On Christmas and Boxing Day I volunteered at a homeless shelter and you know what I got in return? One of the ‘guests’ threatened me and told me I don’t treat everyone like a human. Another one said I was doing a f@£$ing s&%t job at clearing the plates. Another one accused me of stealing his ‘letter to the police’. While I was pasting the pickle on the cheese which was on the scores of bread slices with which I was making THEIR sandwiches — safely in the kitchen because by that time I was scared for my life — I thought: They don’t deserve my help, they are just the spoilt brats of society who ‘take the piss’ and work the system. Warm bowl of food after warm bowl of food — spoilt, angry, lazy brats.
These brats usually have one of three reasons for being on the street: alcohol/drug addiction and abuse, violent natures that lead them to steal, stab, hurt, plunder and assault, and/or a severe case of insolence.
Yeah. Some of these brats are on heroin; gotta be careful when you are at homeless shelters lest you poke your toe into a used needle. They might also put you to volunteer to check the toilets to make sure none of the ‘guests’ are shooting up (taking drugs — guns are not allowed in the bathrooms). They take heroin like we take sips of water during breaks at work, while we are working hard, making money to live and contribute to society. Like breaks, heroin breaks, but they aren’t really breaking from anything. Except life itself. Life which has mostly been hard. During which they have often seen their children, illegitimate or not, die in their shaking hands, under the thick air of their ethanol breath, of pneumonia or meningitis or lung-puncture from the drill of the car door handle into their chest during an accident where one of the ‘guests’ was driving. Like one homeless guy I met once — he was a chemistry professor, they say, who went loopy after losing his entire family in an accident. Like breaks. Cocaine breaks. Breaks from the incessant broken-record reminder of the hatred spewed in their faces by their single parent and later on by the kids who disowned them for being nuisances. Like breaks. Alcohol breaks. Breaks from drugs, because they do them so often, because they know not how to get a grasp on life, because it is the only thing that numbs the pain that they hide in all their manliness, the boss that abuses them. Drugs.
BRATS! These brats are volatile. Their anger flares up like a blister formed from the burn of an iron — fresh and full, a mighty tough outer layer hiding the fleshy pink vulnerability, the blister, the anger the only thing they show. And they show it alright. They curse at me, the one who serves their free dinner and hands out the just-washed, free clothes donated to them, some of the trousers and coats I wish I could take for myself but I have to buy with money because I am not a ‘guest’. They come up close to me, to my ear and say, ‘If you call the police on me I’ll mash up this place’. They look at me with sweet eyes, pulling at their smirks and when I turn down their advances they snarl. If it were two weeks before, in an alley, without a free plate of food, only God would know my fate. They are seething with a rapturous anger. One that originates in the depths of their barely-there souls, from the memory of a whip or a private part thrusted at theirs by a horrid family member or family ‘friend’, from the scars of absent parents and strange words in English they were never taught to read, from the loss of someone they loved who they had no ability to save from the snares of death — a death which is taking them alive, slowly. Angry, they are, and it overcomes them to a point where the victims of their attacks are but reminders of the ones who hurt them.
These brats are so spoilt. And SO stupid. Some of them can’t even read. They can’t even think. Because if they thought they would realise that they were harming themselves. They were choosing to take the drugs and put themselves in prisons and fight with their families. ‘There must be a reason,’ I told one ‘guest’ who said his family refused to see him on Christmas Day, thinking, hmmm I wonder what terrible things he has done to disappoint them enough for his own family not to love him. They are idiots for expecting handouts for the rest of their lives while everyone else has to work 40 hours a week. They are so ignorant for choosing to sleep among the rats and have their hairs ingrown in every corner of their bodies, contract all manner of diseases, fight the storms of summer and the biting winds of winter. How dumb are they for thinking they can sit there and ask for money, at the entrance of the station with their dog-crap crusted, 10th-hand duvets, from us folks who paid for our education and went for those interviews and bought the very pressed shirts on our backs? And they, stupid as ever, think they can sit there and do nothing all day except feel every cell in their body tear at them begging to exist like the people that pass them by. Except yearn for a kind thought to slip into their feeble minds so that they might love themselves once more. One ‘guest’ told me he was an informant for the police hours after going around with the plastic bling on his neck and fingers mumbling Eminem songs, another was wearing a bra and saying that if he didn’t ‘it would do his neck in’ and one more was saying, or maybe it was a few of them, that ‘for some of us life is just unkind’. How foolish of these brats to lose their minds because of the holes in the education system, in the housing system, in the communities, in the churches, in the government, that let them fall through so many times they hit their heads until it cracked? To lose their minds because of the vicious cycle of poverty and education-deprivation that lies on top of them after they fall, holding them down.
These brats are people — vulnerable, hurt, abused, misled and disregarded people.
These people are the ones Jesus came for.
He said: ‘I have come, not for the righteous but for the sinners.’
And ‘I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel’
And ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be filled’
A week later I went to volunteer again. This time I wasn’t a volunteer but an equal — I ate what they ate, I used the spoons they used to dish out the cheese, I played with the cards that passed through their tough, dirty fingers and I laughed with them. Because they are brats just like the rest of us. Brats loved so much by an awesome God despite our anger, addictions and ignorance.