A man who has visited Joe’s Addiction a few times over the last couple of months told me this week, “You have created a place for these people to hang out, and that’s all well and good, but . . .” He cringed and raised his shoulders. “They don’t seem to want to better their lives. Aren’t you just enabling them.”
I immediately felt offended for my friends, but I breathed a sigh and asked him who he was thinking of.
He said, “Well, what about her? Why doesn’t she get a job? It’s like she’s just content to live in a tent. She told me she’s been homeless for most of her life."
“Well, it’s true. She has been homeless for a long time. She has been diagnosed with mental disabilities. Growing up, she was labeled “mentally retarded,” and went through school in special education classes. Yes, she works here at Joe’s Addiction, but have you ever noticed how long it takes her to make a drink?”
He said, “I always order plain coffee, so I’ve never seen her make a more complicated drink.”
I told him, “She needs to look at a cheat sheet, and it takes her a while. Here, our customers are patient and understanding. She would not be able to keep up with a job at Taco Bell, or anywhere else. She has the desire, and her attitude has improved so much since she quit using meth, but she would not be able to hold down a “real” job. So we helped her apply for Social Security.”
“Social Security?” he asked. “She has never worked, so she’s never put anything into Social Security. How can she receive Social Security?”
“She applied for Social Security Disability.” I then went on to explain that this process takes a long time, often years, before a person will be approved. Social Security has a system by which each person is examined to determine if they qualify, doctors and psychiatrists paid by Social Security. She recently was granted a hearing before a judge, where an attorney presented the evidence from mental health professionals that she is not capable of working. She is awaiting the decision. If she receives approval, we will help her to get off the street. Then we will begin the process of helping her learn to manage the monthly income she will receive. In the meantime, she serves as a barista here, feels better about herself and is a genuine contribution to our community.
He then asked, “What about him?" He pointed his chin at someone sitting in the coffee shop. "He seems like a completely capable young man. Why isn’t he working?”
He is on probation. In the last year, he has lost two jobs, because of missing work for court ordered community service hours, and weekly meetings with his probation officer. Employers don’t like it when you miss work regularly. After losing the second job, he decided not to even look for another one, until he is finished with probation. That will be another nine months or so. In the meantime, he helps out around Joe’s Addiction and scraps metal to pay for the things he needs to survive.
I went on to tell him that Chuck also lost two jobs over the last year. We helped connect him with The Department of Rehabilitative Services. They trained him how to dress, how to act in a job interview. They even paid for business clothing for him to wear and transportation to and from interviews. He got a job as a dishwasher.
His boss told him to load the dirty dishes into the dishwasher and to empty them when they finished washing. Chuck is a bit OCD, and it bothered him that sometimes dishes came out with cooked-on-crusties. He wanted to remove every bit of food from the plates before they went into the washer. This took too long. Dishes piled up. The boss told him time and time again, “Just stick them in the dishwasher. You don’t have to rinse each one.” But Chuck couldn’t do it, and he was too slow. He was fired. DRS helped him acquire another job—washing dishes. He did his best, but he just could not keep up. Again, he was fired. After the second loss, Chuck was humiliated and depressed. He quit trying.
I then told him the story of Melvin, and I told of my friend Nick who is currently in his third attempt at rehab. Twice before, I have used my name and reputation as a pastor to help him get into a rehab program. Both times, he quit the program. Structure and rules are difficult. Frankly, they feel like prison. I’ve known Nick for six years now, and he is doing better than I have ever seen him. He’s clean and sober. He’s attending meetings. He’s making good decisions. He’s cheerful. He’s helpful. He’s funny and fun to hang out with! This third time might just be the charm. Or it might not. Either way, we—the Community of Hope at Joe’s Addiction—will be here to be his family and his support. No matter what. And we’ll do our best to keep providing opportunities to try again.
By the end of that story, the man’s eyes brimmed with tears. He said, “You have to tell these stories. I didn’t understand.”
This is why Jesus said, “Do not judge.” We are not qualified to judge, because we don’t have all the information. We never do. About anyone. We don’t know all the factors that have come together to create the person we see before us. We don’t know the pain. We don’t know the mental and emotional capacity. We don’t know the countless attempts.
Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never gives up.
(Names have been changed to protect privacy.)