When I found out I would be helping to furnish and set up a home for a homeless recipient, I started having flashbacks of all the moving I did in college. My first thought was I hope we don’t have to climb stairs, my second was I should probably wear tennis shoes, as I am not the most graceful person. I was also thinking about how hot the day would be and hoped we would be doing more inside than outside. I wonder what all we would be buying? Furniture, bedding, kitchen supplies, clothes, groceries? What did moving a homeless person into a new home entail?
I had no clue how much this day would change my life. I will be honest and say my thoughts on the homeless were pretty negative. Unless I’m with my church group at a soup kitchen, I’m uncomfortable when I see a homeless person. Are they going to ask for money or food or yell at me if I don’t pay attention to them? When I lived in Knoxville, I was closer to downtown and experienced the homeless on a daily basis. I got so used to seeing them outside stores, but I simply ignored them. I passed by them each day without really giving them much thought. I believed the stereotype that most homeless people are on the streets because of a drug or alcohol addiction and no real drive to find a job. But, all of this changed when I had the chance to meet up with Katie from Community Alliance for the Homeless.
Currently,there is a nation wide initiative to house 100,000 homeless in the U.S. this year. Memphis has a goal of housing 100 homeless. The criteria, which has been set for this program, is to house the most desperate and in need of shelter, who are those who have the highest risk of death on the streets in two years time. This information was completely mind-boggling to me. The homeless suddenly became real to me. I thought of all the times I have passed someone holding a sign under a bridge, intersection, or outside of a store and for the first time thought about their life and the will to live.
I would be meeting Katie, Lauren, and Sarah at an apartment complex, in the Hickory Hill area. It has been ages since I have driven past the old Central Church and Hickory Ridge Mall. Memories of eating at Cracker Barrel and heading to the carousel at the mall came flooding back. Unfortunately, the area is not what I remembered, and I began to feel uneasy about where I was driving. This feeling quickly went away as we got busy planning our day. We unloaded two full loads of furnishings for the home. This included a kitchen table and chairs, queen mattress and box springs, and a chest of drawers. It has been a few years since I have moved furniture like this and I knew I would be feeling it the next day! With a budget of $1000, we had a long way to go to make this apartment look like a home. We made a plan to head to Habitat for Humanity Restore and Goodwill. You could say we hit the jack pot at Habitat for Humanity Restore. Here we found a love seat and a tv stand in very good condition, very reasonably priced. We loaded up and headed down to Goodwill where we found some essential items for the kitchen. What I had not thought about were all the other essentials of daily living, that really make a house feel like a home. Items such as, a hand towel draped over the oven, pot holders, something as simple as soap sitting on the kitchen sink, or a candle on a table. So we headed to Big Lots for personal hygiene items, towels for the bathroom and kitchen, pillows for the couch and bed, blankets, sheets and comforter, small rugs, cleaning supplies, and other decorative items for the home. And the finishing touch, a clock radio! (We found out our recipient, Ray, loves rock music!) We crammed everything we could in the car and headed back to get everything in place for Ray to arrive.
Getting the house ready for Ray.
As the day went on I learned that Ray is a Veteran, has family, a dog, and has been living with a community of people under a bridge. The more I learned about Ray, the less he became a face I would ignore as I drove past a bridge or walked past a store. The time was getting closer for Ray to come home and the anticipation was building. As Ray and his dog, Whitey, came through the door I don’t think I have ever had a bigger smile on my face (or in my heart). Ray was speechless. He had tears welling up in his eyes. He was truly grateful, even to the point of saying he “felt guilty” for getting this opportunity. An American, who fought for our country, felt guilty. I have never been more humbled in my life. I don’t know Ray’s whole story, but I do know that he deserves to have a home. The VA and a case worker will help him get back on his feet with doctor visits, a job, and budgeting and paying bills. Ray has often been in my thoughts as I went about the rest of my day. As I got home, I suddenly realized all the things I take for granted having home, a meal, a bed, had whole new meaning. I like to think that Ray took his time sitting on his couch, eating at his table, cooking a meal in his kitchen, and sleeping in his own bed. I hope it will be one of many peaceful, comfortable, and restful nights for him.
You can “meet” Ray. Watch the story
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