Why Can’t the Homeless Just Get a Job? (Part 1 of 2)

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9

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We’ve all been there… stuck in Charlotte’s rush hour traffic, podcast on, eyes strained from too many hours in front of a computer screen or talking to other people or children. As you exit 485 or 77 or your interstate of choice, wonderfully close to home, you stop beside a homeless man or woman standing on the corner with a cardboard sign asking for any help you may have to offer.

Maybe you lock your door or turn your attention to your phone or to pick something up off the floor… anything to avoid eye contact with that neighbor in need and praying for the light to change quickly. On one hand, your heart aches for this resident standing in the heat or cold or rain, just looking for a handout. On the other hand, you hear the thought flit across your mind, “Why can’t he just get a job like the rest of us?”

The question is valid, but the answer is complex. The circumstances that led a person into homelessness are as varying as the number of people on the street. For some, it was addiction, or jail time, or eviction, or fleeing from domestic abuse. For others, they are simply the next generation of an ongoing cycle of poverty.

As much as we’d like to admit it, we don’t all start with the same playing field. For those in Charlotte who have grown up watching the social structure within gangs or the income generated by the drug trade, it makes sense to follow on that path. Just as it’s common for those of us who have college as an understood step after high school to graduate and find a well-paying and well-suited job.

The barriers to entry are many:
1. a convicted felon will have a much more difficult time securing long term employment.
2. many employment applications require a permanent home address, which, for a neighbor on the street who shuttles among shelters, motels, benches and friends’ homes, is challenging, to say the least.
3. A government-issued ID. Many of us take for granted that we have had a photo ID since receiving our learner’s permits (no matter how many times it may have taken us to pass the test). Military IDs, driver’s licenses, passports, birth certificates, social security cards, and the like are not only difficult to keep up with on the streets, but for those coming out of prison, it may be starting at ground zero to even get them.
4. It’s common to find our homeless neighbors struggle with literacy, including reading and writing as well as computer and technology literacy. The ability to read or sign a job application is an enormous barrier for those looking to secure employment. While the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library offers computers and internet, tracking down every resource needed to find, apply, and interview for a job is a vast task.
5. Transportation to an interview is just the tip of the iceberg. Without dependable transportation to a job site, many job seekers face the reality of remaining unemployed or quickly losing the jobs they do find.
A look at the landscape is bleak, at best, but the Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center offers GED courses, financial training, mentorship, job training and job placement services to begin to offer hope to those ready to transform their lives. We believe in abiding by the truth found in Scripture. Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
We’ll explore more about this topic in part 2, but in the meantime, we invite you to join us as we join hands with those looking for ways to overcome their current reality.

What Is Homelessness? (And what can I do about it?)

40513980_10100559376776355_427109634021523456_nIn abstract, the term “homelessness,” carries a different mental image for all of us. Maybe it’s the cliche, torn cardboard sign, a slideshow of sad-looking people on a sidewalk set to the soundtrack of a Sarah McLachlan tune, or avoided eye contact on the side of the road.

For many, it may be easy to avoid colliding with homelessness altogether. It’s all too easy to stay in the Charlotte suburbs or take direct routes in and out of Uptown, sliding our eyes away from benches and doorways that are temporary shelter for our city’s homeless or nonchalantly locking the car doors in “unsafe” areas of town.

At the Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center, our mission is to give hope to the hopeless. We believe that education about the reality of generational poverty and homeless is paramount to extending grace and love.

Part of that education includes learning surprising facts about homelessness in our own backyard. In Charlotte, 1476 people were recorded experiencing homelessness as of 2017. 21% are children. Just under half are female, almost 80% are African American and another 5% are Latinx. At least 137 are veterans.

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to eradicating homelessness. A complex, bureaucratic and confusing system of government programs keeps many trapped in their impoverished and jobless situations. At the Dream Center, we extend our arms to bridge the confusion with hope, while clearly pointing our friends and neighbors to refuge and the rescuing love of Christ.

