Blog

Ain’t No Grave

I went to a funeral recently for one of my homeless friends who had been killed by a drunk driver.

Like all violent deaths, it had not come at an opportune time. She had two small kids by two different fathers and had just moved in with her mother in an effort to “get herself straightened out” and to be with her babies. Things were just looking up when she was walking across the street and a drunk driver sped over a hill, 20mph too fast and hit her, dragging her half a block.

She was well liked in the circles I travel in, so her death was all anyone talked about for several days. Talk included speculating over the fate of the drunk driver, the fate of her babies, and whether she was in heaven or not. It took up most of my time that week.

The day of the funeral was a hectic one. She was buried by the city, which means no wake at the funeral home, no viewing of the body the night before, none of that. There was just a graveside service, an open casket, a boom box playing a hip-hop re-mix of “In The Garden” and some ratty looking artificial flowers.

And the church people. That is what my homeless friends called them, anyway. They belong to a suburban evangelical church. They come downtown and pass out food and judgment every weekend to all who show up. They came to my friend’s funeral, passing out free tickets for a “Judgment Play” they’re going to have Easter Weekend. One told me they are “praying for 1000 decisions for Christ” at this extravaganza. And then they left, right before the preacher started up. I was standing there with my mouth open, shocked at the nerve.

I have no doubt they thought they were doing outreach. In reality, though, they missed the best chance for outreach they could have had. They left before the preaching started. They were not there when before the mournful wails made by a mother who lost her daughter to a senseless act of stupidity. They were not there when the bereaved boyfriend bared his soul, when the friend said gave the eulogy, when the childhood friend read the passage from Ecclesiastes.

They missed out on all of that. If they had stayed and heard the good news, the echoes of the promise of resurrection, in the lament, in the eulogy, in the hearts laid bare, perhaps they would have made a decision a 1000 times better than the one they peddle. We’ve decided on grace not judgment, on presence not programs. The faith that informs what we do at Love Wins, the container for community we seek to build, is deeper and stronger than the grave because it rests not on individuals deciding to agree to certain theological perspective, but on God deciding that God has a plan and that plan is us.

Nothing You Can Do

This was the text of the homily given in our worshipping community by Hugh Hollowell on July 24, 2011. The Scripture text was Rom. 8.31-39.

I was in Moore Square the other day, talking to a friend of mine – let’s call him Mike. He’s a chronic alcoholic, and was on a three day drunk. On the first day, Mike had run into a would-be evangelist, who wanted to tell him about Jesus.

Now, my friend knows Jesus, and tried to tell the street preacher that, but the street preacher would not hear it. He told my friend that because he was drunk, it was obvious that God had turned his back on him. He said that the reason Mike could not quit drinking was because he was under God’s curse, and that until he cried out to Jesus for salvation he was going to continue to be punished by God.

Personally, I think that’s a bunch of crap.

A guy I grew up with is in prison for a five year stretch – he tried to bribe a judge on a custody case. His brother was my brother’s best friend. He is in prison for life, without parole, for killing a guy in a drug deal that went bad.

Their father spent a fortune on attorneys for them both, visits them both in prison, writes them letters, prays for them. He is very realistic – he knows that they did what they were charged with, and while he hopes that they are becoming better people as a result of their incarceration, he isn’t counting on it.

He loves them because they are his sons, and nothing can make him not love them. He does not love them because they are good, or because they make him happy or because he gets something out of the relationship. He loves them because they are his children.

I know that not all of us have had relationships with our parents that were filled with that much love. I know a lot of us have had parents that rejected us, or that put us out or that don’t talk to us anymore.

But all of us know how a parent is supposed to act, right? I mean, I have never met anyone who says “If I have a kid, I plan on drinking too much, beating the crap out of him and then falling asleep in front of the TV.”

No, all of us imagine ourselves as parents who will love our children. Parents who would still love our children when they do horrible things, when they betray us, when they use us. Even when we cannot live up to that ideal, we know how it is supposed to be.

If we know how a parent is supposed to love their child, how can God love us any less? The passage today says that nothing – not hard times, not stress, not being arrested, not being threatened, not the government or the police department, not anything at all can separate us from the love of God.

