Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Under the Overpass: Choosing to be Homeless for 5 Months

February 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Monthly Articles

Few people would choose to be homeless for five months. Mike Yankoski, along with his friend Sam, intentionally lived on the streets of six different American cities as homeless men. Why did these Christian men decide to undertake this rugged journey?  Mike Yankoski tells us in this exclusive interview.  BTW, be sure to check out Mike’s websites at UnderTheOverpass.com and ZealousLove.org.

Journey: How did you get the idea to try homelessness for five months?  What was the inspiration or motivation behind it?

The idea to become homeless came to me while I was sitting in a church service, listening to a sermon on Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan.  I realized that I often pretended that I couldn’t see people who were homeless, placing me firmly in the category of “Priest” or “Levite,” that is, someone who pretends that others who are in need don’t exist in order to alleviate themselves of uncomfortable responsibility.

Having realized that, I wondered what it would be like to suddenly be the person in that position, sitting on the streets, watching others pretend that you don’t exist.  My friend Sam and I wanted to enter into that life for a little while, to find out what was  like to be a human being, made in God’s image, trying to survive on the streets. Also, we wanted to find out more first hand about what the American Church is doing to care for and help those who are on the streets.

Journey: How did Sam feel about doing this with you?  What did your families and friends think?

Sam was intrigued by the idea, to spend time on the streets, from the moment he  first heard it.  The crazy thing is that we met on a Thursday, and by Saturday were discussing living on the streets together.  After those initial  conversations, we took two weeks of dedicated time in prayer and discernment,  while Sam sought council from his family, friends and pastor before
ultimately deciding to join together for this journey.

The response of our friends and family was interesting.  Some people were very supportive, while others couldn’t believe that we would be willing to do something so foolish.  Ultimately, I think it was the fact that Sam and I went  about preparing for our journey as best we knew how–a board of advisers, lots of research, a willingness to not go if it became clear that God was leading  us in another direction etc.–that ultimately helped our friends and family  support us in this endeavor.

Journey: Was it harder than you expected?

Definitely.  Despite all of our research and time spent volunteering at various rescue missions, nothing had really prepared us for the sheer difficulty of day- in-day-out life on the streets.  Everything was difficult: finding a place to  eat, a place to sleep, even a place to go to the bathroom.  I think one of the most difficult aspects for both of us was the lack of solid relationships.

Frankly, we missed our friends, and our families, and our churches, in short, the people who knew us.  Most people simply passed us by and pretended like we  didn’t exist.  That was really challenging and we hadn’t expected to be so affected by that aspect of living on the streets.  This lack of healthy  relationships is one of the most damaging aspects of homeless life for many of  the men and women who are on our city streets.

Journey: Which city was the most “homeless friendly,” which was the least?  Did  anyone call the police on you?

Portland was probably the most homeless-friendly city. What I mean is that more people stopped to talk with us and more people helped us with our pressing needs in Portland than in any other city.  Probably the most challenging, though this was more a result of the intense heat and the way the city is so spread out geographically, was Phoenix.  We had a really tough time
making friends on the streets in Phoenix, because it took so long to move around from place to place.

In terms of the police: we did have a couple of run-ins with the police, though we’re not sure if anybody ever called the police on us or if the police just found us while on their regular patrol.  Some of the interactions were really positive, while others weren’t so good.  Fortunately, we never received any tickets for trespassing nor were we ever taken to jail.

Journey: What was the most memorable experience during your five months?

Gosh, that’s a tough question.  There were so many experiences during this journey.  Probably one of the most memorable experiences happened one night in Georgetown.  Sam and I were completely surrounded by a group of little boys who were raising money for their summer baseball uniforms.  One of the little guys put $1.25 in our guitar case.  He smiled at us as he did so, saying “Don’t worry guys, I’ve got you covered.”  In the previous four hours of panhandling that night, Sam and I had made only $1.18.  In one moment one little boy gave more than all of the thousands of adults who had passed us by over those hours.  But what was really surprising to us was that that group of little boys were the only ones who stopped to speak to us that evening.  They were the only ones who treated us like we were human beings.

Journey: What can normal everyday Christians do to help the plight of the homeless in their community?

Great question.  Here are a few ideas.  Ultimately the best way to help someone get off the streets is to support (through both time and finances) your local Rescue Mission.  Go to agrm.org for a directory that lists all of the Rescue Missions in the United States and Canada.  Rescue Missions offer holistic rehabilitation programs which help address the multiple causes of an
individual’s homelessness and therefore are well suited to help men and women transition into sustainable lifestyles off of the streets.

Additionally, you can purchase gift certificates to local fast food restaurants or coffee shops to give to people you see panhandling.  That way, people can use the certificate to get a meal or a cup of coffee on a cold morning, rather than using regular cash for any number of less desirable things.  Also, consider getting together with a group of people to head down to a local park to serve breakfast some upcoming Saturday morning.  You’d be surprised by how much of a difference a
cup of coffee and a pancake can make to someone who just woke up on the concrete.

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