Who Are the Homeless?
About the Guest
When you see the homeless man holding a cardboard sign asking for help, what do you really think? In their 10,000 mile journey across America and into the homeless culture, Michael and Haley DiMarco are discovering that many preconceptions we have about homeless people are way off.
When you see the homeless man holding a cardboard sign asking for help, what do you really think?
Who Are the Homeless?
Bob: But I’m talking about jumping into a motor home and going 10,000…
Hayley: Right. This is what happened. He came up with the idea and he thought man against the world and he was going to go out in a van and travel across the country.
Dennis: By himself.
Hayley: Yes, by himself and sleep in a parking lot and I thought how fun.
Michael: I wouldn’t have to shave or bathe or anything.
Hayley: I think I’m kind of an unusual woman because we’ve talked to a lot of women who have said they would never do that. I thought that would be great. So I wasn’t in the picture but a few things happened in our lives that Michael decided and so did I that we should all go us and our daughter. I thought it was great. You get to travel the world.
Bob: How old is your daughter?
Michael: Three when we started.
Hayley: Four. That’s right she was three when we started and we had her birthday on the road.
Dennis: So you are traveling around visiting major cities?
Michael: Yes, major cities and minor cities as well. Visiting homeless shelters, faith based organizations, and Christian organizations that have a heart for being Jesus’ hands and feet to the homeless and the hungry.
Bob: Did you start off with the heart for the homeless? I mean I kind of confessed my own bias here. Is this something that has been on your heart for a long time?
Michael: Well, you know me but anyone that knows me knows that I am fairly heartless so that’s the weird juxtaposition of me on this project.
Dennis: Do you think God is trying to do some heart surgery?
Michael: Well, that’s the thing. Hayley and I for any of the projects that we tackle we tend to tackle the good ideas regardless of the state of our heart. We find that God works on our heart through those projects.
Dennis: You know we have found the same thing to be true as we have attempted to help orphans. We thought we were doing something noble to help orphans and it turns out as we reach out to the foster care children and to orphans and talking about adoption God has some surgery to perform on our hearts as well.
I think it’s important for our listeners to hear you say that because you don’t have to have a degree in social work to venture off into this. You have actually found yourself in Las Vegas going to where the homeless people go. They lodge in an unusual place though.
Michael: Las Vegas has been named the most unfriendly city to the homeless in the nation because of a lot of the city ordinances they have passed to make the Las Vegas strip family friendly. At first the homeless would set up in what they call tent city which was some blocks off the non new seedy part and then the city broke up tent city where these tents would be lining two city blocks and they put barricades up on the sidewalks so they couldn’t set up the tents anymore. So a lot of the homeless actually have moved into these flash flood tunnels that are beneath the strip where it’s cooler in the summer but they average one to two deaths a year just from people being trapped down there when the storms come and flash flooding happens. People set up like their bookcases and their flashlights with huge dangers of black widow spider infestations down there.
Bob: Just living under ground?
Michael: Living under ground because they can’t even live on the street because of the city has been dispersing them. Hayley and I can’t leave a good idea alone whether we are qualified or not because we feel like if God gives us an idea to do something and we have the means to do it we’re going to do it. So we sold our brand new minivan that was paid off and paid for and we sold our ski boat and bought this motor home and started off on a journey.
Dennis: 10,000 miles?
Michael: 10,000 miles and no camera crew or anything like that.
Dennis: You are doing your own video taping?
Michael: We are doing our own video taping, audio taping, and did all of the editing. Basically all of our gear fits in a duffle bag in a back pack and No Room at the Inn is done.
Dennis: You are speaking of the Christmas story being read by homeless mothers?
Michael: That’s right. Homeless women and mothers and also video of their testimonies and their stories because so many of them respond the same way and say the same statement. I’m not your typical homeless person.
Hayley: And yet they aren’t. The fact of the matter is what we think and what the general population thinks of homelessness is the guy on the street with the cardboard sign that is begging you for money so he can go get a drink. Face it. That’s what we think of when we think of homelessness and that is why most of us cross to the other side of the road especially for me being a mom with a toddler. I don’t want to go down the street where there is a lot of people begging and grungy guys are wondering around.
