We’ve been hearing from our homeless friends about the Trenton Transit Station and about how certain Transit Police are badgering the homeless over the past few days. This happens from time to time and every once and a while it reaches a crescendo, a high point and then suddenly people are getting maced and arrested. We are at this point again now.
The ministry we are involved in spends multiple hours with the homeless in Trenton every week. We sit with them, talk with them, study with them, connect with them, we take day trips with them; we do all we can to connect and value them. The goal of the ministry is share the love of Christ with them, to give hope and love. We know that Christ can rebuild any life, save any soul and ultimately those that grab hold of the relationship that Jesus offers will be better off. We do supply practical needs, we respond in emergencies with supplies and hotel stays and we care for as many as we can. We attempt to help them through the broken social services system and help them find jobs and housing. We even attempt to help them restore family relationships. We do our best to keep them safe, fed, protected and loved. The cost is immense financially and emotionally for our ministry and team.
All of these folks have emotional baggage, most much deeper then you and I. There are some with serious mental illness. The fact that there are seriously mental ill people on the street is heartbreaking, but in your mind, set these folks aside for a moment for this conversation. I’m not referring to this section of people on the street right now. For the sake of helping you understand the division I am trying to create, let’s call the remaining group of homeless, high functioning homeless.
This group can manage on the street and deal with the basics of being homeless. It’s important to understand, homelessness is just a state of being, it doesn’t describe the person. Once you establish trust, you’ll find most homeless folks to be caring and compassionate, humble and deeply hurt. Once you establish trust you see their desperate desire to be valued and loved. Please, it’s important to understand, that establishing trust takes training and months if not years of consistent caring contact.
Homelessness for most is a gradual decline, it doesn’t suddenly jump upon someone. For some it does, but in the majority it is a slow walk to reach this place. Regardless of the journey to this spot, the result is a hurt person, that feels betrayed, devalued, unloved, unprotected and alone that is truly helpless. They are always on guard against danger and abuse, from other homeless folks, from passer-byes, the police, even from ministries. They can strike out as a first reaction, in what seems to be an unbalanced and over the top reaction to the simplest thing. It is a scary thing to see and experience.
As an individual, Even as a 6’4” 300lb plus man, I find it scary at times. There have been rare occasions when even I wondered how far this reaction would go, wondering if I was in danger. Trust me, this is real and I mean this, but training as taught us as a ministry how to de-escalate these incidents.
But commonly there is a dysfunction in the way these folks handle relationships. When you consider the journey, the condition on the streets and months and months or years of abuse received on the streets, the constant barrage of betrayal and abuse provided there from so many sources, you see quickly how a verbally over the top or violent reaction to a perceived threat to a homeless heart is, to them, the best form of self protection.
They have no where to run, no house to go to, no place to retreat too. An emotional or physical response that communicates “Get away from me!”, is the best defense. If you’re heart is not breaking now, you might need to re-read this post again to this point.
Now, we’ve attempted to paint the emotional and spiritual picture for you. Now consider the physical… Add now no good sleep, no soft bed, no regular showers, no consistent health care. Get the picture now?
They are defenseless, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Now, We try and respect law enforcement. We see the challenge of the job, but when we hear of and see badgering of homeless individuals, about the constant rousting of them from places that are essentially public, We get upset.
We understand law enforcement and the need for it, the need for public safety in public places and I understand trying to handle unruly people and situations. But We don’t understand waking a sleeping man or woman to have them “move along”. We don’t understand following a homeless person, once they’ve gotten up to move, by command, and badgering them while they move out. We don’t understand, detaining people in hand cuffs you see everyday, in the same location and harassing them. We don’t understand denying people access to city and county homeless outreaches inside the train station, when you know these outreaches are for the homeless and the person you are preventing from accessing the outreach is homeless. We don’t understand police officers that yell at and degrade people in handcuffs. We don’t understand giving tickets for simple, in many cases, provoked reactions to the homeless, that we know they cannot pay, and will eventually for most become warrants. We don’t understand why no police official, no DA, judge, no political representative sees the issues here.
If they do, We don’t see the reaction or a plan to fix this.
We know the plan that the Transit Center police have to “help” the homeless – arrest them. That plan was shared with me, directly from the mouth of a Transit Police Officer who is directly involved with the homeless and partners with the City of Trenton and some other organizations, like VOA. We are sure destroying any future chances to gain employment or contributing to the emotional distress of that individual or creating further mistrust, or driving an individual further and further away from normal society is a help to the homeless… are you kidding?
Can you see the scenario here? 1) the plan is to arrest them. 2) the homeless are helpless, with no where to retreat too, carrying deep emotional scars and a over the top reaction is sometimes their only defense 3) the police are at times all over these people, like this week.
Can you see it? It’s a system built to abuse the homeless. And please understand, we know these folks well, we see the unbalanced understanding around acceptable behavior and what is normal, but honestly, most have no idea or what normal looks like for a homeless person and what they have to carry around each day. The police should.
We pray and We continue to pray for help, for solutions, for favor in this ministry around this problem. We have contacted the divisional HQ for the Transit Police, I’ve contacted our City contacts and We are waiting.
We run Bible studies at that location, 2 sometimes 3 a week each feeding and ministering up to 25 people a study. We spend about 6-10 hours at that building at week, either inside or outside and frankly we are am just waiting for the day when they kick us out at well.
God himself warns of our treatment of the poor, explains to us how He holds them dear in His heart.
We have put this before God, I have laid this at His feet, but admittedly my heart is still not at rest. Certainly not because We don’t trust God, We certainly do, but because it’s another day, and another day of the guys having to worry about being safe or left at rest. So We wait for wisdom and direction from God. We can see when ministry includes advocacy and advocacy goes to protest. Admittedly, We are a bit distressed by the reports from our friends and the responses of the officials We have been talking to over the past few days and those that haven’t returned our calls.
While we wait, We just think more people need to hear these things, need to see and feel the conditions on the street, the policies and practices and real life for the poorest of the poor in our area.
Would you please lift this up to God with us? Lift up the men and women on the streets as well as the police and please lift this ministry up for provision, wisdom and guidance, while we attempt to be useful in this place.