Practically speaking, in addition to our spiritually fortifying Bible studies and church services, we provide hands-on resources for those we serve like job training, GED classes, mentorship, financial services, nutrition classes and more. We know that the factors leading someone into homeless are complex at their core, but we have seen how an open hand, direct eye contact, and a simple, “Tell me your story,” can open a door to a transformative relationship.

We hope you’ll engage in the conversation on how to end homelessness in Charlotte and nationwide. And even more importantly, jump in and lend your hands and hearts.

There are roles for everyone in this mission, and the only way to move forward is together. Homelessness is a product of our country’s past and a problem of our present, and just because it isn’t happening directly to us doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting us and our community. To realize the role we each play in the solving of this problem, and then to work toward solutions, we have to understand it.

In the coming weeks on this blog, we’ll be addressing more specific issues with homelessness and generational poverty in Charlotte, how you can help, and most importantly, why you should.

Sources
National Health Care for the Homeless Council
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing and Homelessness Dashboard

A Profound Meal

A Thanksgiving story from Dream Center volunteer Sam Carson.

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I am extremely thankful that my family and I were able to host another family for Thanksgiving dinner.

I was serving one Sunday morning at Restoring Place Church when I met a child named Jayden for the first time. Jayden asked me if he could have Thanksgiving with my family. Immediately I said, “Yes,” and silently questioned whether or not he was being serious. I see now that it was beyond Jayden just asking to eat with my family, it was God working through Jayden to plant a seed in me.

Thanksgiving was still a few weeks away when Jayden made his request to have dinner with my family, so I spent those next few weeks thinking through if this was a realistic request  and what preparation would need to happen in order for it to work well. All along I had been thinking that I would just go pick Jayden up and bring him to Gastonia with my family. Then my sister, Tasha, asked if his entire family could come. I immediately felt overwhelmed. In over my head. “Sure, one extra person we could do, but an entire family?” I knew that God was already working when Jayden asked to have Thanksgiving dinner with my family. I put my plan before God, and I was trusting that He was working to establish my steps. I trusted that God was leading me.

A few nights passed before I called Joanne as a way to get in touch with Jayden’s family. Joanne reached out to the family to see if they would be interested. The family said that they were, so Joanne connected me with Jayden’s Mom, Shareeta. I called Shareeta and asked her if she and her family wanted to come over to my house to have Thanksgiving dinner with my family. She told me that she would bring Jayden and herself along with her fiancée, but her daughters would be going with their grandmother. I was filled with excitement of what this could mean for their family as well as mine. This was an opportunity to share with people who may have never felt this sort of hospitality. This was going to be an exciting experience for both families.

By the time Thanksgiving day came, Shareeta had adjusted her plans to include her two daughters as well, Jaloria and Jamiah. Through this whole series of events I grew more ecstatic to have our two families collide, for the children in each family to play with each other and for us all to just be able to spend time together. Shareeta arrived with her fiancée, Will, and her three kids. It was a cold afternoon, so they came bundled up in jackets and toboggans. I welcomed them inside and began introducing them to my family as the food was finishing cooking. After a few minutes, our two families together circled up in the kitchen to pray and give thanks to God for the food that we were about to enjoy, as well as giving thanks to God for providing us salvation through His son Jesus.

The conversations around the dinner table were filled with pretty average small talk. But the Thanksgiving dinner altogether was far from average for both of our families.

God loves His creations and expresses this daily in tangible ways. My hope for Jayden’s family is that they would have felt the love God has for them through our service to them. My hope for my family is that we will grow in our service to God and to others, and that through our obedience, more people would come to be known by our Father.

God provides. Ask and you will receive. Knock and it will be opened to you.

 

An Intern’s Perspective

A blog from the heart of our intern, Maelee Lapinsky.

