me, Juan Galloway and the guy pictured at far right, is Alec Gobel. We work together at New York City Relief, a mobile outreach to those struggling with homeless that connects people to resources that lead to life transformation. But 30 years ago we were in Bible college together and even played in a Christian punk rock band together called Sanctified Noise (see photo). We have started a new podcast called PROVOKED, The Podcast.

For those of you who aren’t sure what a podcast is, it’s kind of an audio talk show online. You can listen to it while you’re on the treadmill, commuting in your car or folding clothes.

In this podcast episode we discuss chapter 1 of my new book PROVOKED, How To Love People Relentlessly And Do Beautiful Works That Make You And Others Come Alive. This chapter is titled Provoked To Love.

Blank bookcover with clipping path

PROVOKED is now available for Pre-Order at newyorkcityrelief.org/provoked

Slide1


Posted under Uncategorized
Mar-1-2019

New Book: PROVOKED. Now available for pre-order!

I am excited to share this news via video about my new book now available: PROVOKED, How To Love People Relentlessly And Do Beautiful Works That Make You And Others Come Alive. Watch now!

PROVOKED FRONT COVER

 

Click HERE to PRE-ORDER your copy now!


Posted under Uncategorized
Feb-15-2019

Brotherhood Of The Broken-Part 10 of STREET PILGRIMAGE

Penn StationI woke up that morning in the shelter operated at The New York City Rescue Mission. It was amazing having a pillow under my head and a mattress under my body. Boy, did it beat a plastic chair at the drop-in center! I got up and put on a brand new pair of socks I was given at The Bowery Mission. They didn’t match, but I didn’t care. They felt great! The old ones were so sweat soaked and gross! For the first two days I didn’t have a toothbrush, but now I had a whole hygiene kit (see photo below) thanks to the mission. Being able to brush my teeth and wash my body felt great after being so grungy for days.

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It was my fifth day of living on the streets of New York City. I paused to consider why I was spending time away from my family, my friends and the comfort of home. I did this to understand what my homeless friends are going through, but mostly I did it to meet God. I felt that this spiritual pilgrimage was what he was calling me to do. Maybe he wanted me to experience just a taste of what Jesus did when he put aside the privilege of His position and made Himself nothing.

Phillipians 2:5-8 says,

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-even death on a cross!”

Jesus left the joy and comfort of heaven and the presence of the father to come to earth in order to connect directly with his lost sheep so that they could relate to him. Jesus shared our pain and sufferings. The shepherd got close to the sheep in order to love and heal them.

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I left the mission and headed further downtown to the New York Stock Exchange (photo at left). I was curious what it would be like to panhandle on Wall Street, one of the financial power centers of the planet. I made $11.65 and one bag of nuts, dates and figs. I guess the Wall Street crowd are very health conscious.

To most of the people walking by I was invisible. I simply didn’t exist. When I did exist, sometimes it was for someone’s amusement or mockery. Without asking me, one man stopped and took a photo of me with a big fancy camera. I was an animal at the zoo. Something to be observed instead of engaged. An oddity without feelings. One man who walked by me scoffed at my sign to his friend and said, “Imagine if you were homeless” as he read it in a very sarcastic tone. I was usually sitting on the ground and looking down. I would look down on purpose because when I looked up I could tell it made people uncomfortable. I saw a lot of shoes walking by from my vantage point.

Basic Human Need
After a while, I got too cold and stiff to beg anymore so I went to find a bathroom. This can be tough for people living on the streets. Many places will only allow paying customers to use the bathroom. I remember seeing this happen once when I was eating at a restaurant several years earlier. While I was enjoying my meal, a man struggling with homelessness was getting publicly rebuked in front of me by wait staff. Why didn’t I step in and buy the man something to eat so that he could enjoy the bathroom too? To my shame I only thought of this later when it was too late.

