Mike Yankoski, author and speaker, spent over five months living homeless in various American cities alongside his friend, Sam.
He made it clear surviving through panhandling and the kindness of strangers was their decision. Yankoski described the experience as walking a few steps in a homeless person’s shoes instead of the proverbial mile.
“I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to be homeless for five, 10, 15 years,” Yankoski said. “I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like to never know if you are going to get off the streets. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to have no safety net or to have no one left to turn to.”
He said what his experience on the streets taught him was how humans can choose to either dehumanize each other or show a beautiful generosity.
Some of his stories included:
n A 6-year-old giving him and his friend money when the child realized they had little more than a dollar to their names.
n Three groups of Christians having separate devotions in a small sandwich shop while deliberately ignoring Yankoski and his friend in the corner. The three groups then proceeded to unite as one and discuss Biblical topics.
n A church apologizing to their congregation for the two bums sleeping on the church steps and promising they would not be there next week.
n A man seeking forgiveness for turning Yankoski and Sam away initially and being amazed the two were used to the indifferent, and sometimes, angry treatment.
“To people who are consistently dehumanized by others, simple small actions can go a really long way,” Yankoski said. “So when somebody comes to The Caring Place and they actually get a box of groceries to provide for their families, to make it through the next week [it makes a difference].”
Continued Yankoski, “[It makes a difference] when they see someone who looks them in the eyes and treats them like a human being, instead of like a piece of trash.”
Select clients from The Caring Place shared their stories on the back of cards placed on each table.
One card was labeled “Susan.” On the front, a woman held a sign which read, “I was not always poor.”
According to the card, Susan received the best education money could buy through college. Her inability to find a full-time job post-graduation affected her financially. Her parents helped her until the economy crashed. Susan moved back home to offer her help to her struggling parents.
“Susan had no idea where to go and was embarrassed to ask,” read the card. “Susan heard about The Caring Place from an article in the paper, but it took her family going without food for three days before she decided she was ready for the help.”
Additional stories were played on a screen for every guest to witness. The stories spoke of real people who were caught off guard. Each one said they are fighting to regain their footing to stand on their own.
Chelsea Long, TCP resource developer, said she hears about “those people” regularly through clients and society.
She shared a story describing the first time the phrase sank in for her.
“He was crying when I walked in. He was a very tall man, very broad and he looked at me and said, ‘I’m just so sorry. I’m just so sorry I am even here. I swear I am not one of those people. I want to work. I want to pay for my own groceries,’” Long said.
She said society is more than clear on how they feel about “those people.”
“Society says, ‘If those people weren’t so lazy,’ or ‘If those people had worked as hard as I did, then they would not need help in the first place.’ We hear this message everywhere,” Long said.
A total of 11,231 people were helped in 2012. An additional 528 received money for their rent and utilities through TCP’s Neighbors in Need program. Approximately 200 children have benefitted from the Sac Pac program in four Bradley County schools.
Services offered through The Caring Place include the Sac Pac program, clothing, food, Diaper Love, Neighbors in Need, linkage to other programs, counseling, advocacy and the recently added Karis Dental Clinic.
Reba Terry, TCP director, said she was overwhelmed by the guests response to the fundraising banquet. More than 200 seats were provided for guests, and a majority of the tables were full.
“I hope you will be encouraged by what is taking place at The Caring Place and how you can be involved, if that is the way the Lord should lead you,” Terry said.
According to Terry, TCP is staffed primarily through volunteers with only 14 individuals on staff. Volunteers served more than 14,000 hours in 2012. Donations, volunteer hours and financial aid from 62 churches within Bradley County keep the nonprofit afloat.
Robert Hardin, board member, said if everyone in attendance pledged $35 per month, The Caring Place would meet its yearly need.
In addition, an anonymous donor pledged to match the proceeds of the banquet up to $20,000. Guests were asked to help The Caring Place take full advantage of the offer.
Yankoski thanked TCP for its continued help for those in need and urged community members to donate their time and money to the cause.
“It is extraordinary when Sam and I were on the streets how people with a simple willingness to make a little bit of difference in somebody’s life literally transformed our days,” Yankoski said. “I think you have that opportunity tonight by standing alongside The Caring Place.”