Hear the good news I am saying here – You may have heard that God is angry at you. You may have heard that God is cursing you. You may have heard that God is trying to teach you a lesson.

Bull-fish.

God loves you. God is on your side. God is fighting for you, not against you. And there is nothing you can do – nothing at all, that can change that.

Creative Extremists For Love

We’ve been sharing memes all week with short quotes taken from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which deserves careful, repeated, and regular readings. About three-fourths the way into that missive is this longer quote that pretty well summarizes what we’re up to here at Love Wins in our little community experiment. We want nothing more, less, or other than to be the sort of creative extremists for love that Rev. Dr. King suggested the world is in dire need of.

mlkI have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime – the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

If we’re all extremists of some kind or other, that’s the kind we want to be, extremists for love and the extension of justice, using all the creativity we can muster to love each other well and advocate for each other. And we’re always glad to invite friends along with us on this journey.

Meet the Staff: Maddie

View More: http://cynthiaviola.pass.us/lovewinsHello everyone! My name is Madalyn Schulz and I am the newest face here at Love Wins. I grew up in Wake Forest and had the pleasure of being homeschooled with my three siblings. Last spring I finished up my associate’s at Wake Tech and I am currently at NC State getting my bachelor’s in social work. I got involved at Love Wins during the fall of 2016 when I needed volunteer hours for a class. To my amazement, they liked me enough to keep me around. When I am not working or doing homework, my husband Micah and I love hanging out with our furbabies Sophie and Zelda or enjoying a good drink with friends. My apartment is bursting with plants that definitely receive more affection than your average greenery. I aspire to live simply, but my sentimental tendencies tend to frustrate that ambition.

I am the Executive Assistant of Love Wins Ministries. Basically I will be keeping track of LWM business, which means if you want to schedule a meeting with Hugh, book us for a conference, or find out more about our worshipping community, email me here or call me at 919-289-9805. My goal is to increase LWM’s bandwidth by taking on scheduling, booking, and logistics.

I am genuinely thrilled to have the opportunity to work with these truly amazing, one of a kind group of people and I can’t wait to see what this year brings.

When It Gets Cold, People Die

The Winter Makes You Colder Than You Are

It’s been a warm fall for us here in North Carolina so far. Last night was the first really hard freeze, hitting the twenties.  Over the next eight days, that will happen five times.

I know – it probably gets colder than that where you live. I know – y’all have “real winters.” I know all that.

But I also know that hypothermia kills people, and hypothermia can happen when the surrounding air gets to 50 degrees or lower. When it gets cold, people who are living outside – especially people who have compromised immune systems from the trauma their bodies have endured, who are at subpar nutrition levels, who are insufficiently rested, who have drank alcohol, or who lack sufficient clothing or cold weather gear – those people sometimes die.

It happens every winter. Every single winter I have done this work, someone I know dies outside.

Before you ask – yes, they do open the shelter doors to everyone on those nights it gets below 32 degrees so, theoretically at least, they can go indoors and be warm. They call those White Flag nights. I say theoretically, because there are a number of reasons you may not want to go into the shelter.

For example, you may not want to seek shelter if:

  • You are part of a heterosexual couple, as there are no co-ed emergency shelters. Maybe you are fine with going into a shelter 2 miles away from your partner, that they have to walk to get to on the coldest day of the year so far, but most folks are not. So they stay outside, where at least they can be together.
  • You have PTSD (which is extremely common in the homeless population) and people screaming in their sleep, being crowded into hallways to sleep on glorified yoga mats and zero privacy is triggering to you.
  • You have lost everything you own multiple times (which is pretty much everyone in the homeless population) and the last three times you stayed at the shelter, your stuff was stolen because there isn’t secure places to lock up your things – especially on a white flag night when they far exceed capacity.
  • You are afraid to leave your things at your campsite unattended, because you have had everything you own stolen the last time you did that.
  • You have a history of trauma (which is everyone who is experiencing homelessness) and as a result, are plagued by insomnia on the best of nights. You believe that you are more likely to actually sleep if you stay in your tent, and remember, there is no sleeping in, or taking a nap later to catch up. In the City of Raleigh, it is illegal to sleep in public.

