People who are homeless are not social inadequates. They are people without homes – Sheila McKechnie
My name is Amos. I became homeless because an untreated bipolar disorder. I lost my job and ended up on the streets. I was afraid to go to a shelter because I heard so many stories of how dangerous shelters are. They’re full of drugs and drug dealers, people steal your shoes and there are bedbugs and body lice. I preferred to take my chances outside of the shelter. So, I slept on the streets, abandoned buildings and parks. I didn’t sleep in parks often because at night they weren’t safe and my sleep was often interrupted by the police asking me to move along.
My life changed when I was arrested for stealing food. I had begged all day but nobody gave me anything. Usually, I would get at least five dollars in change and I would buy a hot chocolate and a chicken sandwich from Tim Horton’s. But that day, I was out of luck. Maybe it was because it was cold and people were anxious to get home. I don’t know. All I know is that I was starving and I had to have something to eat. I ducked into a supermarket and grabbed a loaf of bread from off one of the shelves but I got caught as I tried to make my escape. I was arrested.
Fortunately for me, the prosecutor and the defense attorney and the judge said that I wasn’t a criminal but I needed help. They told me to go to a homeless shelter and to get treatment for my bipolar disorder. I had to go on medication and see a psychiatrist. I can see now that getting arrested was the best thing that happened to me. I got treatment and got better. Thanks to my psychiatrist, I was placed in transitional housing and received job search assistance. It was at one of their health and wellness activities that I met Vivica, a Christian woman.
She shared with me that she was a battered woman who was forced to choose between staying in an abusive relationship and homelessness. She wound up on the street and stayed there for a few nights until she went into a church to pray. One night, she fell asleep in one of the pews and the custodian found her. He referred her here, a safe place where she received the emotional support she needed.
Just recently, she found out that her abusive boyfriend was arrested for aggravated assault. He would serve 14 years in prison. I could see the sadness on her face. “I hope that he will find God in prison,” she said. “I will pray for him.”
“Do you still love him?” I asked.
She thought about it for a moment. “To be honest, I don’t think I ever loved him. I cared for him and stayed with him because I thought that I could help him but I was wrong.”
“I’m sorry that you wound up with a guy like that.”
“Sometimes we meet up with people who hurt and spitefully use us but they need our prayers. Something happened to them and that’s why they’re that way. Maybe he was abused too.”
“I wish I could be as forgiving as you. I’m still sore with my boss for firing me because of my illness. I guess I should have been taking my medication and gone for treatment but the medication I was taking was making me sick. I tried to explain that to him but he wouldn’t listen. He said that he had to let me go because my mood swings were affecting my co-workers.”
“I’m sorry you lost your job. Didn’t you go and get help? Maybe see a psychiatrist who would prescribe different medication that might be better for you?
I shook my head. “No, I thought I could manage it but I was wrong. I didn’t go for treatment. I took the medication which was making me sick because I wanted to find another job. Once I got a job, I was going to see a psychiatrist and get new medication but I couldn’t get a job. As soon as I told them that I was let go from my last job because I had bipolar disorder, the interview was over. My rent increased and I couldn’t pay it so I had to leave. I don’t have family here. They are all back in East Jerusalem. I’m the only one who moved to Canada because I wanted a better life for myself. I was tired of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
“So, you’re Palestinian?”
“Well, my father is Israeli and my mother is Palestinian. So, I’m both.”
“That explains why your name is Amos. It’s the name of a Jewish prophet in the Bible.”
“I was brought up in the Jewish faith. Before my parents married, my mother converted to Judaism.”
“So, you’ve read the Bible.”
“The Hebrew Bible called the Tanakh. It contains only the Old Testament.”
“The Bible I read and study contains both the Old and the New Testaments.”
“I know that Christianity is one of the three major monotheistic religions.”
“Did you know that the first Christians were Jews?”
“I don’t know much about the faith except that they believe in the Trinity and that Jesus is the Messiah.”
“We also believe that salvation is by faith and not by works.”
“I’m curious to learn more about your faith and what you believe.”
She smiled. “I’ll be more than happy to talk to you about these things.”
“How later after dinner?”
“Okay. We’ll find a quiet place where we can talk.”
“Vivica, would you go out with me even though I’m not a Christian and am mentally ill?”
She sat down beside me and put her hand on mine. It felt nice and warm. “Amos, of course, I would go out with you. There are so many examples of interfaith couples and your mental illness isn’t something you should apologize for or feel ashamed of. It doesn’t define you. You and I have known each other for a while now and I have never treated you differently from anyone else because of your illness.”
“That’s true and I’m really grateful for that.”
“I really like you, Amos and to be honest, if you didn’t ask me to go out with you, I would have asked you. It’s the twenty-first century. Women are not waiting to be asked anymore.”
I laughed. “Good for them.”
“Do you think your parents would object to you dating a Christian woman?”
“They might but I can always remind them that when they were from two different faiths when they met and fell in love but then again , they might be happy for me.”
“Happy for you? Why?”
“Happy because something good came out of all of the bad stuff I have been going through lately,” I replied as I reached for her other hand. “I got to meet you.”
She was so moved by what I said that she couldn’t say anything. She just smiled and reaching out, she touched my face.
Out of bad situations, God could bring good into our lives.
Sources: National Public Radio; Daniel Pitino Shelter; Salvation Army; Solutions Center; Treatment Advocacy Center; York Region; Dare2Share; Psycom