He had been on the job all day. Tired from framing houses in the hot sun, he returned to the spot outside a local church where he had stashed his belongings.
They were nowhere to be found.
The police had made a round that day, picking up items that didn’t belong; and his black JanSport backpack had been among their collection. A phone call from our office would reconnect the two in a matter of hours.
Several weeks later the man would make his bed behind a dumpster. So deep in those final moments of a morning slumber, he hardly heard the woosh and bump of the trash service coming to collect the contents of the can. While he bolted to safety, his backpack and everything in it was not so lucky. When the 945-pound can came crashing back into place, the backpack was underneath.
A phone call from the Micah community would make arrangements later in the day for the trash folks to return and help him retrieve his pack.
Our friend’s backpack woes would be among many hurdles he would face in his desperate climb from the depths of homelessness.
His troubles had started more than five years ago, when he showed up with his wife and their young son to stay at the cold weather shelter. The family was quickly assisted in getting into a local shelter that focused on families, and they moved in and out of the homeless system for the next several years.
By 2018, the man’s wife had been incarcerated and their son had been taken into foster care. He returned to Micah determined to make things right. As he looked for work, tried to find a place to live and dealt with his own emotional and personal struggles while sleeping on the street, each step forward seemed a promise of two to three steps backward.
The obstacles in his path, however, had quite a crew of community of supporters to contend with. Micah’s hospitality center became a key connector for this friend on the street.
When a local employer reached out looking for laborers, he was the first who came to mind. Volunteers supported him through the process of obtaining a free phone, replacing his identification, taking a class to regain his driver’s license and repaying his remaining fines.
While on the street, he coordinated with Micah to take showers at the hospitality center and pick up his mail after he would get off work. He replaced backpacks after they were destroyed and a bike after his was stolen, all through church linkages he found at 1013 Princess Anne.
In the biblical sense of Christian hospitality, a weary traveler would be welcomed into the homes of those whose towns he stopped along the way. The host would prepare a meal, offer a bed, wash their feet and troubleshoot whatever obstacles may have emerged along the journey. Welcoming people with such love and care allowed the neighbor in need to continue on the journey and successfully reach their destination.
It is with this sentiment that the founding Micah churches affectionately named the original day center, where 60 to 70 of our neighbors in need are welcomed every day. Their journeys have included heartache, catastrophic losses in relationship, breakdown in both health and spirit. But no matter how treacherous the path that leads them to us, the hospitality within our walls seeks all things possible for our friends to reach their destination.
Were it not for the 15,600 sandwiches packed by local churches each year, the countless volunteers greeting people at the door, the constant flow of clothing donations and the many community connections made possible by the landing point at 1013 Princess Anne, our backpack struggling friend may have given up. Instead, he pressed forward, regained a place to live, began to rekindle a support system within a faith community, and continues to work the job once threatened by the obstacles of survival.
He has a destination in mind that includes reunification with both wife and son. Within a community of holistic support, he has made it this far and with the growing number of hosts along his way he will likely reach that destination, as well.
Meghann Cotter is executive director of Micah Ecumenical Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit that offers holistic care to the Fredericksburg’s street homeless.