Several months after my street pilgrimage, Starbucks was in the media for denying two black men the right to use their bathroom. The manager actually had them arrested for trespassing! After the bad press, Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz changed the policy. He said, “We don’t want to become a public bathroom, but we’re going to make the right decision 100% of the time and give people the key, because we don’t want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we are not giving access to the bathroom because you are less than. We want you to be more than.”

On many of my visits to New York City in the past,  I would notice that certain areas, including the subway system smelled like a toilet. In no other city had I encountered this smell so regularly. Now I understand why this is so and how simple it would be to solve. I am amazed that New Yorkers find it acceptable to not have enough public restrooms, resulting in many areas smelling like urine or worse. It’s like London during the middle ages when they would throw their refuse into the street. It was normal, but unsanitary and unhealthy. It appears that we are still living in the dark ages when it comes to sanitation and the basic human dignity of providing a place to go to the bathroom. Of course, public restrooms would solve this problem. Currently, there are not enough for the size of the homeless population and most public restrooms are locked up at night.

My entire week of living on the streets I would pray that restaurant employees would have mercy and give me the combination to the lock on the bathroom door. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t. It’s no wonder that some people living on the streets urinate and even defecate outside. Of course, if they are caught by police doing this, they can be ticketed or arrested. Most of the time the unhoused cannot pay the fines for these minor offenses and then receive arrest warrants sending them back to jail. All this for the crime of needing to go to the bathroom and being too poor to pay for a ticket.

In many European countries I have visited, they had modern portable restrooms that blended in with the environment and were entirely self-cleaning after every use. I am unsure why this has not become commonplace in a city that attracts so many of the tourists from around the world.

That day, I hit the jackpot by finding a nice Starbucks in the financial district where I could use the bathroom. I noticed other homeless men and women using power outlets to charge their phones and using the free WIFI. Some people might be shocked to know that the homeless have cell phones. There are multiple government programs that provide smartphones for the purpose of aiding people as they look for employment. They don’t’ get many minutes, but it is a big help and I have known people to find jobs using those free phones. Most of the people in the Starbucks had bought something to eat or drink to earn the right to enjoy the bathrooms, and sit in comfy booths with soft cushions.

Only A Glimpse
I fully understand that living out on the streets for a week could never cause me to fully understand what people struggling with homelessness are going through. My experience was grueling. It was brief however, and could in no way compare with what people were enduring for years or even decades. I knew that a loving family was waiting for me in a warm home when I returned, yet my pilgrimage did give me a glimpse into the pain, suffering and rejection that people deal with. I was privileged to get close enough to understand a little of how they ended up on the streets, and it softened me to their plight. It makes me think of a quote by the Jesuit Priest Gregory Boyle in his book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion:

“Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”

Earlier that week, I was eating lunch at The Bowery Mission and overheard one of the guests detailing a traumatic event in his life. When he was a young man in the military, he had a picture of his wife and daughter displayed in his bunk area. This black soldier had a white lieutenant who made sexual and racist comments to him about his pictures. He lost it and began choking the lieutenant who called for backup. The man was beaten unconscious. He woke up in an infirmary with a broken leg, broken arm and broken jaw. Upon waking, he wept in his bed at the injustice he had suffered. From the infirmary, the man wrote letters to the military to plead his case, but he was shipped out quickly before he could obtain justice.

I heard this former soldier’s story and wondered if this event had contributed to his current state of homelessness. It sounded like suffering an abuse of power, a vicious assault, and a racist offense had scarred him for life. Here he was, still talking about it years later in a soup kitchen. He shared his pain with others to lighten the burden he carried and explain the narrative of his life.

dining hall tray of food

That night I ate dinner at the New York City Rescue Mission. I met a likeable man at my table named JJ. He was a super friendly and I really enjoyed talking to him. From the description of his life and troubles I could tell that he struggled with addiction, but he had an upbeat attitude. JJ had a nice blues brothers tattoo that I complimented and claimed he had a Jack Nicholson tattoo on his leg that he gave himself in prison. JJ was such a fun guy and we shared a few laughs together. Sadly, he said that his wife had been at the mission too, but had disappeared. He said that if she doesn’t show up in the next couple of days, he was splitting. I couldn’t imagine experiencing that kind of chaotic life, but was honored that he would share so openly with me. He treated me like a friend and it felt good. These things happen when you spend time around a table together.

