Poor Authority?

Located next to Times Square, The Port Authority Bus Terminal is the largest bus terminal in the United States and the busiest in the world, serving 65 million people a year. Sadly, it is also a sanctuary for many homeless people struggling daily to survive. Millions of tourists and commuters pass by those who remain stuck there in limbo, unable to make their own connection to a better life. It reminds me of the saying, “Any port in a storm”, which is sailor dialect for, “When you’re in trouble, any way out is a good way out.”

Our mobile soup kitchen/homeless resource center known as The Relief Bus goes to Port Authority every Saturday night bringing hot soup, friendship and resource referrals that can lead the homeless to wholeness. Staff and volunteers figuratively and sometimes literally wash the feet of our friends there in hopes of reigniting the spark of hope.

Brett Hartford (pictured below) is an Outreach Team Leader with New York City Relief. Below, he details a sobering encounter with a police officer and a homeless friend at Port Authority while on outreach with The Relief Bus.


Last night while in Port Authority, I saw a friend of mine named Albert. Albert is an alcoholic and I have been talking with him the past few weeks and encouraging him to get help and go into a rehabilitation program. Last night he told me that the “system” can’t help him and that it’s basically the runaround. I shared that whether in that system or the system of alcohol dependence, it’s still a runaround, just with different end points. He agreed and said he would think about it, but wasn’t ready.

Brett battle cry

As our conversation was coming to an end, a woman he knew that was heavily intoxicated, grabbed the beer he had set down and drank it all, thus leading to a scene of yelling and the such. I did my best to try to calm down the situation by offering to take Albert to get some food and ultimately just praying for peace. All the while this conversation was going on, there were two Port Authority Police in the distance, I was pleading in prayer that they wouldn’t have to get involved. Eventually, I was able to get Albert to walk away with me and calm down. At the end, I reminded him that I am there for him whenever he wanted to get out of the situation he was in. I gave him my business card that has my cell phone number on it, and I told him to call me anytime and that I would find a way to get him. He said thank you and went on his way.

After he went away, I walked over to the woman who had initiated the argument and explained to her that I was with an outreach organization that assists people who would like help and asked her if there was anything she needed at the moment (something to eat, drink, socks, hygiene kit, etc.) She said that she was homeless, didn’t have anything, and that there was nothing that we could do to help her. I told her that we are there for her if she would like anything and to have a good night.

As I was finishing up my conversation with the woman, the Port Authority Police Officers walked over and asked me what I was doing. I explained that Albert was a friend of mine whom I was trying to help and that we were just loving on the people who needed love. He replied with “These people are garbage, don’t waste your time on them.” I told them that I had to disagree with them, and that my job was to love “those people” on their good days and bad – and today happened to be one of the bad days. I thanked them for what they do and for protecting us all and wished them a good day. They said thank you and told me to just “go and do what you do somewhere else”.

“Those people are garbage.
Don’t waste your time on them.”

Heartbreaking statements – especially from individuals whom people look up to and expect more from. But really, do you blame them for having that reaction?

Brett with friend

The NYPD, the Port Authority police, and every other law enforcement officer in New York City are tasked with the nearly impossible task of maintaining safety and order for the city’s 8.5 Million residents and the 55+ Million tourists that come to the city. They deal daily with disorder, frustration, public drunkenness, violent crimes, drugs, and the list could go on and on. If you are given the job of keeping a certain area safe day after day, and all you ever see is the same people causing trouble, harassing bystanders, and doing everything possible to make your one job difficult, your negative view of them would be completely understandable. Especially if you didn’t know what grace, love, and compassion are – without those three things, I would say it’s impossible to have any other reaction.

So, as much as I want to be frustrated with the police in this situation, I really feel as though this is where I need to advocate for them just as much as for my friends on the street. BOTH need love, BOTH need to be shown compassion. This is where I come in.

My prayer is that as I am continually faced with situations like last night, that I would be able to do both of those things for everyone I face. Please pray for me as I feel like this is also sometime a near impossible task. Definitely overwhelming at times!

Please pray for your local police officers. Please pray that they would tangibly see grace, hope, and love in their life, so they can in turn, show the same to EVERYONE they are tasked with keeping safe.

Much love my friends, thank you for going on this crazy adventure with me.


As Brett’s story illustrates, not only do we have a responsibility to help the poor and broken, we also have the authority to help them. This authority wasn’t given by a government or an institution. We have been charged and empowered by God to act:

You shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ –Deuteronomy 7,11 

When we freely give grace and compassion to the poor, we also become authorities to a watching world that looks for answers when trying to make sense of the glaring disparities between the haves and the have nots. In this way, we offer hope for “the haves” too, and give a living example of a pathway that leads to life and freedom for all.

As those who walk in spiritual authority and understanding, we are able to see past the symptoms and recognize the source of dis-ease. We can see through the rotten fruit and bring healing to the root. We are able to see past the irrational behavior, and speak straight to the heart. We are only apprentices, but we are learning from our master how to “heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free.”

I have heard it said that God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called. I believe that he also authorizes the called. Authority is the power to influence others. We earn authority in people’s lives by serving and laying down our lives for them.

Jesus authorized us to live out his law, which is love. Policemen keep the peace, but like Brett, we are called to make peace. We have more power to effect change than we know. Jesus gave us his strategy:

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. -John 13:14,15

Will we wear this “badge“? Will we take up this cross? Will we be a refuge for those who have nowhere else to run? Will we be someone’s port in a storm? We don’t need to wait for someone to give us a title or endorse us. We are not to be people of small influence. We have authority to intervene into the lives of the hurting and homeless. We have “Poor Authority.”

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