I remember that day in October 2007. I had awoke around 6:00 a.m. under the bridge I slept under for the past few months and noticing a cold front blew in overnight I commented, “Brrr! It’s cold this morning.” I was speaking to another fellow camping under the same bridge and his response was, “Yeah, and it’s wet, too. It’s raining out there.”
As I rolled up my bedroll, I gathered my things and started to leave. He sat idle, drinking his breakfast, and said, “You should stay up here awhile.” I wish I could have waited for the rain to stop, but I had to go “to work”. Work for me consisted of standing on a corner for 10-16 hrs. per day attempting to panhandle enough money, to purchase my “medicine”, on a daily basis. My name is Gary and I am a recovered Heroin addict.
My first winter ‘on the streets’ was in 1999. I remember approaching a truck that was handing out sandwiches and warm drinks with a friend. My friend, female, did not have a coat and the temperature was in the 30’s. The truck belonged to a non-profit organization of Christians called Mobile Loaves and Fishes, and they frequented areas where the homeless and working poor gathered to ‘assist’ them. A female volunteer asked my friend where her coat was. When she responded she did not have one, the volunteer took her own coat off and gave it to her without pause. To me this was ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’, similar to the commandment Jesus spoke of to the Pharisees in the Bible’s Book of Matthew (22:39).
In January of 2007, back on the streets, I experienced a period of two days when the temperatures did not rise above 30 degrees for 2-3 days and two days of sleet and rain. I felt fortunate to have already received a coat, blankets, and sleeping bag to gather in at night time when the temperature dropped to the low twenties. God, once again working in my life, allowed me to find an open door in back of an empty church, which is where I slept for two nights, leaving before daybreak to avoid being discovered for trespassing. I found out later, several homeless had died during those nights from staying out in the elements unprotected.
At the time I mentioned in the opening, I had a drug habit that cost an average of $60-$100 per day, and I felt fortunate if I had a “taste” to get started. Regardless of the weather, I did whatever it took to earn enough to supply my drug habit. The cold front that came in seemed a bit early and I had not acquired a coat or sweater yet, and a rain coat was something my habit did not allow me to afford. I had looked around and found a terry cloth bath robe. It was the only clothing object with long sleeves. I decided it was better than nothing. The only problem was it was ‘pink’! I faced the humiliation of wearing it in public because that is what my disease of addiction told me I had to do. Gratefully, I did not have to stand in traffic very long before a gentleman, waiting on the light, stepped out of his truck and handed me the coat he was wearing, saying “get that pink thing off”.
I am thankful there are some Christians and compassionate people in Austin, TX who willingly and unconditionally give to others, without regard to why other people are living like they are living. While addiction and alcoholism affect a lot of people living on the streets, it is not the only reason many are out there. The economy, psychological, and physical disabilities often times place individuals in such situations. It is not always by choice, but the fact remains, many have nothing but the clothes on their back.
As the cold, wet weather has begun to approach, I felt compelled to share these experiences with you and others. Knowing we all have our own responsibilities and with the holidays approaching, our minds focus on taking care of our own personal business while the less fortunate often stand, too humiliated to ask for help. Please take the time to consider them and offer spare coats, blankets, and sleeping bags. While they may not be living next door, in God’s eyes they are your neighbors. Sharing His love and blessings for you with others, they too will be drawn to Him. My God is a loving and forgiving God and I have shared how others showed His love to me; by His love and grace I have remained drug and alcohol free since November 1, 2008. Thank you for listening and considering others. The love you share may help others achieve a meaningful and fulfilling life.
– Gary M.