I work at the Eugene Mission. Everyday I'm confronted with people who are experiencing homelessness, which in and of itself is traumatic. But worse still, by society they are seen as a “problem” to be solved. They are seen as different, as defective, as “Other than.” Other than my crowd where we have careers, intact families, social status, goals, and hidden addictions (as opposed to obvious or more stigmatized ones). Other than my crowd who want to see and be seen as beautiful, smart, funny, and capable.
These “homeless” men and women have been set aside by society as too much. Too much addiction, too much mental illness, too much age, too much obstinance. Just too much need for society to fill. And they would often agree that their lives are too much. Too much pain, too much poverty, too much heartache, too much trauma.
One of the things I often hear in relation to the struggles facing the “homeless” is that if they could just meet Jesus, surely their problems would be solved. I don't think the solution is quite so simple, because the problem is complex. You see on the street and in the shelter...faith in Jesus is alive and well. They have faith in Jesus, it's people they lack faith in.
They've been let down by people most of their lives, some of them from birth. God is very real to them and has seen them though unbelievable adversity. But, in the practical aspects of their big life problems, they have been given no answers. They use methods of surviving pain that have been modeled for them. Anger, alcohol, illicit drugs, codependent relationships… all short term solutions with long term consequences.
The parents and family members charged with giving them life coping skills either didn't possess them themselves, or were otherwise engaged with their own problems. The peripheral people in their lives either expected more than was reasonable, or made judgments based on assumptions. They saw them as Other and therefore didn't see through to the real person.
Everyday I learn from these people who, apart from my job, I would not naturally connect with. Who I could easily see as Other. The following people are fictional as I want to protect the identities of those I have come to know through my job, but the life situations are common to the stories of those who find themselves at the mission...
I learn what true courage looks like when I look in the face of a 70 year old man who's been homeless his entire adult life because of a mistake he made as an 18 year old.
I learn what fortitude looks like when I am greeted with a smile from a woman who is in a wheelchair because her leg was amputated after a car accident. She started using heroin after the pain prescriptions ran out, which caused her family to throw her out on the street where she has lived for three years. She is 2 months clean and using Suboxone to help her stabilize.
I learn what hope looks like when a mentally-ill, 65 year old woman tells me how she is looking forward to being in heaven with Jesus and the angels someday. She's been in the State Hospital recently and just wants to get a small apartment someday where she can have a cat.
I think the greatest thing I've learned from the people living at the Mission is that we are all Other. Because we can't understand one another out of context of our story. If I don't understand you, I'll naturally see you as different from me - Other. However, once I know your story, your behavior makes sense. And, if I'm honest, I can see a part of me in it.
I hear a lot of stories at the Mission and I no longer see Other in the faces of those telling them. Instead, I see myself reflected back.
"There but for the grace of God go I.”
Romans 12:16-18 (NIV)
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
About the Author
Denise Jubber is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Spiritual Director who is passionate about supporting people as they navigate various seasons of life.
She is acquainted with the complicated issues of life, yet knows God can bring about good change and significant personal growth even through seasons of difficulty and struggles.