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Interning for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center was not my first pick. I say that to be transparent, so you can really grasp the work that the Lord has been doing in me through all of this. I was originally going to intern for a law firm. It was suggested time and time again that I look into getting involved with the Dream Center, but I always made it clear that I was already occupied with something more up my alley. Fast forward to June 14th when instead of being at a desk sorting through legal papers, I found myself at a table with the staff of the Dream Center. I can’t really tell you how it ended up that way, because I am still trying to figure that out. One thing led to another and next thing I knew, I was the intern for the Dream Center.

In the beginning of this whole process that I am still in the midst of, I recognized a real bitterness growing in me due to not following through with my original plan. In the most cliche of terms, I am having to learn to ‘let go and let God’ which looks really good on a throw pillow, but when you try to implement that mentality into your everyday life, you will realize it is surprisingly HARD to give up what plan you feel is best for you in that season to pursue the all knowing, Creator of the universe’s plan for your life.

I have been shocked by what happens when you really trust the process, and trust the God of the process. Here I am continuing to learn with each Adopt-A-Block and every Reid Park Live that God placed me here, in this moment, to do this internship, for His glory. I am also amazed by the relationships I have made as well as the impact that has been made on me. A year ago I would have never thought that I would feel fulfilled by spending my Thursday nights handing out produce in the middle of a food desert. I am learning, I am loving, and I am creating lasting memories. With all of this said, I am not always insanely ecstatic to sit in I77 traffic only to spend 45 minutes in the neighborhood, but I am always comforted knowing that for those 45 minutes I had the opportunity to plant seeds in someone else’s life.

Over the course of the past few months I have realized that the potential ‘my’ plan holds for my life doesn’t compare to the promises that God’s plan carries. Ultimately, I know that my plan B, was always God’s plan A for me.

A Simple Approach

A blog post from the heart of our Community Outreach Coordinator, Susanna Mathew.

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When partnering with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center you often meet people that you may not know how to approach or help. We meet people who appear to have hit rock bottom, who are viewed as damaged by society or who appear. Pastor Matthew Barnett of the Los Angeles Dream Center says  “… rock bottom is not where people go to die but to be recreated.”

We believe that it is our job to meet them there, in their place of despair, hurt and rejection. We are called as Christians to pull the gold out of what seems like a lifeless rock, and sometimes that takes a lot of sifting. While searching for gold in others we often find the gifts that God has placed in us. When we learn to truly grasp the concept that we were all made in the image of a perfect and grace-filled God we begin to let those qualities shine through us.

All anyone needs is for someone to believe in them, sometimes that is as simple as a word of encouragement that will plant a seed. We don’t always get to see what that seed develops into and it is easy to give up when we do not see results immediately, but persistence and prayer leads to a place of peace. We get to trust that God, the maker and cultivator who places the gold in others and in us is in control.

If you would like to join us as extend a hand to those in need, we would love to have you volunteer with us!

Go With the Flow

A blog post from the heart of our associate director, Joanne Lowry.

It is easy to just go with the flow, to find a place of comfort in your relationship with Christ and others. When we are in this ‘go with the flow’ mentality we aren’t being intentional about pursuing all that God has in store for us and has prepared for us. “Spiritual growth requires an intentional effort. Spiritual stagnation and decline require no effort at all.” When we fail to exert these conscious acts we don’t receive all of the things God has for us. On a larger scale, when we aren’t intentional in our relationships with others, it is easy to make them feel like they are people of convenience not of worth.

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It is part of our mission to make each and every person feel wanted, needed and accepted despite their situation. Intentionally loving others and making them feel like they BELONG, in the midst of what ever lifestyle they may be living paired with speaking and BELIEVING truth over their lives has the potential to produce a radical change in BEHAVIOR. We see growth in ourselves and in our community when we deliberately choose to help those around us. The goal is to be a group of people who live and love by decision, not by default.
One way you can choose to live intentionally is by donating your time to The Dream Center.  To volunteer, click here.

