Mother Teresa is credited with saying, "let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness." Steven Young, founder of Home Street Home Ministries, is the embodiment of this sentiment - though he prefers to come to you.
The people he seeks to leave better and happier are, as he puts it, 'our homeless friends.' And his mission of outreach is deeply personal, as he found himself homeless at the age of 52. He recalls of the experience, "When fortunate enough and blessed enough to get off the streets, I couldn't forget what I saw, but more importantly, what I learned."
One of the things he learned was, "nobody gets off the streets on their own. You must have help." For Young, that help came from a man named Mike Dotson. Dotson approached him and was patient, but persistent - even though Young was not initially receptive. "He didn't spend a lot of money or give me a lot of money. He gave me something even more valuable. His time. He kept coming back, even when I wasn't responding very much to his efforts. It took almost 2 years, but in the end, his investment in me paid off."
Dotson's investment more than paid off - as Young has taken it upon himself to transform the lives of countless others who are experiencing homelessness. And having experienced it firsthand, Young intuitively knows what is needed for homeless individuals to triumph over their circumstances.
Firstly, he knows spiritual and emotional support do a lot of the heavy lifting. "We operate under the belief that handshakes and hugs are just as important as tents and sleeping bags." HSH provides both in spades. When asked what the parameters are for what HSH provides, one deduces that it would be easier to ask what they don't provide. They help fill prescriptions, facilitate rehabilitation services, provide transportation, help with obtaining identification, assist with housing and utility costs once individuals leave the streets, and more - much more. As Young articulates, "We possess a strong desire to minister to their non-physical needs by providing spiritual and emotional support as well. Prayer is a constant in what we do."
The other thing Young is acutely aware of is that the homeless need help getting off the street - and they need the help to come to them. "We are a 'boots on the ground' operation," he explains. "Our offices are our vehicles, and we can be found in the field day and night. Always going to them. Never expecting them to come to us." This proactive approach is not only novel, it's game changing. HSH has successfully gotten over 600 people off the streets - and Young has done that with an all-volunteer organization and no government involvement.
For Young, the experience of homelessness was what he describes as, "a transcending moment," which reconnected him with God and facilitated, "a long overdue healing process." One might say it has turned him into the proverbial fisher of men - men whose lives he has transformed, leaving them better and happier - the living expression of God's kindness.
Nobody gets off the streets on their own. You must have help.