Atheist visits Homeless Shelterby Don Lacey on Jul. 13, 2012, under Atheism, Christian Self-Righteous Arrogance, Christianity, Critical Thinking, Economics, Ethics, Faith, God & Bible, Power of Prayer, Question of the Day!, Reason, Religion, Sanity, That's Life!, Willful Ignorance
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Jim Wilson reports on his visit to a homeless shelter:
Years ago, a college assignment had me researching homelessness and the operations of homeless shelters. For my report, I interviewed the proprietor of the area where I resided. The place looked like a prison. It was far from the main road fenced in and was made of large concrete without many windows. There was a main entry room where I had to wait and there were two halls going opposite directions where the residents slept.
I informed the guard at the entrance that I was there to visit the manager. He had me sit in the lobby while I waited. A young man probably in his early twenties sat on one of the benches across from me. His hair was matted his clothes did not fit right and his hands seemed to be stained with oil and grease in a way that reminded me of someone who spends time working in a machine shop. He asked permission to use my cellular phone and I obliged but warned that I would need it back soon.
He used my phone to call some relative. He asked if they would be willing to pay him to help with some gardening or any other type of household work. It sounded like he was very desperate to work for even the smallest amount of money but was having difficulty as he had seemed to have alienated himself from the rest of his family. He hung up in frustration when I signaled I needed my phone back.
I had a nice quick visit with the manager. He seemed nice. He explained that this was a working shelter. If I recall correctly, this meant the residents had to pay a fee: something like 20 or 40 dollars to stay for some given period a few weeks or perhaps a month. They had to actively show they were looking for work or work in the facility’s kitchen or maintenance shop. The money paid for food and maintenance of the shelter and other services that the facility provided. They had a whole staff of counselors and case managers who provided a wide range of services including a battered women’s shelter. He explained that there were strict rules the residents had to follow including a curfew. My overall impression was positive.
On my way out, I ran into the same young man who to borrow my phone. I allowed him to use it again and he called a few more relatives or acquaintances and asked if they would allow him to work for a small amount of money. His stay was ending the next day if he was unable to pay up. He asked me if I would pay him the required fee in exchange for washing my car. I said sure and we went into town.
On the way, he thanked me profusely. He told me that I really saved him that he would be on the streets again if not for my willingness to help him. He told me that he wanted to work hard and become as successful as I was. I replied that I’m really not that successful that I was really quite a mess actually. He pointed out that I could afford a car as well as nice clothes (I dressed business casual for the interview).
Then he started praying: Thank you God for bringing this person into my life! Thank you God for all you do for us. Thank you for sending your son to die… He was very dramatic at this point at the verge of breaking into tears. I couldn’t say anything. I had no doubts about his sincerity either. He discussed his frustration with his family with the homeless shelter and its tight rules. He felt that the management saw him as a source of trouble and would have been happy to see him kicked out for not having the requisite money. I of course cannot confirm any of this but he did tell me the next time I saw him that the manager was angry at him for asking me for the money.
We got to a self service car wash and I paid the money needed to wash the car plus the money he needed and he did a thorough job of scrubbing the outside and vacuuming between the seats.
On the way back he started praying out loud again: Thank you lord so much for the wonderful things you do in my life! This time, I said you know. I don’t think that actually does anything. I’m an atheist! His seemed a little shocked. He asked if this meant I believe we all come from monkeys. I said that was an over simplification but yes I accept evolution. He said he still thought I was a great person and said he wanted to be like me.
To me the whole thing was a reminder that I am just a decent education a few lucky breaks and a small amount of hard work away from being in this man’s position. I cannot help but see the irony of someone who has led such a lack-luster existence being so thankful to God. The same God that he believes put him in that situation. It could be worse. He could have been a starving Ethiopian. It is interesting that people who are better off do not rejoice the same way every little thing goes right in their life. Anyway I do what I can for those around. It’s the right thing to do.
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