Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Homeless in the Suburbs- my trip to Lazarus House

Last week I saw firsthand how homelessness is not just an inner-city issue. We have a small group (Life Group) from our church that meets in our home on Thursday nights. We are currently reading a book called The Revolution that highlights many of the global issues that affect our world. The book has many contributors and provides some scriptural guidance as well as some practical things that we can do to "right" some of the "wrongs" in our world. Our group concluded that we didn't just want to sit around talking about God, but experiencing him as we serve. We spend one week learning about a topic and then the next week actually doing something about it.

Our current topic is poverty. The week after reading through the chapter on poverty, our group brought urgently needed hats and gloves to the Lazarus House in St. Charles. Lazarus House is located about 5 minutes from our home in typical suburbia, west of Chicago. This is not an area where you would expect to find a lot of homeless people. And yet as we toured the house, Donna, the volunteer coordinator, shared with us that last month they had a record 78 people at the home. She also expects more as the economic downturn continues to snowball.

We were all very impressed with how they discourage short-term help but encourage a 1-2 year commitment to receive education, job training, counseling and financial assistance with the goal of transitioning to a healthy and stable lifestyle. The House is divided into two levels. The lower level is for the newcomers who are in need of immediate assistance. On this level the people all stay in one room with many bunk beds with separate rooms for families. The second level is used for those who have completed their training and are transitioning into the world.

As I looked at the bunk beds in the downstairs area, I was struck by the 2 laundry baskets on the beds. This represented their entire possession...2 laundry basket. It was hard to even comprehend. And Donna said that the number one issue people face when they come to Lazarus House is their low self esteem. Many feel ashamed and stunned that their life has come to this and they need loving, caring people to surround them.

Our Life Group has committed to a regular night where we will cook and serve the people and continue to monitor the urgent needs listed on their website. The night reminded me of a quote from Mother Teresa who was talking to people in the U.S. when she said...

"There is plenty to do right around you... don't fly to Calcutta. Open your eyes and get to work!"