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Dinner that night was delicious-pasta and meat with a red velvet cupcake for dessert. On my way out, I was passing the Executive Chef, Pedro Rodriguez (see photo at left from the Rachel Ray show) and told him that dinner was delicious. He recognized me and began laughing and hugging me. He was about to tell me I looked just like someone he knew when he realized that I really was the person he knew. I told Pedro what I was up to and he promised to keep it under his hat. Pedro didn’t just cook, he loved every person who came to eat in that dining hall-about 600 people a day. At one time, Pedro had been addicted to drugs and eating at soup kitchens to survive himself. Because of what God had miraculously done in his own life ten years ago, he is now an ambassador of hope to others. He was even invited to share his story on the Rachael Ray show where she remarked, “You’re serving dignity. You’re not just serving them food.” Watch this incredible segment here.

After dinner, I made my way up to the chapel room. I was going to stay one more night in the mission and had to sit with the other men until we were allowed to go upstairs to our bunks. While I was waiting with all of the other men and women, there was an altercation.

A guy asked the man behind him if he was trying to be aggressive because he had kicked his chair more than 3 times. The guy apologized, but it wasn’t quickly resolved. The serial kicker lost it and loudly said, “F*@# you b*@#!”, and the other guy jumped up to face off. Staff came over and the man yelled, “You can’t put this on me!” I jumped up and told the fellow getting his chair kicked to take my chair to try to separate them. He agreed and I took his chair.

A staff member from the mission called me over and asked if I had scanned in with my shelter ID. I said yes, but evidently, it hadn’t worked the first time. I scanned it again and it this time it worked. He said thanks for stepping in with the squabblers and said I could go up to the bunks. I was glad I didn’t lose my bed!

I’m pretty sure the chair kicker was the man who slept in the pew next to me at the Bowery several nights earlier. These guys were like little boys who never grew up. Still scrapping in the schoolyard at 50 years old. I have to say I really liked a lot of these guys at the mission. There was a good atmosphere there and even though there were little scraps now and then, everyone seemed to get along for the most part. I felt a kinship and brotherhood with them. I have heard it said that you shouldn’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes. I had walked many miles that week, and had the blisters on my feet to prove it. I felt no need to judge because by getting close to their way of life I could better understand the burden they had to bear.

How many people experiencing homelessness were abused as children instead of being nurtured, or grew up in an impoverished, toxic, dysfunctional family? Being robbed of their emotional building blocks, they wander the streets crippled and unable to know how to relate to others, cope with challenges or use problem-solving skills. So many deal with the pain by anesthetizing themselves with drugs and alcohol. Those suffering from addiction find each other on the streets and cling to each other to survive. So often sharing toxic habits making their situation even worse.

We are all broken in some way, but those of us who know Jesus should be the first to give grace, long-suffering, patience, sacrifice and love-knowing we didn’t earn or deserve any good thing. God blessed us so that we can bless others. We must look through the eyes of Jesus in order to see through all the symptoms to see the roots of the disease. It takes looking beyond bad behavior to understand the pain. Most people feel bad for abused children and want to help these innocent victims. What about these same children who have grown up into stunted adults? Many fell through the cracks of the system and are still suffering from the trauma of their childhood.

Let us remind ourselves that Jesus came for the sick, not the healthy. We forget how sick we were and how sick we are. We can make ourselves look good with accomplishments in order to mask the brokenness and dysfunction we still struggle with–our sin. A person struggling with homelessness is confronted constantly with their harsh reality, causing them to seek any temporary relief despite the cost.