Those are only a few. In the last ten years, I have heard dozens of reasons, and all of them make sense to the people who name them. Heck, most of them make sense to me.

But still, none of that changes the fact that when it gets cold outside, people die.

The City Council Approves Purchase of the Oak City Center!

Supporters were asked to stand, and nearly two thirds of the room rose.

Supporters were asked to stand, and nearly two thirds of the room rose.

We did it!

Tuesday afternoon, the Raleigh City Council met, and approved the purchase of the building for the Oak City Center. In doing this, the City of Raleigh kept a promise it made back in 2013, when it promised the establishment of a one stop center for those experiencing homelessness. It now goes to the County commission, where it is anticipated to pass without issue sometime in January.

The huge turnout of supporters who came to the meeting to show community support for the Oak City Center was astounding. We asked people who came to wear green, to show their solidarity with our cause, and even the Mayor was wearing a green jacket! Before the Council voted, the Mayor spoke, and said that while it was not up for public comment, she would like it if those who were here in support of the Center would stand – and easily two thirds of the room rose as one.

If I live to be 100, yesterday will be one of my proudest days. We asked for you to stand with us on behalf of those whose voices are all too often silenced, and you did – in a huge way. Calls, emails and letters poured in from across the country, and even Red Hat, the software company, wrote a letter of support of the Oak City Center.

This is a victory for those who are experiencing homelessness, making it easier for them to have access to food and services and a place to be. And it’s a victory for the City of Raleigh – the unanimous vote in favor of the city keeping its promise speaks of the progressive city it is, and that it aspires to be.

And yes, this is a victory for us, at the end of a long fight that began a Saturday morning three and a half years ago when we were threatened with arrest for doing a thing that the City has now agreed to spend three million dollars to promote doing.

But the big winners in this are all of us. We spoke up, we exercised our voices, we showed up – and we changed minds, we changed hearts and we changed how a city addresses homelessness and food insecurity. That is huge.

There are people who will tell you that the way things are is just the way things are going to be. They will tell you that your voice does not count, that you have no power to effect change, that the fix is in and the best we can do is try to survive in a broken world.

Do not listen to those people. When we work together, our ability to move the marker toward the better world we all dream is possible is near endless. If the last three and a half years teaches nothing else, I hope it shows that.

This is not the end of the fight to make Raleigh more fair and just. It isn’t even the beginning of the end. But to quote Churchill, who was talking about another fight, when things seemed far more hopeless, it may just be the end of the beginning.

There is still the fight for affordable housing. The fight for access to healthy food, the fight to streamline the bureaucracy that prevents people from accessing services, the fight for a living wage.  So this is not over.

But I am not quitting, and I hope you won’t either. Because together we can make this City far more just and equitable for its most vulnerable citizens, and make it a city that is truly great.

Will Raleigh Keep Its Promises To The Homeless and Hungry?

biscuits-promises

They Made a Promise

In August of 2013, the City of Raleigh used the Raleigh Police Department to try to stop us, and people like us, from sharing food with vulnerable people. And we asked you to help us get the City’s attention, and you did. And as a result of that attention, a task force was formed of concerned citizens, and that task force made recommendations to the City, which they enacted.

One of the recommendations of that task force, agreed to by the City on December 3, 2013, was the development of a “temporary” location to share food. That was the Oak City Outreach Center.

But another recommendation, also agreed to by the city on December 3, 2013, was that of a long-term solution, a “one-stop shop” location to deliver services to people who are experiencing homelessness or are food insecure. This was designed to be the successor to, or the fulfillment of, the Oak City Outreach Center.

In the years since, many of us have worked tirelessly to not only make the Oak City Outreach Center a success, but to bring about its successor, the Oak City Center – a multi-services intake center where vulnerable people can access the help they need, where community can be built and where meals can be shared.

Now its Time to Keep That Promise

And we are really close to making that place a reality. It’s important that it be near downtown, and its important that it have a lot of space. The biggest hold up has been finding the right spot, in a place that can be purchased, at a price that is workable. After an exhaustive search, that place has been found.

