Homelessness- Brad Meuli and Larry Smith

Chapel 11.07.2017- Homelessness- Brad Meuli and Larry Smith

Transcript:

  • [Don] Well, good morning, everybody. One of the things I love about a university is there’s so many things going on at the same time, and it just represents the dynamic and the excitement on a campus. I don’t know about you, but we’re moving towards Thanksgiving, getting close to a season of feasting, it’s getting cold outside, we see more people on the streets, and because of that, I invited two good friends of mine to come up, and I wanted to talk a little bit about Christians’ response to homelessness. So, would you please welcome my guest, Brad Meuli from the Denver Rescue Mission and Larry Smith, Catholic Charities. Let me just tell you a little bit about them. Brad Meuli is the CEO of the Denver Rescue Mission and the president, he’s a graduate of Northern Arizona University and Denver Seminary. He was 17 years in banking before he felt God’s call to leave that and go to Denver Rescue Mission. The mission of Denver Rescue Mission is to change lives in the name of Christ by meeting people at their physical and spiritual points of needs, with the goal of the returning them to society as productive, self-sufficient citizens. Welcome, Brad.
  • [Don] And Larry Smith is the CEO and president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver. He’s a graduate of the university of Missouri. He spent decades in the cable television, satellite distribution, and consumer electronics retail industries, and then came to Catholic Charities. His mission, the mission of Catholic Charities, is to extend the mission of Christ to anyone in need by providing compassionate, competent, professional services that strengthen and support individuals, family and community based on the value and dignity of human life. Welcome, Larry, thanks for being here.
  • [Don] So, just briefly, Larry, just tell us about Catholic Charities, what you do in the city of Denver.
  • [Larry] Okay, the Catholic Charities represents the Archdiocese of Denver, which is about 40,000 square miles from Utah to Kansas and from Arapahoe County line north. We have seven primary ministerial units, we have shelters, we have archdiocesan housing, Marisol Women’s Services, early childhood education, we have five centers around town, and then we have Sacred Heart Counseling, our community and parish outreach program, and our family and senior services program, touching about 110,000 people a year.
  • [Don] All right, Brad, a little bit about Denver Rescue Mission.
  • [Brad] Yeah, Denver Rescue Mission is celebrating its 125th year. Yeah, which is a great thing.
  • [Don] That’s amazing.
  • [Brad] The non-denominational Christian organization, when people think of the Denver Rescue Mission, they often think of the big Jesus Saves sign downtown. It’s the 927,000 meals that we fed last year, 360,000 nights of shelter, you know, frankly it’s just keeping people alive. The second thing we do is we try to connect with those people that come to us and then through our New Life rehabilitation program, I try to help them become productive, self-sufficient citizens again. There’s a bunch of other things we do. We have about nine different properties, we also operate the Fort Collins Rescue Mission, and we have a farm in Wellington, and so we’re not just an urban ministry, but have a farm as well.
  • [Don] And one of the interesting things is we were talking before we came out is that all three of us were doing things very different from what we’re doing now, and we’re just kinda laughing at how God moves you unexpectedly into places you never expected to go. You want to comment on that, Larry?
  • [Larry] Yeah, it was not in my plan to be the CEO of Catholic Charities. I thought I’d be a business executive that would be, you know, retired and extremely wealthy. Oops. Not exactly.
  • [Don] But God’s using your background.
  • [Larry] Absolutely, everything I did, it’s funny, until this day, prepared me to do this job specifically. It was really amazing.
  • [Brad] All right, and I can see that too. I spent some time in the Marine Corps after college, and then spent 17 years in banking, and really God led me to come to the Denver Rescue Mission and now I’ve been there 18 and a half years.
  • [Don] Unbelievable.
  • [Brad] Unbelievable is really right.
  • [Don] Well, talk to us a little bit about homelessness, nationwide briefly, and then in Denver. How bad is it, why is it it seems to be increasing, at least in our state, if not nationwide?
  • [Brad] Yeah, so let me talk a little bit just about our state, because I think that’s, and let me say something about that first. This is a great place to live, I mean, people come here looking for jobs, our economy has improved over the last few years and you can get job, $10 an hour up to $20 an hour pretty easily, but the problem is you can’t find a place to live. And so more and more, we’re seeing people that are coming to the Denver Rescue Mission and staying with us as they try to save money, and that sort of thing to be able to live. The second big thing, frankly, is the legalization of marijuana has brought a lot more young people here than ever before. And so you kind of add those, and then combined with some laws regarding Medicare and how those, in our state you can come here 30 days and you can be eligible. In the states around us, that is not true, and so there’s a six-month requirement, and so more folks have been coming here that need help. And so I think it’s been a combination of those things that we’re continuing to see a lot of people come to Colorado.
