Every month, our program staff share stories about their work and the people they serve. We want to share some of those stories with you! This story is from Sarah Boone, our Home At Last caseworker. We’ve done a little bit of editing for clarity.
Since coming here to Back Bay Mission I have eagerly awaited an invitation to go to a homeless camp to meet with a demographic we had maybe not reached prior to this point. I went into it thinking I could pour out some information and pass out some pamphlets in hopes we could open some form of communication and help to better their situation. I got so much more than I could have ever expected. In fact, it could be said I received more out of the experience than they did.
A homeless gentleman who regularly comes for services here at Back Bay Mission offered to act as my homeless liaison between myself and some camps that he was intimately familiar with in Harrison County. We set a date and time to set out on our homeless camp voyage. The morning we were set to leave, the Biloxi Starbucks whom I have built a relationship with serendipitously contacted me and said they had 20 extra sandwiches, could I use them for my outreach that day? What a blessing to be able to have a hot offering to take into the woods with me on that day. My homeless liaison and I set out with sandwiches, pamphlets, information, and a lot of excitement.
When I say there are moments in our lives that not only shape who we are as people but move us deeply, that is what it was like for my first camp experience. When we reached the camp, there were three men and one woman present. The woman was very standoffish while the men were very welcoming. I gave them the sandwiches… and this was the moment where my perspective shifted, and I knew without a doubt that the human spirit is amazing. These men called all the neighboring camps and offered a sandwich to everyone that wanted one. One said, “we are a community and we need to take care of each other.” And I thought how amazing is it that the people who have nothing give everything away with no reluctance and no expectations outside of genuine concern. We sat and talked about what homelessness means to them, and worked at building a relationship. Thirty minutes in, the woman who was standoffish came over and sat next to me in the chair and told me her story and why they all felt reluctant to strangers and the dangers of living in the woods. And still the spirit in the camp was so inspiring.
In total I met eight spirited homeless people on our voyage into their woods. But I gained more than them. As thankful as they were for the sandwiches and outreach information, I was more grateful. My spirit was filled because of who they are and the human decency and kindness they showed me, a stranger; their neighbor homeless friends that they made sure were fed, it’s a moment I won’t forget. Before we left one of the gentlemen looked at me and said, “I think now is a good time to pray for you and what you have done for us.” We stood all eight in the camp, my homeless liaison, and myself in a circle. We held hands and each prayed. They prayed for me, they gave thanks to Starbucks for their donation. It was a moving moment that I could not have predicted and a memory I will cherish. And while they were so thankful for me I am eternally grateful for them. I have since been back to the woods and try to regularly keep contact so we can continue to build trust. Because of our meeting they came to our Thanksgiving dinner here as well as attending the homeless coalition at the Donald Snyder Center. It serves as a reminder to me that God puts people in our lives and paths that will forever be pivotal to personal growth as well as a reminder that basic human kindness can go a long way.