When believers step in with relief that is healthy-food, clothes, emotional support, prayer- it opens a window to the soul. Our tangible love is a ticket to journey with others into the roots of their pain so that the healer can reach the infection that is poisoning their whole body. Our prescription is grace and favor-that they are loved and treasured despite what anyone else said and did to communicate the opposite. We really are our brother’s keeper.

Coming up next time, One Of The Best Days Of My Life, Part 11 of STREET PILGRIMAGE.


Posted under Uncategorized
Jan-18-2019

Refuge And Relief-Part 9 of STREET PILGRIMAGE

After spending the last three nights sleeping on a subway car, a wooden pew and a plastic chair, I was desperate for a real night’s sleep. Because of what a courageous man named Jerry McAuley did back in 1871, this night I found refuge and relief…

After a chilly day of panhandling, I decided to head to the Bowery Mission to have lunch. My insoles in my boots weren’t cutting it, so on the way there I bought some cushion pads to relieve my painful blisters. It actually caused it to hurt even worse and on top of that my back felt very stiff and sore. Living on the streets really does a number on your body. Living on your feet is physically grueling.

As I entered the dining hall at the Bowery, I discovered a young man who was losing it right in the middle of the crowd. Supposedly someone took his coat and he wasn’t going to leave without it. He was out of control, threatening and cursing the staff member who was talking to him. He was really up in his face and the situation was scary. The staff member said, “You don’t want to hit me. I’m the one trying to help you. If you hit me you’re going to have to hit all the people who stand behind me.” He called over security while he waited for other higher authority staff to arrive.

Eventually, the leader who showed up was able to get the young man to leave. I was super impressed at the patience and maturity of this staff member who was enduring the abuse of this hostile young man. I’m not sure that I could have done it. It takes a cool head and special skills to work with a volatile people group. When people are hungry, tired, and hopeless, anger can live very close to the surface. It doesn’t take much to cause them to boil over. That is why the outreach team at my organization, New York City Relief is trained in de-escalation.

Loving people well means making peace and keeping order so that everyone can feel safe. When I was leaving later, I saw the angry young man outside wearing his coat and hanging with some very shady looking people. One of the men that I met told me that before they had security, it was tough to sleep at the Bowery because drunk guys would cause a ruckus at night, but it had gotten better. I was glad to hear that and could see how it was working.

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Later in the day I made my way over to get food and shelter at the New York City Rescue Mission. Originally called the McAuley Water Street Mission, this is the oldest mission in America. In 2018, The New York City Rescue Mission merged with The Bowery Mission. Now together as one, they can even do more to serve people struggling with homelessness in New York City.

The Bowery Mission is one of New York City Relief’s key partners that collaborates as a part of The Rescue Alliance.The Rescue Alliance is a faith-rooted collaboration working to end homelessness in New York City and restore the well-being of our neighbors on the street through compassionate, comprehensive and collaborative care. Other Rescue Alliance members include The Salvation Army and Hope For New York.

Christianity.com explains, “Jerry McAuley, a young man from Ireland was a troublemaker and his relative shipped him off to stay with family in New York. He ran away from this home and lived by stealing–drifting in and out of prison. When he was nineteen, authorities, only too happy to get him off the street, convicted him on trumped up robbery charges. He was sentenced to fifteen years in Sing Sing prison. For the first time in his life, Jerry found himself obeying rules. He saw it as his one chance to regain freedom. He learned to read.

“The event that transformed him from an “impossible” case to a soul winner was the testimony of a former pal who had become a Christian. He began reading the Bible and tried desperately to pray. Finally one night a supernatural presence appeared in his cell and a voice seemed to say, “Son, your sins which are many are forgiven.” McAuley did not change all at once. He still drank too much and fought. But that night he was converted.

Christmas Dinner Line Outside McAuley Mission, 1905

Christmas Dinner Line Outside McAuley Mission, 1905

“Pardoned by Governor Horatio Seymour, he went free on March 8, 1864. After a renewal of his faith, Jerry McAuley began to work for God. He saved money and on October 8, 1871, opened the Water Street Mission (left) in New York City to reclaim men like himself. Set in an old dance hall, it was the first rescue mission in the United States, the forerunner of many more.”