  • [Don] It’s interesting because I remember 10 years ago there was this big initiative by the mayor of Denver and then it touched the churches, and it was to end homelessness in 10 years. And of course, we’re not there, it’s about the same or maybe a little worse?
  • [Larry] It is, we’re also seeing a different population group that’s becoming homeless. At Catholic Charities, through a partnership with Brad and the Denver Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, and Volunteers of America, we’ve been able to focus more of our time and attention on homeless women, because several years ago, there was really a virtual wasteland, there was no place for women to go, and so we moved some things around between our four ministries and we were able to focus on women. And what we’re seeing is that about 30 to 50% of the population that are coming to our homeless shelter for women are over the age of 60. So imagine if your mother or your aunt was homeless. Changes the perspective when you tend to bring it down to that level. And then of the remaining people, about 15 of those women are pregnant. So we’re seeing a real struggle with some of them, and then a significant amount of mental disabilities as part of that homeless population as well.
  • [Don] What’s the difference, every once in awhile I read an article and it talks about chronic versus episodic homelessness. What do these things mean?
  • [Larry] I should get out my dictionary. I think that the chronic is you’ve been homeless for a period of time, like 30 days or something, is that, do you remember that exactly?
  • Yeah, I actually, I think it’s longer than that, I think it can be up to a year.
  • [Larry] Up to year? So you’ve experienced ongoing homelessness for up to a year, you’d be chronic. What we’re seeing in Denver, and I know Brad’s experienced this, is a transitory homelessness, where people are also moving through Denver, for services or for whatever. They try to get a job, they can’t, or they’re trying to get marijuana or whatever it may be, and so we’re seeing a completely different population group that moves through town, and that’s especially problematic in Aurora right now, where we’re seeing a lot of homeless people moving through and seeming to be transient in terms of their homelessness.
  • [Brad] And Don, if I could, this is just an example, we see, we had about 10,000 different individuals, a little over 10,000 different individuals come to the Lawrence Street Community Center, which is kind of our main facility downtown, and about 7000 of those, we saw for the first time this year and really if you go back the year before, it’s the same thing, it’s between 60 and 70% are new folks that we had never seen before. So, I think, you know, it’s a good indication.
  • [Larry] And also the women that we’re seeing, especially over the age of 60, are experiencing homelessness for the very first time, either due to rent increases or divorce, the death of a spouse, whatever it may be, so it’s a different issue relative to why they’re becoming homeless.
  • [Don] Now it’s easy to be isolated from all this if you’re a student here, or if you’re going back and forth to work every day, but when you’re exposed, you see a lot happening. So talk to us for a minute about the theological basis for caring for people who are homeless, because on the one hand, you can become either, I don’t know, calloused, it’s somebody else’s problem, you go right by them, or you can just be so caught up with your own world that you don’t even know that it’s happening. But why as a Christian are you, and what’s the theological basis for you, or biblical basis for you, Christians caring about this.
  • [Brad] I think this is what Christ, Christ came, you know, to love us all and He has a huge heart for the poor and needy, preach the gospel to the poor, you know. And so, I mean frankly, it’s at the very core of who we are at Denver Rescue Mission and I know it is at Catholic Charities as well. And so, I just want to say, although we’re sitting on either side of Don here, Catholic Charities and Denver Rescue Mission work very, very closely together. It’s two faith-based organizations in our community, we try to really complement each other and work hard on different things together, honestly because of what Christ did for us.
  • [Larry] Right, you know, if you go back to some of the biblical roots, you can go back to Exodus, and some of the situations that confronted the Jews as they were leaving Egypt, and then throughout the time they were in the desert of examples of poverty, and Moses calling these things out and telling each other to help their neighbors. And it goes on, Deuteronomy speaks extensively about poverty, and Matthew 26 is the famous, you know, “When did I help you, Lord? “Oh, well, when you were naked, “you clothed me, when you were,” and so it’s throughout the Bible, in Acts of the Apostles, people sold all they had and gave it to the community so they could follow Christ. And I think that at the end of the day, Jesus Christ calls each and every one of us to reach out and help our neighbors, and it’s not just physical poverty, it’s not just material poverty, it’s spiritual poverty and the beautiful thing, I just want to give you a shout-out about this university, it brings tears to my eyes to see so many young people here celebrating their faith. I mean, this rendition, congrats to you guys, by the way, it was a beautiful, beautiful song, two songs, and it’s really helping people with their spiritual poverty is just as important as helping someone with their material poverty. So don’t think that the only way you help the poor is by handing someone a sandwich. Sometimes it’s by telling somebody you love ’em, or by picking up somebody’s book, or whatever. And that’s helping the poor, you just may not realize that they’re poor at the time you help them. So it’s broader than just the people that we help and see that are homeless, it could be someone who is spiritually just as impoverished as someone who doesn’t have something to eat.
