When Nina Got Uncomfortable

Most of us have never sat and eaten a meal with a homeless man or woman. But Nina did. She discovered a simple truth — homeless people are people. Not so different than you or me.

From Nina, a volunteer at our Burnside Shelter:

I have been volunteering at the Portland Rescue Mission the first Friday of every month since September of 2009. This month, I decided to push myself outside my comfort zone. Rather than stand safely behind the counter serving food, I sat at a table and talked with some of the people that came to eat.

I met Matt* from Texas. He is not an addict or alcoholic. He has just fallen on hard times. Oddly, since he is clean, there are not many programs in Portland to help him get back on his feet.

After Matt’s 16-year marriage ended in divorce, he fell into depression and nearly committed suicide. He moved to Oregon, hoping for a fresh start. In Texas, Matt had been a manager at a Denny’s restaurant for over 20 years, but breaking into the job market in Portland was tough. Money ran out. Matt was alone with no place to live.

Life on the streets can be frightening, especially to someone newly homeless. Matt’s learned how to survive. He stays at the Salvation Army and occasionally gets a shower so he can look for a job. He doesn’t panhandle. He gets meals from shelters and usually has a pretty safe place to lay his head.

Matt is truly driven to better himself and not let this road bump stop him from living a normal life. He’s enrolled in classes at Clackamas Community College and wants to be a social worker. Matt recently found a program that will get him permanent housing until he can get on his feet. He’ll move sometime in the next few weeks.

I felt a connection with Matt as we talked. I, too, moved to Portland because of my divorce. I had a very hard time finding a job even though I had a lot of experience in my field. And we both have a strong relationship with God.

The difference in our story is that while I have a very loving sister and brother-in-law who let me live with them for the last two years, Matt is on his own with no family alive to help him. Meeting Matt opened my eyes to where I’d be if it weren’t for the support of my family.

Not every homeless person is lazy or addicted. Many are fighting to survive. But once they get down so far, it’s hard to get out again.

I’m so glad I took the time to talk with some of the homeless guests. The people who didn’t want to be bothered wouldn’t engage me at all. But the ones who wanted a little extra attention were glad to talk about movies, sports and other topics. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be. I even shared a laugh or two with a few men and women.

These men and women are hurting. It’s a hard life they live, and to have us come down once a month and treat them like humans means a lot. I learned that taking the time to ask questions about the weather or what kind of a day some of the men and woman had not only made them feel good but it also made me feel good.

Volunteering has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done so far in life. I believe it’s a starting point in my life to help hungry and hurting people around the world.

*Name has been changed

Find out how you can volunteer to help homeless men, women and children.