I came to check in for shelter at The New York City Rescue Mission and a man named Charles Blackburn was at the front desk. Because Charles knows me well, he embraced me with joy. I had tried to call Charles the week before to ask him to pretend that he didn’t know me when I saw him, but he had been out of town visiting his sick mother. Thinking quickly, I whispered in his ear what I was up to. Immediately, Charles told the staff around us, “This is Juan, he has come to us for help.” He introduced me to several of the security guards and asked one to take me into the chapel for intake.

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Once upon a time, Charles (left) was homeless and addicted to crack for a 20-year stretch. No kidding, 20 years! He lived in Port Authority and survived by opening doors and carrying people’s bags for tips. One day the Holy Spirit touched him and he felt that he was being released from all the bondage and shame that had plagued him. Charles left Port Authority to go eat at a soup kitchen only to find it closed. Someone pointed to The Relief Bus across the street and said that he could get soup there. Not only did Charles get some killer soup, he received love, prayer and connection to a new life. Our outreach leader Sean Ballentine wrote a referral for Charles to receive shelter at the New York City Rescue Mission. God used that ministry to deliver Charles and give him new life and freedom. Today he works there, glowing Christ and loving every person who walks in off of the street. Amazingly, he started running with his friend and Bowery Chief of Staff Craig Mayes, and has now completed several New York City Marathons! You can see a powerful video of Charles telling his story here.

Charles marathon

Before Charles sent me into the chapel, he gave me a hygiene kit with soap for when I would shower later. Once in the chapel, I filled out all the necessary forms. A staff member took my photo and got me an official shelter ID. I would have to use this ID to scan in everyday between 4:30-6:16PM to keep my bed.

When I was registering to get into the shelter, multiple staff told me about the “Relief Bus people” coming tomorrow to give clothes and all kind of help. They said the people were really good and that I should definitely see them for help.

I headed upstairs to the bunk room where I was guaranteed shelter for 7 days. Amazingly, this mission provides over 70,000 nights of shelter a year! The bunk room fit about 100 men. I checked in with the floor captain Neal and he assigned me a bed. He also gave me sheets and towel. I was finally going to get a hot shower!

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I approached my bunk nervously seeing that I had someone underneath me and he was the mouthiest guy in the room–constantly talking. What was he going to say to me? As I put on my sheets he said that he was glad to see me because the last guy stank and had lice. I was glad to be welcomed.

After I enjoyed a luxurious hot shower and washed away the last three days of grime and sweat, I climbed up into my bed to relax. I felt kind of euphoric. I felt a kinship with the men in the room. It was probably just the shock of bathing and laying on a soft mattress after days of trudging around on the streets in the cold. When you are depleted, it is a serious matter to find refuge and relief.

2017 shelter beds

In the bunk room the word was going around about the outreach the next day, which was Thursday at 10AM. Many of them were encouraging each other to be there because it was really worth it. That made me feel so proud of our team because New York City Relief takes the lead on this innovative new outreach we call The Relief Co-op. It is done as a partnership through The Rescue Alliance.

Every week New York City Relief operates a clothing distribution at the New York City Rescue Mission. Before we took on this new outreach, 6 or 8 people would wander in once a week to receive a few articles of clothing. Now, this outreach has people lined up down the street to get in.

Once the doors open, over 100 people flood into the chapel where they are given a number to receive clothing and can enjoy coffee and doughnuts or cupcakes while they wait. That isn’t why people mob the place. The secret sauce of this outreach is the staff and 20 volunteers who treat our friends like guests of honor. When they are ushered into the clothing room, they receive a personal shopper experience with someone helping them to find sizes and styles that are right for them.

