Archive for May, 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 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.

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Episode 8 of 36 QUESTIONS


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

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