Tuesday, December 6th, nearly 3 years to the day after the City promised to move toward this long-term solution, they are meeting again, and this time on the agenda is whether to approve the purchase of the proposed site.

We had been assured many times of the City’s commitment to this project, but over the last few weeks, we have heard murmurs of weakening of that support, with one councilor, Kay Crowder, going on record as being against the location.

Since that article, we have reached out to a number of members of the City Council, asking them to affirm their support. Some of them have been super-supportive, others are noncommittal and some, like Ms. Crowder, are downright opposed.

I am asking you to help me remind the City of Raleigh of its promises, and to ask them to keep that promise.

Here is what you can do to help: Reach out, show up, and share.

Reach out

Contact the Mayor and members of the Raleigh City Council, and ask them to vote yes to approving the purchase of the location for the Oak City Center. If you are local, mention that. And if you are not located here, please let them know if their decisions around how they treat the most vulnerable citizens here will affect your future vacation or business plans.

The mayor’s office and city council members share a phone line: (919) 996-3050.

Here are their email addresses, Twitter, and Facebook pages. Be kind, but firm. If they don’t answer, leave them a voice mail and try back later.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Russ Stephenson

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Mary-Ann Baldwin

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Kay Crowder

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Dickie Thompson

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member David Cox

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Corey Branch

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Bonner Gaylord

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Show up

We need people to show up on the afternoon session of the City Council at 1:00PM on Tuesday, December 6th . 

The address is 222 W. Hargett St., Raleigh, NC 27601. If you are coming, we ask that you wear a green shirt to show your support.

The session begins at 1:00PM, but we really need you there at least 30 minutes before hand, and 45 minutes before would be better. How many people show up in support of this matter, and we need to show the Mayor and the City Council that we are watching to see if they keep the promise they made three years ago.

 

Share

I need you to share this with your networks – all your networks. Please forward this link via email, via Facebook, twitter. Share it with your church, your small group, your Bible Study, the kid working the counter at McDonalds.

And that’s it – We need to get the word out, get people there on Tuesday, and let the City Council know that we are watching to see if the City is willing to keep the promise it made three years ago to it’s most vulnerable citizens.

Three years ago, when men with guns forbade me to feed to hungry people who were waiting on the food I had brought, I made a promise – I told them I didn’t know what was going on, but that I would fix this, and make sure they would never be denied access to food in this city again.

I take that promise very seriously. I hope the City takes its promise to those same people as seriously.

Tipping the Balance Towards Friendship

This work is all about humanizing, which is both the easiest thing and the hardest thing to do at the same time. Easy because it means just treating other people normally, talking to them, really listening, looking them in the eye, showing respect, letting them make choices, drinking the same coffee and eating the same peanut butter sandwiches, laughing together, finding joy in small moments together. As I grow into relationships with our community members, it gets easier and easier to do all these things, even for a deep introvert like me.
But it’s also hard because the circumstances we find ourselves in routinely work to dehumanize, not just people experiencing homelessness, but all of us really. We have to look through all the not-normal and really focus on each other in order to relate in what I just said was “normal” but isn’t really a more common occurrence than anything not-normal. I guess what I’m saying is “just be yourself” turns out to be quite an achievement for most of us most of the time.

This is a picture from the internet, not of either of the actual campsites.

This is a picture from the internet, not of either of the actual campsites.