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Out in the chapel, volunteers sit down to get to know people and listen to their hearts. These same volunteers have clipboards where they can sign guests up for Life Care Visits. A Life Care Visit (left) is a one-on-one appointment with staff in the next room where they can get an assessment, resource consultation, prayer, referrals to help and a personalized action plan. Not only that, but within 48 hours one of the NYCR follow up team will reach out to them to see if the resource was the right fit and if they need more help or advocacy. See a great video about the Rescue Alliance collaboration here.

About 10pm in the bunk room, an announcement was made that the guys could head outside for a smoke break. I was left behind as one of the only non-smokers in the room. 15 minutes later the guys filed back in and the mouthy guy underneath me was grumbling about Charles–probably because he had told him that time was up. Then he said something amazing. This man had lived in Port Authority himself and hustled bags with Charles to support his crack habit. He said that he is here because he figures that if this place can help a guy like Charles, then they can probably help him too.

Neal and Juan

It took me a while to fall asleep that night, but I was at peace for the moment. Neal (left) was keeping an eye on the room from his desk in the corner. Earlier he had to kick someone out for making trouble which made me sad for the guy who had to clear out. On the other hand, I felt safe because someone was watching over me. Neal himself had once lived on the streets. Several weeks later I saw Neal at The Relief Co-op and I thanked him for protecting me and for letting God use him to minister to so many men. Charles and Neal were both living signs to me of how God is bringing beauty from ashes.

Stay tuned to read more in Part 10 of my STREET PILGRIMAGE titled, Brotherhood Of The Broken.


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Jan-5-2019

36 Questions Podcast- Episode 4

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What do a Filipino beach prison, St. Patrick and Mexican cave snorkeling have to do with each other? Find out on Episode 4 of our podcast, 36 QUESTIONS. Click here to listen or look for us on iTunes or Spotify!

 


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Dec-14-2018

Friends In Strange Places- Part 8 of STREET PILGRIMAGE

Christmas giving

BEFORE you read my latest blog post about my experience living on the streets of NYC, please consider making a financial gift to help those who will not have a home and family to share Christmas with this year. Your gift could give them the opportunity to get the help they need to turn their lives around.

Click on this LINK to make your gift to New York City Relief. THANK YOU AND MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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One day while I was living on the streets last March, I encountered two men who, although they were strangers challenged with homelessness, went out of their way to 1. keep me out of jail, 2. help me find shelter and even 3. give me a job. Learn more about my unforgettable day discovering friends in strange places…

After a brutal night of sleeplessness at a drop-in center (see No Chance In…-Part 7), I headed out to find a soup kitchen where I could get some breakfast. Using my booklet I was given at the drop-in center listing all of the places in the city to find free meals, I made my way to St. Bartholomew’s Church on 50th St between Park and Lexington Ave.

St barts sign

St. Bart’s, as they like to call it, was a very popular place to eat. There was a big crowd with a long line. At St. Bart’s there is a sign out front stating the Rule of St. Benedict: All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ. I love that–no strings attached. I decided to take a peek at the grub before waiting. I saw a very nice dining room set up and a sign that showed the mornings menu. Like many soup kitchens, they served a very heavy meal featuring dinner food with meat, vegetables and mashed potatoes. That didn’t sound like what I wanted to eat for breakfast and the line was so long I thought I would try another place.

 

 

 

After begging at Port Authority, I realize that I smelled like urine from sitting on the ground where people had peed. “Oh great”, I thought to myself. I felt disgusting.

St Pauls sign

I found another option in my booklet called St Paul’s House located on 51st between 8th & 9th Avenue. It was only a 12-minute walk away, so I thought that I should give it a try. I remembered the name of the ministry because a friend named Pete I had met at a Christian businessman’s group called the New Canaan Society had mentioned it to me. He told me that he volunteers there regularly.

I assumed that St Paul’s House was a church, but it turned out to be a ministry center that operated a soup kitchen every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. I walked down the stairs to the lower level of a 4-story brownstone. The room was small but bright, and they offered me a seat, a hot cup of coffee in a ceramic mug and some cookies for “Coffee Hour”. Besides me there were a handful of other men who had come in off of the streets for coffee too.

