Summer Soul was INTENSE. We had over a week of 12+ hour-long days. We scrubbed off graffiti throughout the town. I got to chat with people from Angola, China, Colombia, Germany, Iran, Norway, Saudi Arabia and more. But my favourite times were spent with society’s rejects.
There’s Arthur, an alcoholic who lives in a trailer by the river and calls me “lit’lun.” He looks like a jolly Santa Claus – full white beard, rosy red checks. He kisses his crucifix and tells us of his Irish Catholic upbringing as he sneaks sips of beer from behind his jacket. Recently he was sober for over a week. “My boys were so happy,” he recounts, “but I missed me mates.” So he returned to his friends, and returned to drink.
There’s Eddie, who’s looks about my age. “People tell me I don’t look homeless because I wear nice clothes, but I’m living on the street,” he tells us. His father is also homeless. “I used to be a drug addict,” he tells us, “but now I’m just an alcoholic.” Moments later, a man approaches him and the conversation ends abruptly as the two exchange cash and drugs.
Then there’s Tammy, whose bulging belly speaks of possible pregnancy. Her face is black and blue like I’ve never seen before. “He would never hurt a fly. He just looses his temper sometimes… but I deserve it.” Then her partner arrives – “She’s so pathetic,” he smirks.
Miss Smith is a dear old granny in her 70s who hauls a large pink duffel bag with her as she enters the cafe. Years ago the hospital she’d been at dropped her off on a dangerous street in the early hours of the morning. Thankfully Mr. Fox, a sweet Scottish man who was working at a hot dog stand, befriended her. They’ve been companions on the street ever since. But now their dear dog has died and they’ve been denied a busking license.
Trev, Arthur’s drug dealer, recently received free furniture from Besom, a social action project we’re involved in. At church he can’t stop talking about how God has blessed him through this. He’s buzzing with unbelief at people’s generosity and wants to give something back to the community. But first he’s just going to finish his can before the Sunday service.
These people are all so precious, yet so broken. Some are slaves to addiction. Others are trapped in abusive relationships. All seem caught in a cycle of despair and destruction.
I take heart in stories like that of Gram Seed, a former homeless heroin addict who encountered a dramatic healing while on death’s door. Or Paul, another homeless man who tried to commit suicide a week before he found listening ears, hot coffee and hope at the cafe. And by the end of the week he decided to pursue God and change his life.
But the road is seldomly easy. Healing’s rarely instantaneous. And sometimes hope is hard to find.