Finally something to say

The worst part about naming my blog “All That I Can’t Leave Behind” is that when I don’t post for a while (or, you know, 6. Freakin’. Months!), it seems as if I have nothing to say. Which isn’t exactly true. I’ve done some blogging over on my church site. But it is undeniable that life intervened in such ways that I haven’t been in this space in quite some time. That ends now.

I’ve refreshed the look. (Would love to know what you think of it.)

I’m going to at least attempt to live-blog my church’s participation in Sleep Out Saturday (SOS).

But first a video to introduce the idea.

This is the day…to end homelessness in DuPage County.

Also, Erin Chan Ding wrote a terrific piece about SOS for West Suburban Living Magazine. I’m quoted in it…and I think I actually don’t sound like an idiot. Thanks, Erin! Here’s a taste:

The hope, adds Buerstetta, is that “five years from now or 15 years from now, when these kids are the police officers or teachers dealing with a homeless family and clients, and they’re writing local ordinances, they keep these experiences in mind. 

 “There’s the longer term goal that, ‘This isn’t just a cool experience to do with my friends,’” concludes Buerstetta, “but that years from now, it affects who they become and how they live in a world that needs compassion.”   

Read the rest here.

SOS aftermath

We participate in Sleep Out Saturday to raise awareness about homelessness in DuPage County – and to raise funds to help end it.

As I wrote recently (here and here), SOS is a way to be in solidarity with our homeless population. SOS creates visceral evidence that those who are homeless are included in that web of mutuality that connects us all.

Yet, I want to be sensitive to reasonable critiques of SOS. For instance:

  • Shouldn’t we just know that we are connected to all people which includes the homeless?
  • Why does it take a big event like SOS to demonstrate mutuality?
  • Is this just another form of poverty tourism?
  • Are we just using the homeless as a way or an excuse to have a fun event for ourselves?

The best responses I can offer are:

  • Yes, we should.
  • I don’t know…perhaps it is part of the nature of privileged living in the first world to need to be shaken out of our complacency cocoons?
  • I hope not.
  • I don’t think so. We’re trying to make it so much more than that.

But I’m probably too close to it to evaluate. I want to know what you think. So I’ll offer pictures, descriptions, and reflections from the evening; you tell me where we seem to be on the continuum:

tourists ————- mutuality

Or maybe that’s not even the best way to express the continuum. You tell me. Please.

The evening begins with a school bus – arranged by and paid for by Bridge Communities – that takes us to the Rally.

SOS 2013 bus

The Rally includes dance music, a roll call of the towns represented (there were dozens, from Addison to Woodridge), thanking sponsors, and thanking participants, all MC’d by local news anchor, Stefan Holt.

SOS 2013 rally

But the highlight of the Rally (at least for me) is hearing two families helped by Bridge’s transitional housing tell their story.

After the Rally at Bridge Communities headquarters, we returned to WUMC for a simulation game. Each of us received a biography detailing age, sex, family history, employment history, and what led us to become homeless. Several of our adult volunteers role played as persons working for an apartment complex, housing authority, women’s shelter, mission house, and realty. Our job was to find housing for the night.

SOS 2013 simulation

It was, frankly, frustrating.  Jumping through hoops only to be turned down at multiple places. Having a place close before I could turn in paperwork. Running out of options.

A few reflections from our teenagers on the simulation experience:

  • “It’s hard to find shelter when you’re homeless.”
  • “Homelessness can happen to anyone of any situation.”
  • “Some shelters might not let you in. Food is not readily available.”
  • “Homeless people live in harsh conditions.”
  • “Homeless people come from all different backgrounds and with all different reasons and face different personal challenges.”

Then we prepared shelter for the night out of cardboard boxes.

SOS 2013 box prep

SOS 2013 boys box

SOS 2013 gavin

SOS 2013 mylene box

SOS 2013 trying my box

I never said it was a grim project. 🙂

We’re lucky. The church has a great space for our boxes right out in front of the building.

SOS 2013 my bag & box

SOS 2013 ready to box

We really did sleep some.

SOS 2013 asleep

It was cold. But we were sleeping out for a few hours for one night. With a building available for warmth and bathrooms. And a hot breakfast prepared for us. We are aware we’re only simulating a fraction of true homelessness. But that fraction, it’s not nothing. The experience impacted us.

“It is humbling realizing what homeless people have to do every night. It is humiliating thinking this was hard for me but realizing they do this every night.”

“It was humbling thinking about people driving by church, seeing us sleeping in boxes and maybe thinking about me all the stereotypes of homeless people.”

Finally, our teenagers were asked what they would be willing to do without to help homeless people:

  • $10 a week
  • a meal every week
  • let them stay in my house until they get somewhere to stay and a job
  • $1 per week
  • half of my American Girl dolls
  • my iPod
  • $10 per week
  • $5 per week
  • $1 per day

So, what do you think? Tourism, mutuality, or somewhere in between?

Setting out on an SOS

Frequently of late I’ve been talking and writing how  striving to follow God in the Way of Jesus compels me to try to end hunger and poverty. And I will continue to do so. For instance, I’m with Bread for the World: Now that the shutdown is over, it is time to end sequestration.

But with our turn at PADS, with CROP Walk, and with Sleep Out Saturday (SOS) all happening within three weeks of one another, I have some other verbs in mind. Verbs beyond talking and writing, such as:

Walk. It’s not too late to join the South DuPage CROP Walk this Sunday, Oct. 20.

Bring. Canned goods are collected at CROP Walk.

Watch. Take five minutes to view this video. Warning: Watch with caution; you may just find yourself moved to participate in many ways!

Learn. About homelessness in DuPage County. Here’s an arresting statistic: the average age of a homeless person in DuPage County is…8 years old. 8! If that doesn’t infuriate you, I don’t know what will.

Sleep. Outside, that is. In the cold.

SOS night
A scene from WUMC’s 2012 SOS

Experience. For a few hours anyway on Nov. 2 what many people deal with every. single. day.

Read. Bridge Community’s client success stories. They are doing incredible work providing aid and requiring accountability.

View. Our SOS page

…and if you are able, pledge.

So that’s what I’m doing in next few days and weeks. How about you – what verbs occupy you right now?