At the corner of Allen and Broad in the city of Richmond, I see what I think are disrupted lives. When I make the left turn on to Allen, the sidewalk along the old Sears building and across the street along the sidewalk behind the BP gas station are men.
These men appear to be homeless or at the very least unemployed, or maybe both. Rarely on my trips to Lowes have I seen those sidewalks deserted. If they are abandoned, I still see the presence of the men. Empty bottles, food containers, scraps of clothing, plastic bags, and maybe a lost shopping cart.
When I see these men, I wonder what went wrong? How did they end up in this situation? What are their stories? Have they attempted to pull themselves out of this environment?
But, never in any of my trips to Lowes have I ever stopped to offer one or the whole group any assistance.
Why is that?
Well, I have lots of excuses.
For starters—fear, safety, and I’m not streetwise.
In reality, all it would take is one wrong decision on my part, and I could be in the same set of circumstances as these men. That’s how quick life can change.
Word had trickled back to me about a battered pickup truck that was parking overnight in our church parking lot. I too had noted the truck. I was trying to figure out when the truck departed each day.
Finally, on a foggy October morning, I saw a person emerge from the truck. Quickly, the person entered the driver’s side and started the engine.
I parked my car near the truck. I unsnapped my seatbelt, opened the door, and walked toward the pickup.
I got the driver’s attention, and with some nervousness and hesitation the driver’s side window came down. To my surprise, the driver was a woman.
Initially, I don’t think she wanted to talk with me. But, as calmly as I could I explained who I was and my reason for approaching her.
My explanation was grounded in safety.
I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I needed to let her know that the consistency of her parking here had caught our eyes. In this day and time, we have a responsibility to understand the need for showing up in this lot.
With a dose of courage, this lady explained to me that she was homeless, and basically unemployed. The parking lot had on some nights become her temporary home. She noted without explanation that her sleeping had improved in this corner of the lot.
We talked for a few more minutes. She explained a bit about her dilemma. I listened. I gave her my card with all of my church contact information. I told her it was fine for her to park here until a different arrangement could be made.
I probed a bit about trying to find her some shelter, I referenced a couple of Richmond nonprofits who work with the homeless, and she expressed some interest.
And, I inquired about her job searching and her skills. I asked if she had access to a computer, and she acknowledged she did. I learned that she has a resume, and she promised to send it to me.
Finally, she told me her name, and thanked me for taking the time to talk with her. Then, she drove off.
Several days passed.
I wondered if my conversation with the driver had scared her off. No resume appeared in my e-mail, and the truck had not been seen in the parking lot. But over the weekend, an e-mail was received with the promised resume attached.
This lady had two college degrees and lots of employment experiences in her field of expertise. I wondered what went wrong.
I responded to the e-mail. I noted a couple of employment opportunities that had surfaced from staff members. And I had plans to speak with a friend who serves on the board of a local agency who works with the homeless.
More days passed, and then out of the blue I took a phone call. It was the owner of the tired pickup truck. She wondered if I might be willing to meet with her. She wanted to provide clarity about her resume and her employment experiences.
I responded with a yes. We set up a time to meet at the church.
One thing, I have noted in my brief interactions with Martha ( that’s the name I’ve given her) is how quickly challenges related to being homeless and unemployed can escalate. If one fracture in the foundation of your life occurs, then all of your life can come tumbling down on you.
In truth, on the morning when I first questioned Martha, she disrupted my life. I had come by Trinity early to check on some items for the day. My plan was to return home and go for a run.
For some reason that didn’t happen, and like always, I’ll blame God.
Maybe what he was trying to get me to see is that not all of the challenges of the homeless and unemployed gather at Broad and Allen.
No sometimes, needs appear in a church parking lot.