 

 

coffee cookie

The staff was super nice, and it felt so good to drink that hot coffee. It touched me to receive my coffee in a nice mug instead of a disposable cup. You appreciate little things like that when you are living a rough existence. They make a difference. People notice when they get special treatment and it feels good to be treated well.

The way that the volunteers treated me with kindness and a  mug reminded me of one of our core values at New York City Relief, Excellence: Consistent and reliable in always giving our best for the broken, to instill dignity. At some places where you receive free food, you might feel like a number, but the way the St Paul’s House team treated me and the others around me was very impacting because it was done with excellence.

st pauls music

After “Coffee Hour”, a young man played a few worship songs on an acoustic guitar. Then another man shared a 15-minute Bible study from the book of Acts. In the story Peter said to a lame man, “Silver and gold have I none”, then he grabbed the guy’s hand and healed him. It reminded me of the guy who shook my hand at Grand Central Station one day. He didn’t have money, but he wanted to shake my hand to let me know I was going to make it. He even said, “One day you will sitting on a throne.” I didn’t know what he meant by that, but later it made me of the verse in 1 Samuel 2:8, “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; He seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor”.

The atmosphere they created with the music and sharing was very relaxing. After trying to sleep in a chaotic environment the night before, this place really soothed my soul. I could relax there.

St pauls dinner

When the gospel service was over, more people began to file into the room. It filled up quickly with about 20 people. Tables were set up and a big breakfast was served–another heavy meal of pasta, meat, quinoa and salad. I saw others finish those big plates of food and then have seconds. They were obviously very hungry and grateful for the service.

While eating breakfast I met a man named Jacques. I noticed that he and his wife had paint splattered on their pants. I asked him if they were painters and he confirmed that they were. Jacques wore a black trench coat with a red heart painted where his heart was. His wife had fabric covering her entire head including her face, which was odd. I thought she might be Muslim (she wasn’t). Jacque was an intelligent and kind man who I was immediately endeared to. We struck up a conversation in which I found out that he and his wife had lost the place they used to live and were now staying in cheap hotel rooms when they could. Because the weather was cold, it was the off season and they weren’t getting much work recently. That meant that they were living on the streets. Jacques explained that when it was warm he was very busy and had a crew of 5 guys who paint with him.

Jacques

Jacques (left) was originally from Haiti, but when he was young his mother got a job working for the Haitian embassy in the Central African Republic. She took the kids with her to find a better life. Although she didn’t make much money, they lived a very comfortable lifestyle working for the embassy. Disaster struck when the dictator of the country started killing people. Jacques’ mother fled with him and his two siblings to America. They moved into a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx where they made a harsh transition into poverty.

I told Jacques that I had slept on the subway the other night and it caused my back to really hurt. He suggested trying to sleep at the Greyhound Terminal in Port Authority. I said, “Can’t I get ticketed or arrested for doing that?” He explained a trick to prevent the police from bothering me. Jacques told me that if I would buy a New Jersey Transit train ticket that I could show it to the police and they would leave me alone. People would sleep in the station all the time while waiting for their bus. The NJ Transit ticket was only $3.50 while the Greyhound bus tickets were much more. Jacques even had me take a picture of his ticket so that I wouldn’t forget which one I needed to buy. I was grateful for the assistance. This man was giving me safe shelter.

train ticket

Jacques asked me if I knew how to paint and I replied, “A little, but I can’t paint well. I make a mess. I’m not a professional like you.” He offered to train me and give me work with his crew. Jacques said that I could make $120 a day. I was stunned by the offer and his kindness. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that a man challenged with homelessness would offer to train and hire me to provide gainful employment. I thanked him for the offer and we exchanged phone numbers to stay in touch.

I gave him a New York City Relief connection card showing where all of the outreach locations were including at Chelsea Park that day. I said that the folks at the bus were good people who help with all kinds of things. Of course, I didn’t say that I worked there. I let him assume that I had gone there for help myself. He’d never heard of us and was glad to get the info. I told Jacques that I had encountered some mean people on the streets and that it was so nice to meet a nice guy like him. He repaid the compliment.

