The Difference Between Homelessness & Hope

Nov 13, 2013

“I was eleven years old when I joined a gang.”

Those were the first words she spoke into the microphone. Five hundred men and women in pressed suits and sequened dresses sat at round tables, stunned and silent. They thought of eleven-year-old sons and daughters back at home, tucked beneath Egyptian cotton sheets and behind locked doors.

Eleven? How does a little girl end up in a gang at eleven?

But that was just the beginning. What followed in the next five minutes was a story of gang activity, drug money, teen pregnancy, and constant fear. But also a story of belonging. Because even when loaded weapons and drugs sit on the kitchen table, at least a gang provides a place to call home.

Saturday night, I emceed the annual Hope House Gala, a fundraiser for an organization that empowers parenting teenage moms to strive for personal and economic self-sufficiency. I guess I’m ignorant, or at least naive. Is teen pregnancy still a crisis?

Yes, it is. According to Hope House’s director, Lisa Steven, 4,000 babies will be born to teen moms in Colorado this year alone. Of those teen moms, only one third will graduate from highschool. Of those, only 1% will graduate from college. The vast majority of teen moms will drop out of school, live well below the poverty level, and, in many cases, become homeless. Their babies along with them.

That’s how an eleven year old becomes a longtime gang member. Because when you don’t have anywhere to go and need a place to belong, you’ll do just about anything to find a family.

I stood to the side of the platform while the now twenty-year-old thriving mom of two told her story. To my right sat my husband. Back at home, my children. Peppered over the city of Denver, countless friends. A couple states away, my parents and a brother. Countless evidences of relationship, vivid reminders that I’m not alone.

And it occurred to me: That’s the difference. That’s the difference between a girl dependent on a gang and girl who can stand up in a filled ballroom and tell her story of salvation.

Relationship.

Relationship is the difference between homelessness and hope. It changes circumstances. Changes outcomes. Changes people.

Hope House does this on a daily basis, through their residential program, mentoring program and career partnership and GED programs. And by making sure each girl hears about the God who adores her.

Even so. Organizations don’t change the world. People do. 

The mentor who helped this girl break her ties with the gang. The GED instructor that helped her pass her tests. The career coach who inspired her launch her own business. It took relationship to change the story.

So what does this have to do with you and me?

If you’re living a story you don’t like, if you’re in the middle of a crisis and want to find a way out, one of the best things you can do is to invest in healthy relationship. The temptation is to shrink away, hole up in a corner and isolate. Instead, reach out. Ask for help. Allow yourself to be loved and surrounded and led.

But second (and perhaps even more important), in the living of our own stories we mustn’t ignore a world filled with eleven year olds (and thirty and forty year olds) who are looking for a place to call home. Maybe not a bed or permanent residence, but a meal at your table. A phone call. A card. A conversation. Or maybe simply a kind word and vote of confidence.

In all our organizational agendas and investments, let’s not forget transformation is driven by relationship. Individuals who are desperate for hope, and individuals who love them enough to give them some.

Outside of a spouse, children or family member, who needs a dose of relationship from you?  

 

8 Comments

  1. Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

    Hi Michelle,
    Stories like this give me the chills. I grew up in Los Angeles, and at fifteen met my future husband. He was a burglar and car thief, and his best friends were pimps and gang members from East Los Angeles. We married when I was sixteen and he was twenty-one and before the year was out I had my first-born son. He left us to go join in the fun his best friends were having, and I eventually found my way into a little white church in the middle of a neighborhood. I was surrounded by a new family. These people took this stringy-haired, skinny, mentally ill hippie and her two little children and nurtured us like we were newborns. I watched these families and how they lived their lives…and eventually, I modeled my own family after what I saw. My children grew up strong, healthy, level-headed, and law abiding (think about that!). They are now, along with my husband, my very best friends in the world. They have given me ten grandchildren and two great-grandchildren (so far!). And in all the storms in life, that church family, and other church families, have been my support,my guide, my cheerleaders.

    I ended up working as a therapist for the Florence Crittenton Center for Pregnant and Parenting Teens. It was surreal, meeting girls who came out of the gang banger lifestyle, who didn’t feel they had a family to belong to, eventually thaw out and be drawn like a moth to a flame to healthy, loving people who just reached out a hand. Thankful for you, Michelle.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Linda, what a story! I love how God weaves all things together. YOU are an inspiration. How blessed those girls are to have you!

      Reply
  2. Bethany Turner

    Michele, this is a beautiful story. “Organizations don’t change the world. People do.” I love this!

    Reply
    • Michele

      Thank you, Bethany. She’s a beautiful (and brave) girl.

      Reply
  3. Ree Klein

    Hi Michele,

    That was a beautiful and inspiring story that bubbled up another, equally amazing story from Linda in the comments. I feel so fortunate to have been raised in a loving family where I had nothing to fear and a safe place to lay my head each night. I’m grateful.

    Thank you for reminding me to be grateful and that transformation doesn’t happen on its own, but instead the interaction with good people who want to make a difference. We all owe that to the world in our own way.

    Ree

    Reply
    • Michele

      I agree … Linda’s story is so inspiring. I, too, have much to be grateful for. A childhood with safety and love.

      Reply
  4. Kerith Stull

    Wow. That last line stopped me in my tracks. Definitely gave me food for thought. I’ve never thought of it as “a dose of a relationship.” Awesome.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Thank you, Kerith.

      Reply

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