But what we’ve discovered is that is not the majority of the population of homelessness. It’s women with children. These families have been displaced. Or who through addiction or bad choices have ended up on the street. These are women as I’m seeing that are like me. They have little kids that play with Addie. They are the same age and that to me is the compelling story that we are missing.
When we think about homelessness and helping that cause we miss the fact that that is really who is out there calling for us to help them and who will take our help and make a change rather than the guy on the street.
Bob: So the picture that I have in my mind and you describe some of it. I think of people with emotional problems, people who are drug or alcohol dependent often.
Dennis: And you generally think of men.
Bob: I generally think of people who have just developed survival coping skills and if you came along and said look we’d love to take you into our home. We’d love to help you get a job and get established these guys and I say guys because I’m thinking of men but these guys like their street life better than they would like the straight life.
Michael: Right. Just to take one city for example we spent a lot of time in Denver this summer because the international Christian retail show was there so we were there for book signings and things like that. We actually spent the bulk of our time there with the Denver rescue mission and a great organization called Providence Network. The fact of the matter is in Denver less that 10 percent of the homeless is what people consider chronically homeless.
Bob: The people I’ve described?
Michael: Yes, people with the shopping cart and card board sign under the overpass people. Ninety percent of the homeless population in Denver don’t fit that category. It’s almost a category of invisible homeless and the shocking statistic is that 48 percent of the nearly four million people that will be homeless at some point this year will be women or women with small children. That is not the picture that we have of homelessness.
Dennis: One statistic that I ran across said that 7 percent of the population are unaccompanied minors. We’re talking about children under the age of 18 on the streets alone. That is a huge number.
Michael: It is huge. Part of the cause of that is our culture glorifying a lot of different experiences and places. I met a young man in Orange County California who grew up in the south and saw images of LA and Hollywood and said I’m having trouble in school so I’m going to hop on a bus and go out to LA. He went to Los Angeles, California with less than $100 in his pocket. Now how long would you or I last with our resources in LA?
What happens is he starts meeting people and looking for a part time job. Even with a minimum wage job you can’t live in Southern California so he starts couch surfing as a lot of people like to call it. Surfing from couch to couch with different friends and it ended up that even though he didn’t do drugs a lot of people that are in this couch surfing culture do drugs he literally found his bottom.
One morning he woke up after sleeping like sardines or lined up like corded wood on a living room floor to his best friend who had overdosed that night. He woke up to his friend’s body cold and dead. That’s when he said I need help. Fortunately, providentially, he went to Orange county rescue mission which has a great program and Jim Palmer the President and Director of that rescue mission helped take him in and got him not only fed and under a roof but he also gave him a purpose and taught him about the love of Christ. That’s what this project has been all about. It’s hearing these people’s stories and showing people that these men and women could be your sons, your daughters, your sisters or your brothers. They could be your next door neighbors. It’s no longer the classic case of the mentally ill homeless person as the majority.
Bob: That’s where again this preconception that I have of the rugged individualism. Your family would kick in or your church ought to kick in or you figure out a way to get tough and get a job and survive. I don’t want to lack compassion for those who are genuinely in need but there is part of me that I think looks and goes “if these people really wanted help they could get help and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Is that right or not?
Michael: Well, it’s totally right as far as what should happen but as you are intimately aware the family unit is on life support in our country.
Dennis: You’re saying that some of these families that they come from aren’t in existence or aren’t in a position to be able to welcome them back or to help them?
Michael: At times it’s that. Other times it’s pure pride. Like I said I was going to come to California and my dad said you’ll never make it. It’s a stupid decision. I’m not going to prove him right so I’m not going to call them and tell them what I’m doing. That I’m sleeping in cars or meeting men just to find a place to live.
Dennis: I’m not going to ask for help.
Michael: Right. So there is this huge population of people that whether by addiction or by bad choices or just life happening to them they are finding themselves in these places. And we also want to tell the stories of the people that have stepped out to help and who are trying to be Jesus’ hands and feet. It’s not just social workers. It’s not just kind of the bleeding heart soft fuzzy but a lot of them are reformed elder brothers who have found a lot of the things they have been prioritizing in their lives isn’t as enriching as helping those in need.