During my conversation with Jacques, one of the volunteer staff came up and said, “Do I know you?” I said, “I don’t know” with a shrug. He asked me my name and I said Carlos (my middle name), but he had made me. He didn’t give me away to Jacques, but outside Pete stopped me and said that he had met me at a New Canaan Society meeting.  I told him that I came to St. Paul’s because he had given me the flier at NCS. He laughed as I explained what I was up to. He was very surprised to see me at the table with the rest of the men.

port authority sign

After breakfast, I headed over to Port Authority to panhandle. On the way there I realized that my right foot was forming a blister on the bottom and my boot was rubbing a sore into my ankle. It was only day four and my feet were already going bad. I went into a drugstore and bought a foam insole. The pharmacist lent me scissors to trim them down to fit my boots. I thanked her and said, “Whoever is kind to poor lends to the Lord.” She said that she believes that too. I hobbled to Starbucks to stuff napkins in the side of the boots hoping it would cushion my ankle. I was desperate. It didn’t work.

I panhandled at Port Authority and my heart broke again. I cried as I felt God’s heart for the people who go through this daily. Many people put spare change or dollar bills in my cup. One woman generously gave me $20. An Asian man named Peter gave me a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card worth $15. He said, “Hang in there.” One man actually stopped and asked me my name. Of the 100 or so people who gave to me, he was the only one to do that so far. I asked him his name too. He told me his name was Bill, reached into a wallet full of cash, gave me a dollar and briskly walked away. I felt surprised that he asked me my name and pleased that he cared enough to ask, then suddenly sad at how he immediately disengaged and walked off without a word. I want to communicate that I’m not judging the man or down on him. I just experienced a mix of spontaneous emotions in these interactions that weren’t rational and fair assessments. You feel weird things when being isolated, then engaged and then isolated again.

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On the sidewalk outside of Port Authority (above), it was cold out and the wind whipped my face. A girl bought me a hot chocolate from Carlo’s Bakery and it warmed up my hand and stomach. It made me realize how much hot chocolate can mean to the people we serve it to at The Relief Bus outreaches every year during the cold months.

I prayed for everyone who gave. I prayed the blessing and promises of Isaiah 58 over each giver. Isaiah 58 says things like, “feed the hungry, provide the poor wanderer with shelter…then your light will rise like the dawn, you will be like a well-watered garden.” Because I was crying, some people stopped to ask if I was okay and I said “Yes, I’m okay”.  Really, I was wrecked but in a good way. When people gave I felt God’s heart for the poor. I felt his compassion through them.

After an hour I went inside of Port Authority and found a bathroom stall where I could safely count up the money I had received. I also threw away all the cold, leftover food that people had given me. After begging at Port Authority, I realize that I smelled like urine from sitting on the ground where people had peed. “Oh great”, I thought to myself. I felt disgusting.

I sat down on some steps in Port Authority to rest my feet for a few minutes. A guy named Ryan told me to watch out or the cops would give me a $250 ticket. That’s what happened to him when he was sitting in that same spot one day. He also said that they would run my ID for warrants.  I thanked him for the warning. He said that I shouldn’t even walk through Port Authority without ID in case they stop and frisk me. He urged me to get an ID–even a fake one.

Ryan explained that if you didn’t have ID, the police would take you to jail to do a background check. All that just for sitting on some steps? Of course, they would never treat a tourist or average citizen that way. Being homeless meant you were treated like a criminal–guilty before proven innocent. Ryan said that I could get a shelter ID at the New York City Rescue Mission where he had just started staying. That was the second man that day who went out of their way to help me even though they were in a bad place themselves and struggling to put a roof over their heads. I was making friends in the strangest places.

Stay tuned to read Part 9 of my STREET PILGRIMAGE series titled, Refuge And Relief.

 

 


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