Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Helping, But Also Hindering

Sometimes homeless people come into our store. Wait....It's been a while. I think I've forgotten how to write a story properly. Let me start at the beginning.

I work at a coffee shop. It's a wonderful business where you make money by selling legal drugs to people (caffeine that is). All sorts of people come into the store. There are doctors, lawyers, dental students, weary travelers, university undergrads, and taxi drivers. Sometimes they're happy, sometimes they're not.

Sometimes homeless people come into our store. The reasons for their homelessness vary. Some of them are clearly mentally ill, and conversations with them are surreal and confusing. Some of them appear to have substance abuse problems and you're never sure how they will respond. Some have both mixed in with some trouble with the law.

I have a lot of history with homeless people. I spent a year living in a community where one of our core goals was to meet and help homeless people in Kingston and so I'm not unfamiliar with the workings of homelessness. That being said, when I started this job, I figured this would be the most significant challenge of working at this place because I am afraid of homeless people. Call it fear of the unknown or insecurity, but I get heart-pounding-mouth-drying fear whenever I see them.
This runs right into my convictions about being a Christian. Jesus says "Whatever you do for the least of these you do for me". If I'm afraid of homeless people then by extension I am afraid of Jesus. Not exactly a person I want to be afraid of if I'm hoping to spend the rest of eternity with him. I'm trying to get rid of this fear now. I want to be more compassionate towards every person that comes into the store.

It's complicated though. My personal convictions are not shared by everyone else in the store. It doesn't help that homeless people treat some of my coworkers like shit. Sometimes when I'm trying to "do the right thing" it ends up turning into an incident that someone else has to clean up. My coworkers end up having to kick people out or calling the cops on someone that I was trying to be nice to. Every time it happens I'm immediately sorry I tried to do anything. I want to be compassionate, but at the same time I don't want other people to have to clean up my messes.

It would be nice if helping people was simple. Instead, I'm stuck trying to figure out how to help people without stomping all over other people.