Dennis: You know as we talk about helping those who have no home and are poor and have had some tough things happen to them here at Christmas time families think about these matters and they ask what can I do? Perhaps we’re walking by these people in the market place as we go shopping. They are begging. I’m wondering what would you advise of a family that is listening? Would you advise them to put $20 in the hand of that beggar or would you advise them to do something a little different?
Michael: Well, I’d never advise them not to put $20 in the hands of the beggar because I think that is up to the person and how the Spirit of God is working in them at that moment. But what I would say it that almost every expert because we are not experts. We’re learning on the fly. What every expert has communicated to us as far as people that are working to get permanent change in these people’s lives is to volunteer or give their time and money to those organizations in their communities that are really focused and dialed in to the population.
Dennis: And helping them develop job skills and financial plans and maybe take on some of the issues that ultimately resulted in them being homeless. Help them work through an educational and training process as well as talking about the spiritual issue of life to them. That’s where you’d give your time.
Michael: That’s right because the return on investment of a person’s time going into one of these shelters or group homes to paint a wall, to redo some carpet or to just volunteer your time is immeasurable besides just the dollars. We would really encourage, too, to make it a family affair. Not only is it rewarding and teaching them ministry opportunity there is also some education by example. They can hear these women’s stories and how they made bad decisions so that they can maybe avoid those by seeing the consequences in the flesh.
Hayley: I want to say that I think it is important to look at these situations of homelessness as a spiritual opportunity. To me that is the big thing for us to consider. There is a spiritual opportunity to bring these people to an understanding of a relationship with Christ. Because the people who don’t have family and don’t have a church family they can go to they are finding themselves with nothing. Those are the people that need help and know they need help. We all come to Christ because we get to the bottom. We finally realize I can’t do it by myself.
Hayley: So this is an opportunity. The guy on the street who doesn’t care and who likes being on the street that’s not a spiritual opportunity. We’re talking about women, children, and families that want to make a difference for their kids and so this is our chance to help that.
Dennis: In this economy there is an increased number of these folks that need us to engage and that’s really why Bob and I wanted to talk with you today to bring this before our listening audience. As you look at the month of December don’t merely look at Christmas Day or Christmas Eve but think about how your family could perhaps volunteer and go near those who have been ill treated or have fallen on hard times. Don’t enable them by just giving them money but express the love of Christ by serving them and coming alongside them and cheering those on who give leadership to those organizations that take care of these folks.
Bob: We have a list on our web site at FamilyLife Today.com of some of the organizations that you’ve found that you recommend. In fact you have included that information as a part of the advent devotional you put together. I really like this DVD devotional experience that you have created for us during the Christmas season. It’s called, “No Room at the Inn” and it’s a 25 day multimedia advent experience.
I know some of our listeners are thinking it’s already December 4th so we are behind the times on this. You can catch up. You can go online at FamilyLife Today.com and request a copy of this DVD.
What you’ll get is behind the scenes mini documentary that highlights the Hungry Planet Bible Project some of the folks that you’ve met as you’ve toured around the country. Discussion questions so that you as a family can talk about what you can do to reach out to the homeless and helpless at Christmas time. Again, there is information on our web site about the “No Room at the Inn” interactive advent devotional. It’s a DVD ROM that Michael and Hayley have put together. Go to FamilyLife Today.com for more information.
And while you are there let me also encourage you to get a copy of the book that Barbara Rainey has written called When Christmas Came because this whole book is about the givingness of God. John 3:16 says “God so loved the world that He gave.” If we are going to be Christlike then we have to be givers as well. I’d encourage you to get a copy of the book. It includes original water color work by Barbara along with an extended mediation on John 3:16.
You can order from us if you’d like or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329, that’s 1-800- “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life and then the word TODAY and someone on our team can let you know how you can get these resources sent to you.
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Tomorrow Michael and Hayley DiMarco will be back and we will talk more about their trip around the country and about the reality of homelessness in America. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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