Side by side: How relationships can humanize the homeless

Merideth Spriggs
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
I met Dave when I was doing homeless outreach in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada. Dave was a heavy drinker. We had tried three times to get him sober, but each time he left detox and returned to drinking on the streets. One day, though, he reached out to me for help.
A friend who directs a sober living program and I created a plan to help Dave. We would take him with us to a one-day intervention being held by homeless outreach agencies in the area.
 
Even though he had asked for help, I still feared Dave might be drunk and miss the appointment, so I surprised him with a 4:30 a.m. wakeup call. I climbed over rocks and shimmied into a small gravel pit between a fence and a freeway on-ramp. I walked carefully so I wouldn’t step on any exposed needles, and I woke Dave that morning. After two heart attacks, he was feeble and needed a walker and some assistance to move. My husband and I helped him into the backseat of our car.
 
ImageAfter getting him to his appointment, I was helping with crowd control at the event when my husband, who had been shadowing Dave, called me over. I walked up to the table and saw Dave shaking as he clung to his walker, tears running down his face. The case manager was refusing to take him. Dave had failed too many times before, he said.
 
“I don’t want to waste a bed on you, Dave. We have people that want help,” the man said, crossing his arms.
 
“Today is different!” I said. “He is going, and you are taking him! He said he wants our help. We are going to help him, and he won’t quit. He will be your biggest success story if you take him.”
 
“He is going to come back out and fail,” the man said.
 
“No! Today is different because he has me. He has us,” I said while motioning for the program director to walk over. Maybe he had failed in the past, but the difference that day was he had someone walking with him, both figuratively and literally.
Dave went to detox that day. For the next several days, I called or went in person to make sure he knew someone was cheering for him. I also called and sent a slew of emails reminding people up the chain that they had given me their word to keep Dave in their housing.
That next Monday I got the call I was waiting for. “We did it,” Dave said. “I’m in. Thank you.”
Two years later, God has completely transformed Dave. He is sober and reunited with his family after 10 years. He is also putting his two master’s degrees to good use by teaching at an education program. He has a love for the outdoors and no longer needs his walker. Now he enjoys going on hikes in the mountains.
ImageDave jokes that so many missed the mark trying to help before. “I was homeless,” he said, “not sandwich-less. You picked me up and walked with me.”
The loss of a job and the death of his mother had sent Dave into a deep depression, which spiraled into addiction and eventually homelessness. He needed more than a meal. He needed someone willing to walk with him while he did the hard work of recovery.
Dave’s story encourages me that anyone can be transformed—if we are truly willing to walk with individuals to understand their needs and help restore them back to community.  
 
-- Formerly homeless herself, Merideth Spriggs is a graduate of Nazarene Theological Seminary, an elder in the Church of the Nazarene, and the founder and chief kindness officer of Caridad, a homeless-service provider based in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada.