His name is Keith, and yesterday was his first day to come to 707 West Jones. He was new in town, and was staying at the shelter, and someone had brought him to us.
Now, yesterday was far from a typical day for us. Most of our staff was snowed in at home, the downtown soup kitchen was closed, and the whole city was shutdown because of the snowstorm.
But it was Keith’s first day, and on the best days, it can be hard to understand what we are doing there.
We don’t have a security guard. We don’t have a metal detector. We don’t have security cameras, or an ID requirement, or even a scheduled mealtime.
We do have a warm building, plenty of chairs, and a pot of hot coffee of variable quality. There is a bathroom you can use, and a washer and dryer you can share with other folks. And you can have a conversation and be treated like you are human and feel like you are, as we like to say in my tradition, made in the very image of God.
If you spent the night before in a typical homeless shelter, that can be confusing indeed.
So Keith had lots of questions.
But one of them was, “Why is it called Love Wins?”
So I told him we had this crazy idea that if you treat people like people, then they act like people. And that we had learned that what people who are experiencing homelessness really need is a place to belong, not a place to tell them what to do. So we have worked to create that place.
A bunch of the guests were listening. Charlie was nodding, and he chimed in.
“They really care about us here. Like today – the other places we could go are all closed. But Hugh here walked across town to make sure we had a place to be today. He didn’t get paid extra for that – he did it because he cares about us.”
Mike always has something to say, so he said it.
“Here, I can be me. I get to help out. I get to contribute. They don’t care that I was once in jail, here I get to answer the phones and help people.”
I agreed. And then I told Keith that here, we think everybody deserves grace, so it doesn’t matter what you have done before, and it doesn’t matter where you came from and we don’t care what your past looks like. All that matters is that you want to be here. And if you do, we want you here.
Roger said, “This place is safe. And as long as you keep it safe, you can stay here. The only people who are made to leave are the ones who make it not safe for other people. But even they get a second chance tomorrow.”
Then I said, “Keith, the short answer to your question about why we call it Love Wins is, because, we believe it does. We believe that Love is what makes the world work, and when we show Love to each other, it makes the world better. And if we want the world to be better, we have to work at loving each other. And we can’t love each other if we don’t get to know each other.”
Keith stared at me for a second, then he smiled.
“By getting to know each other, we are making the world better. I like that. I like that a lot.”
Then he said, “What can I do to help?”
We get called naive a lot. We have been told that this work is impossible to do without an armed guard at our building. We have been told that if we let people make decisions for themselves we would end up with total anarchy. We have been dismissed as saints, and we have been dismissed as idealists.
But what we really are is just a bunch of people, some of us housed and some of us not, who really, really believe in Love as a force for good. For whom Love is not a quaint concept to be trotted out with heart candies and images of Cupid, but as the motive force of the universe.
So, today on Valentine’s Day, when the world celebrates Love, know that you don’t have to quit celebrating it tonight at midnight. You can embrace it. You can use it to make the world better.
My new friend Keith is excited about that. I hope you are too.
Editor’s Note: You can meet Keith in video below. We put together an on-the-spot video to thank you for making it possible for us to be open during the snow storm yesterday, and every day. Details on that are linked in Hugh’s post, or you can read the story here.by