Statistics from www.csm.org:
There are at least 91,000 homeless people each night in Los Angeles County. About 15-20,000 homeless people live on “Skid Row”. This is a ten square block area at the center of downtown Los Angeles. At any given time at least half the homeless population literally sleeps on the streets. The average age of homeless person is around 40 years old. One third to one half of the homeless population is women and girls.
Causes of homelessness shown in research tend to include the following:
- Lack of affordable housing
- Low-paying jobs and labor market changes
- Mental illness
- Substance abuse
- Changes and cuts in public assistance
- Domestic violence
- Changes in family structure
- Prison release
- Chronic health problems
- Lack of access to affordable health care
Heading to the LA Dream Center, I expected to learn a lot of "facts" and information about budgets, help with establishing a non-profit organization, securing funding, etc., to help our church establish a Dream Center here in Collinsville, VA. While I did learn a lot about these things, I am SO grateful for the life-experiences that I was not expecting - like the time our group spent ministering to the people who call Skid Row "home".
Trying to describe Skid Row is like trying to describe labor pains to someone who has never experienced childbirth. Words cannot fully describe the intensity of the sights, sounds and smells that make up Skid Row - amongst which, people are existing - not living, existing. Stray animals live in better conditions.....
I felt a little desperation come over me when I realized that the cookies and water our group was distributing was gone within a matter of minutes - leaving me looking into the eyes of three dear souls who were waiting for their portion. Telling them that we had no more, was heartbreaking. I was quickly aware that I had nothing to offer except a few moments of my time, the offer of a prayer and a hug. It wasn't until after our group was back at the Dream Center that I realized that those things were, in fact, the best things any of us had to offer. NO ONE turned down my offer of prayer; NO ONE turned down my offer of a hug. They accepted those gifts as quickly as others had taken water and cookies from me.
Holding filthy hands in prayer, hugging someone who smells of old body waste, urine or alcohol becomes a precious experience when you realize that you are an extension of Christ's love to that person. It was truly a privilege to spend time with these precious people who God loves as much as you and me.
We may not have a Skid Row here in Henry County, VA but pain, loneliness, hunger and despair are universal languages which are spoken as clearly here as in Los Angeles. As Christians, we are called to address these issues. James 2:14-17 says, "What good is it my brothers if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?" Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food? If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well fed." but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead."
God has called us to action - to build a Dream Center here in Henry County in order to demonstrate His love; to meet people at the point of their needs, to rebuild lives and offer hope that is only found with a relationship with Him through Christ. Visiting the LA Dream Center - seeing their ministries in action and hearing testimonies of lives changed - allowed me to clearly understand the impact that a Dream Center can have in our community.
To learn more about the (original) LA Dream Center and it's 200+ outreach ministries, please click this link: www.dreamcenter.org/