There is an organization here in Belfast called Beautiful Feet, that every Tuesday night goes out giving food, clothes, and coffee out to the homeless in Belfast. After a couple of people from my church went along one Tuesday night, I wanted to check it out myself. The Tuesday before Christmas I went down with another member of my church named Jonny. After making sandwiches beforehand, we joined up with the rest of the mostly 20-something year old volunteers at a church downtown, packed up our bags to take with us, and had a deep prayer before heading out.
I had done some work with homeless people in the past, but in situations where they came to us, like in soup kitchens or shelters. I had never gone out to find them and help them out on the street. The truth is that I actually had no idea what to do when I met a homeless person on the street. I usually just completely ignore them and walk past when I see a homeless person sitting on a sidewalk. Going out and actually talking to one while offering food and clothing was going to be something very uncomfortable for myself.
The first person we met that night was a man named Thomas. He wasn’t sitting down and begging for money, as I assumed all homeless people we were going to meet would be doing. He was just walking down the street like anyone else. But one of the other volunteers with us had seen him walking around downtown a lot in the past weeks and thought she should finally meet him and see if he needed help.
When we first approached Thomas he was very quiet. Every question we asked him, he answered with a single word or not at all. After he found out I was an American, though, he started telling us a story about how he went to Florida, wound up wearing a space suit, climbed up the ladder on the side of a space shuttle, got on board, and then traveled to the moon. After he told us this story, I wanted to leave him immediately. That story, combined with his unkept beard, poor clothes and his eerily quiet demeanor made me believe that the guy was just crazy. I thought he would never understand anything we said to him or be able to say anything that made any sense, and that trying to talk with him was pointless. Also, he didn’t want any of the food, coffee, or clothes we were offering. As the others chose to stay there and talk with him for longer, I thought we were just wasting our time on Thomas.
But the more we stayed with him, the more he opened up and started trusting us. He stopped trying to freak us out with fantastic stories of going to the moon, and began being honest with us. He let us know that he was from Dublin but didn’t know where his family was now. Thomas had been in Belfast for the past month, just walking around most of the time. He didn’t have a place to say, but also didn’t like the homeless shelters he had been to. After talking with him for twenty minutes, we invited him to join us as we walked around downtown Belfast for the rest of the night. I don’t think he ever said yes or no, but as soon as we started walking, he came along with us. And as he came along with us, he opened up even more. He accepted the coffee, sandwiches, and soup he had turned down earlier that night. He laughed at our jokes, and especially my strange accent. And I found out that he likes to sing, especially to “Eye of the Tiger.”
One moment in that night sticks out a lot to me. We had ran into another homeless man named Davey, who also joined us and walked along with us. It’s our policy not to hand out any money, so when Davey asked for some money, none of us offered. But Thomas, a man without a home, who ate up enough sandwiches and soup to make me believe he didn’t get food very often, and who only carried with him the clothes on his back, reached into his pocket and handed Davey some change. It wasn’t even a thought for Thomas. Someone else asked for something that he could give, so he gave it, and he gave it with some joy on his face. This same man who an hour earlier I had dismissed as crazy and unworthy of my time, was joyfully giving away his money, even though it might have cost him a rare meal or worse.
I've been out most Tuesday nights since then with Beautiful Feet, handing out whatever food and clothing we have. It has been amazing the support we have gotten since we've started. Once we let the rest of Whitehouse know what we had been doing, donations of clothing and blankets came in faster than we could hand them out. It seemed like half the congregation has offered to help in some way, whether it has been coming out with us, donating clothing, or preparing the food for us to give out. It has been amazing for me to see our community become so passionate about helping those out on the street.