It was an emotional night.
While walking down the streets in downtown San Diego we stopped when we saw a homeless man in his 6os trying to sleep on a building inlet a few feet off the ground. (See this picture taken in the daytime to see where he slept -under the word “Now”.) When we approach the homeless with food or clothing to offer, we are always courteous and respect their living space. Many times we don’t wake people up whom we see sleeping. This time was different; this time we asked him if he wanted any food. He did. And when he woke we asked him what he was doing on the streets. He paused, like he didn’t want to tell us. But he let out a shallow breath and said, “My son, Dennis, killed himself in this building; in this condo.”
Choosing Homelessness in San Diego
When he shared his son’s suicide, after a brief moment to process what he said, we asked him, “How does that make you homeless?” He began to tell us he wasn’t homeless, that he actually owned his own home, it’s just that he hasn’t been sleeping there for the past 96 nights since his son died. He can’t go home. He told us he wanted to sleep on the buildng spot because it made him feel closer to his son. It took us a moment to process that. He was choosing homelessness because intense pain. There wasn’t the first time we’ve heard a homeless person choosing homelessness because of an emotionally painful situation. (We once met a homeless man on the streets whose wife cheated on him; when she told him, he simply walked out the front door of his apartment and never went back, never went back to his job, never went back to his life.)
Acknowledge The Pain and Suffering which Leads People to Homelessness
After getting more details about his son and his suicide, we acknowledged his pain and suffering. Then we gently asked him this: would you want Dennis to sleep on the street if the situation had been reversed. “No, of course not,” he replied. Then please go home and sleep in your bed, Dennis would want that. Then one of us moved by the Holy Spirit asked him if his son had left him something special behind. It seemed like a random question. But Christopher immediately said his guitar. “Then why not grab his guitar, curl up your bed and sleep at home,” we suggested. We reminded him about the dangers of being homeless on the streets. Often we here of stories where people have been robbed, beaten and even raped. The guitar advice hit his heart and he began to cry.
He told us he was a Christian so we prayed for forgiveness, namely that he would stop blaming himself, that he would tell his family of his pain and what he’s doing (none of his family know he’s been choosing homelessness), the he would have a healing that would come soon, that he could take a full-breath (he hasn’t been able to breath since the suicide).
After we prayed he told us he didn’t want to live at times. Having been trained in suicide prevention, one of us quickly began to access the situation to give hope and possibly get him help by calling 911. After some more conversation, he truly wasn’t thinking of ending his life, just more negative thoughts around this devastatingly painful situation. When we started to encourage him about imagining his new granddaughter take her first few steps, seeing his other grandchildren go to high school, and even seeing his other not-yet-married children walk down the aisle, he began to realize how much he was loved, needed and wanted in this life. He spoke about how God has “a mission” for him.
Before we left we prayed for him again for peace and healing. He seemed to have a new energy. We promised we would come see him again when we finished passing out the nights food. When we started back towards the cars, we went by the spot where he had been and noticed he wasn’t there. We aren’t sure if we went home to sleep with his son Dennis’ guitar, but we have the faith that he did.
Christopher, we are praying for you still.
If you want to help San Diego’s homeless then come serve with us every Monday night. Click here for more details.