Through the Eyes of a Volunteer: The Eversons

The hard work, dedication and consistency of our volunteer network is inspiring and helps make the Dream Center possible. We were moved to see one of our families, the Eversons, so impacted by their time with our neighbors. In fact, their son Michael recently wrote a paper sharing his experiences:

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I believe that the solution to poverty lies in the hands of those who are passionate about making change. Christians are called to help those in needs using the gifts that we have been given to work as the hands and feet of Jesus. In Romans 12:6-8 Paul says: “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.”

When we share what God is doing in and through us we can inspire and motivate others to let God work through them. It is important when reading others testimonies to realize that sometimes to create change we have to step out of our comfort zones. My job is to get people excited so that positive change can occur. I hope after reading my testimony you will graciously give your gift to those in need.

When I was young and immature, my family moved to a new church, which changed our lives. We were lukewarm Christians that were not on fire for Jesus. That church brought a whole new look to Christianity for us; at the time, it led my parents spiritually. I was still young when we moved there and I did not understand a lot. Since first moving there, I have grown with my family spiritually over the past few years, we were all feeling pretty comfortable with where we were at, but there was still that piece that was missing. We had been fed abundantly with scripture and good teaching, but we had not been fed with the beauty of service. My family and I found that we were aching to give. God threw the King’s Kitchen and the Dream into our lives through one of my mom’s friends.

The Dream Center has created a bond in those neighborhoods that no amount of money could ever buy. We were invited to Friday Night Street Ministry one night, and I was excited to see what God had in store for me through this new experience. We spoke to people about their lives and created relationship with them. Poverty is abundant, and it can appear in different forms. Some people are monetarily living in poverty but others are spiritually poor. The job of the Dream Center is to reach those in both situations.

With testimonies being shared, more people can go out and do service for God which can sometimes include just being willing to listen. It is easy to get through life just living for yourself, but people don’t know the treasures that lie in service. Calling Friday nights service even seems a little wrong because all we do is love on people. More people in love with God means more people in love with service and more people involved in service means a change in poverty. Because of the Adopt-A-Block program the crime in Reid Park (which is one of the most dangerous and poverty stricken neighborhoods in Charlotte) has gone down from 5 dangerous crimes to 1 per week. The Adopt-A-Block program does not give those people money; they just bring God’s love and build relationships.

The whole experience the past couple months has changed the way I view people; I have found that I judged the appearance of everyone, but really people who look scary on the outside can surprise you and be the most open to talking about their life. Don’t be mistaken. I’m not asking everyone to go out and preach in a prison or get on the streets and share the gospel, but God calls us to share the word. All I am asking is that you use the gift that has been given to you to give to others.

EricBelk

Eric

Meet Eric. Waxhaw native. Singer. Comic. Skilled machinist. Delivered from addiction to drugs and alcohol. Homeless since 2008. Friend to his neighbors on the street. Known as “Pops.”READ MORE

Hezekiah

Hezekiah

Hezekiah’s life has led him across a spectrum of successes and struggles. His prowess on the football field led to a stint as a semi-pro player and a earned him membership into the 1980 National Football Foundation Hall of Fame (pictured in the ceremony program).

He spent 6 years serving our country as a US Army drill sergeant. And he has also painfully endured the death of two wives from cancer, addiction battles and homelessness.

But, Hezekiah has hope thanks to the Dream Center and The King’s Kitchen & Bakery, where he works as a dishwasher and attends daily Bible studies. “I’m finally finding some kind of peace. I’m able to deal with situations in my past from perspective. Old demons that used to set me off don’t have as much of an effect on me,” he says.

ShawnMassey

Shawn

Shawn’s is a story of forgiveness and hope. After serving 12 years in prison following a wrongful conviction, Shawn was exonerated, thanks to the help of a team from the Duke University School of Law committed to helping those misidentified and wrongfully prosecuted, in 2010. But his situation leaves him feeling as though he is still in prison here in Charlotte.READ MORE