  • [Don] So you guys, I know you both have Christian motivations to be in the position that you’re in, you gave up a lot, and yet you are partnering with the government, with the city government especially. Sometimes we think, well, we can’t work together, but you actually are, and there’s been a lot of good cooperation. Tell us about that.
  • [Brad] Yeah, so when I first got to the Denver Rescue Mission, we kind of acted as an island, and I said, “You know, we need to be at the table, “and we need to, what is it we can bring to the table “to be able to help folks?” And so I tell folks there’s this line in the sand, you know, that we try to work closely with government on. On the one hand, the government doesn’t want taxes to be used to proselytize, and on the other hand, we want to share the gospel with everyone. But if we go to the end of that line, we want to address the issues of homelessness. No one wants anyone to freeze to death, no one wants anyone to starve to death in our city, and so we go up to that line and we reach across with city officials, with businesses, with other non-profits, actually, and we walk down that line together to try to address these issues that really just mean so much to all of us, and that’s taking care of God’s people. And so, now, sometimes there’s bumps along the road, Don, and so sometimes we have to pull back, or sometimes the city has to pull back, but we try to work together and we’ve had, fortunately, a city that has really said, “We want to take care of folks, “we want people to not freeze to death “and have a place to stay.”
  • [Larry] Amen, yeah, I couldn’t agree more, and actually I follow Brad’s lead. So, I followed Brad in my career into the not-for-profit world, and the thing that we’ve come to realize is that we never compromise the dogma, doctrine of the Church, or the teachings of Jesus Christ, never, and if somebody asks us to do that in order to get money, we tell them to keep their money. And every time that we’ve done that, I’m happy to say they’ve given us the money anyway. So, it really is a testament to being bold and witnessing your faith. And the other thing too is, you know, sometimes we get caught up in our denominations. We’re all up here, lovers, followers of Jesus Christ, right? We’re probably 95% of the way on the same exact path and there’s 5% out there that we might differ about. We should really focus on that 95%. Remember that as Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, you can never compromise the values that He gives you, and if you do that, it always works out because it’s His money anyway. And I’ve found in working with the city of Denver, especially, and mayor Michael Hancock has been very, very helpful to Catholic Charities and even been to our pro-life gala, The Beacon of Hope, last year, and it’s really pretty amazing when you stand up and you witness Jesus Christ and His values, people come, they’re drawn to it, because truth exists, we don’t make it up. We discover it, but we can’t write it to fit what we want, it’s what God wants, and we just got to remember that.
  • [Don] Guys, part of the reason for having you come today was a question that I’ve grappled with for many years, and that is so you’re driving down the road and there’s somebody at the intersection and he’s got a sign saying hungry, feed me, or you’re walking downtown and you’re approached, you know, 13 times on your way to wherever you’re going. And then, as a Christian, I read verses like in Luke 6:29-30, where in the ESV anyway, it’s “Give to anyone who begs of you, “if anyone asks of your cloak, give it to them, “do unto others as you’d have them do to me.” Or I think of James, chapter two, which says, “If you say to somebody go in peace, be warmed and filled “without giving them things they need for the body, “what good is that?” And talks about works and faith. So help us out here. What do we do in a situation that’s like that? We don’t want to push anybody into dependency, but we also don’t want to become calloused. There are two ditches.
  • [Brad] Well, first of all, let me say it’s an individual decision. But here’s what we say at the Denver Rescue Mission, and I’m asked this question a lot, and if someone approaches you, you put your hand up and you say, “No, have a good day,” and then you keep walking, and then what you do is you try to support your church, Catholic Charities, Denver Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, the people that are really trying to get real change in people’s lives. Now, that’s a difficult thing, and Don, I’m not gonna tell you I’ve never given anyone any money, and so it really is an individual decision, but this kind of came to light the other day when one of our chaplains in one of our chapels was talking about his own dad, his own father, who was an alcoholic, lived on the streets, and he got between 50 and 150 dollars a day doing this, and then finally called his son and said, “Hey, I know you’re a chaplain of the Denver Rescue Mission, “I want to come stay there.” And he said, “If you come stay here “in our New Life rehabilitation program, “you’re not gonna be able to drink anymore.” And he said, “Well, I’m not gonna do that.” You know? And so he was able to stay on the street because people continued to give him the funds, and he didn’t see that real change, and he eventually died on the streets. And so it’s a pretty powerful statement and the guys in our New Life program tell me the same thing.