I wrote before about how people experiencing homelessness often need a letter of verification to access certain services. If a person sleeps at a shelter, the shelter will provide verification. But things get harder for people who sleep outside. Because we don’t need those letters here at Love Wins and we focus on building trusting relationships, we are an organization who can provide letters for those who sleep outside. This involves one of our staff members going out to visit the person’s campsite. I did that twice this week and I felt this easy/hard tension then.
It was easy because it was just me driving my car with a friend to where they live. I’ve done that hundreds of times. It’s always a good chance to have a quiet conversation. There’s something personal and friendly about riding in a car together. And they feel empowered because they are giving directions and I’m going where they say. Makes for a nice, very quotidian moment. On both trips, another driver did something questionable (because Raleigh) and we got to complain about Raleigh drivers and traffic, which created a bit of solidarity too.
But it was hard at the same time. There are a lot of things we want people to just take our word for. When I tell people I have 5 kids at home, no one ever asks me to prove it. Sure I’m quick with the baby pictures, but not because I need to prove anything. Most of the time, when I give my address for something, that’s just taken at my word too. Sometimes not, but the verification of looking at my driver’s license is so seamless, I tend not to notice that I just got checked. There’s a not-friendly vibe to having to prove things, and the harder the thing is to prove, the more that unfriendliness, that dehumanizing, grows. Neither person seemed at all offended that I was going to inspect their campsite but I still felt the need to apologize. So I did. And I blamed it on the government. I said it was really about the federal and state governments not trusting each other and us being caught in between. I’m not sure how true that is but blaming the man creates solidarity like griping about a bad driver.
The other thing that made it hard was trying to keep both campsites a secret. People who sleep outside work hard to find good spots and drawing too much attention to those spots can cause problems for them. We did our best to be as inconspicuous as possible, but sneaking around isn’t very normal for grown men so that didn’t feel very humanizing.
And that’s the nature of the work, balancing out all the inherent dehumanizing with as much intentional normal human decency as we can muster. We push back as hard as we can and hope the balance tips to toward friendship and community. I know a couple more stories than I did when the week started. And I can visualize where a couple of friends are as I pray for them. So on the whole it was a good week and love notched a couple of nice wins.

Honoring Veterans Experiencing Homelessness

It’s not uncommon for one of our guests to be a veteran. We’ve heard about tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam, and then the war that continues at home.978px-street_sleeper_8_by_ds

Veterans make up a surprisingly high percentage of all homeless folks, and nearly half suffer from mental illness and substance abuse.

As Veteran’s Day rolls around, it’s as important to recognize the vets with homes as the ones without… and that not every vet has someone to thank them.

Miz Katie Does the Dishes, and Loves Us

Sink with clean dishes

She is perhaps 60, and she has a mother with Alzheimer’s disease and a daughter with a daughter of her own, but Miz Katie doesn’t live with any of those people regularly. Instead she will stay with either of them for a week or two, especially in inclement weather, but other times she stays outside, or at the shelter.

Early in her adult years she was married to a man who was a career soldier, who is her daughter’s father, but she left him because he was abusive to her. As a result, she doesn’t tend to trust men, especially men in power.

She sometimes has manic episodes, and sometimes she is paranoid and suspicious of people, and sometimes she thinks that a person she has never seen before is spying on her for the government, because her ex-husband once worked for the government, and he has connections.

And sometimes talking to her is disorienting, because she will begin to share a conspiracy theory with you, and it will begin to ramble, and then she will stop, look at you and say, ‘but you were in the military, so you know what I mean” and then will walk off.

Everything I just told you about her are facts, by the way. But none of that tells you that she is perhaps the most genuinely nice person I know, or that she worries about hospitality and propriety in a way I have never seen before, or that she sees washing the dishes at our Community Engagement Center to be her special gift to us.

None of it will tell you that she remembers birthdays with an aggression that would make Hallmark proud, or that if she ever hears of your desire for anything she will find you a coupon for it.

I once was riding the bus, and she got on at the next stop. She asked why I was riding the bus, and I told her it was because my wife and I only own one car. She brought me every car dealership flyer she could find for months.

And none of it will tell you that she loves sweets, and will go to the food pantry to get a cake that she then brings to the Community Engagement Center to share with everyone there. And that she loves to hug people, “as long as they aren’t creepy.”

If you weren’t actually in relationship with her, you wouldn’t know any of those things. You would just see a black lady in late middle age that sometimes mumbles to herself.

And that would be a huge loss, and your life would be poorer for it. Because she is amazing.

But the reality is, there aren’t many places she is allowed to be herself, where she feels safe enough to tell people about her fears, where she can contribute and is appreciated. Where she can express love, and feel loved back, and share her gifts. Where someone like you could get to know her.

In order to have those relationships, we first need to have spaces where those relationships can happen. Places where people like Miz Katie, or perhaps people like you, can belong, can be themselves, and can be known.

I wish there were more places like that.