Living in downtown Nashville it isn’t difficult to be entranced by the music filled air of Broadway and seeing Keith Urban on a regular basis. Let’s face it… Nashville is an awesome place to live! However, when we see all of the cool tourist spots and the star’s homes so constantly, it’s sometimes easy to forget the other people who live in downtown Nashville… the homeless.
This past weekend I participated in two events that really changed my perception about homelessness. The first event was a rally to save a local area known as “Tent City” and the second was an event hosted by my staff in Wright Hall called “Up All Night for the Wright Reasons.”
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” – Proverbs 31:8-9
Although I haven’t personally been there yet, I’ve heard that Tent City is a living community for the “house-less” members of the Nashville community. I’ve heard that the word “tent” is a stretch, but I’ve also heard that many people have heated tents and have a semi-established home in this area. But whatever it may look like, Tent City is where many “house-less” members live with their families and pets (I learned that homeless shelters don’t take pets and some people are unwilling to give up their pets) feel that it is a safe and welcoming community.
Recently the Tennessee government ordered that it needed to be torn down in order to build a condominium complex (even though the land is considered “undevelopable”). Therefore, the rally took place to save this living community because in all reality… these people wouldn’t have anywhere to go other than back to the streets.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t too sure how I felt about all of this going into the rally, but as I stood there and listened to the residents of Tent City, my feelings of uncertainty melted into feelings of compassion. I think if we are all completely honest, we can agree that society sees the stereotypical homeless person as lazy, emotionally unstable, and/or often drunk or high. However, as I watched and listened to these people and saw how they interacted with their spouses, pets, and friends, I came to realize that these men and women were NO different me or any of the people I even know. As one woman put it, “Often times the biggest difference between you and me is about two or three paychecks.” As scary as that statement sounds, it really is true and I saw the evidence of that with my own eyes.
Thankfully, Mayor Dean came out and addressed the crowd and announced that they would not be closing Tent City. I was feeling very encouraged and really happy to see how happy these people were to be able to keep the only home they have left in the world.
Later that night, I attended and worked for “Up All Night for the Wright Reasons.” The point of this program was to allow college students to “live the life” of a homeless person for one night. Even though it was freezing outside, we began at 11 o’clock by first praying for God’s presence to be obvious and to teach us compassion through living in someone else’s shoes. Then as the evening proceeded we listened to a nurse from Vanderbilt speak as he told us about the homeless clinic he runs and his experiences in his field. Then we listened to a wonderful man who had been homeless for the past 13 years. This was really interesting because he worked in the Music Business in LA (as an extremely successful concert promoter) when his life just started to fall apart. He explained his experiences with drug addictions and his transient lifestyle. He credited his current living situation (he has had a steady job and home for about a year) to God and the people of Nashville. It was truly inspiring and encouraging to hear this man’s shocking and difficult life journey only to see him at the point of realized redemption.
After he spoke, many people in the crowd asked questions about his life and how he felt we could best help/serve the homeless community. This was probably the most relevant moment of the night for me… he suggested not to give homeless people money (because he felt it perpetuated the problem), but to give them your time and love, “GIVE THEM YOUR HAND”. He suggested buying them food, listening to them, and volunteering at local shelters to help.
I learned so much this weekend about homelessness. I feel like I only tasted the difficulties that the homeless face from day to day, but I perhaps learned something far more important. As our speakers suggested, “homeless is not necessarily the problem of the individual as it is a problem with society and the church.” I was floored by that statement. I know as American’s we usually feel that everyone is and should be responsible for his or her own life, but one thing I kept hearing over and over and over again from the homeless was, “I want to get back on my feet, but I really just need a little help”