  • [Larry] I would agree. We print out cards by the thousands now, and we hand it out to people, and on that card are four of the shelters that we operate with phone numbers. And when they call those phone numbers we will, if we need to, go pick them up, and either bring them back to Catholic Charities or to the Denver Rescue Mission or Salvation Army. And then there are also people who say, “Well, I’ve gotta do something.” So we recommend that you wrap a, you can get a McDonald’s gift card for $5, you can hand that out if you really want to do something. Dry socks are always needed by people in the streets.
  • [Don] But can’t they be traded in, the McDonald’s gift cards? Is that true or is that a rumor?
  • [Larry] I don’t know, I don’t know.
  • [Don] I mean, you do run the risk, whatever you give, creating some kind of black market for, but it’s an individual decision, just like you said, Larry.
  • It is, it is. I do not personally hand out things to people on the street because I know that if I give them something now, you know the old adage, give them a fish, they’ll eat for a day, teach them to fish, they’ll eat for a lifetime. Tough love is all about helping somebody understand they have to learn to fish for themselves. And if you just feed them on the street, you perpetuate the problem. My father was actually homeless for a period of time at the age of 65, and by the grace of God, his brother went and got him and picked him up and took him in and he got sober and he was sober the rest of his life, but people didn’t help him, and so he finally hit bottom, and you gotta remember that, you got to help these people and sometimes love is tough.
  • [Don] So, you don’t want to become calloused. That is so easy.
  • No. And pray for them.
  • [Don] Just to walk away and everything, and you don’t wanna, yeah, you want to pray and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance.
  • [Larry] Exactly.
  • [Don] But you also want to be effective, and that’s where hearing this from you guys is really helpful to us.
  • [Larry] Yeah.
  • [Don] Okay, so you’re more experts than anybody else in the room on the issue of homelessness, and we had a little conversation about this in the office. But if somebody comes up to you and they go, “Okay, Larry, what is the solution to homelessness?” Now, you’re thinking in your mind, it’s such a big problem, there are many solutions to it, but you’ve got some really important ideas on this.
  • [Larry] Yes, so I would turn to everybody in the audience and say, “Is everybody into stopping homelessness?”
  • [Audience] Yes.
  • [Larry] Yes? I couldn’t hear you.
  • [Audience] Yes!
  • [Larry] Okay, the solution is really easy. Get an education, get married, and then have kids. 96% of the time, you will not wind up being homeless. We forget that marriage and the family is the best answer to not being homeless. Do not get pregnant before you get married, you will not be homeless. And do it in that sequential order, and we forget that when marriage goes down, the government gets bigger. When the government gets bigger, our faith and our morals gets challenged, and marriage continues to fall. It’s in marriage that we will stop some of these issues. Now that’s at a global level. At a street level, get sober, get a job, get an apartment. You’re not gonna break homelessness if you’ve got a drug dependency. In my opinion, it’s one of the key things, I speak from experience, and you are going to have to get a job if you don’t want to be homeless, because you got to have income, and then you find an apartment, and that’s the beautiful thing about the two programs that we run is we are always focused on helping someone up and out, not just giving them a handout, but a hand up, right? So helping them gain that sobriety, gain apartment-hunting skills, gain job-finding skills, and then they can break out of that homeless trap.
  • [Brad] And I think one of the things that we talked about before this was both Larry and I agree, as does Don, that the person of Jesus Christ can change people’s lives forever, reach into the deepest bowels of the horribleness of life that they’ve experienced, and change their lives forever. And so, I mean, He’s really the key.
  • [Don] Well, that sign on the Denver Rescue Mission’s been there forever, Jesus Saves.
  • [Brad] Yes, yeah.
  • [Don] And because it’s so old, some people kinda snicker, like, “Oh yeah, Jesus saves.” But it’s true!
  • [Brad] It is true, it’s interesting, the guys on the street don’t call it Denver Rescue Mission, they call it Jesus Saves. So what does that say?
  • [Don] What about the church? I don’t know if we have any pastors here, we probably do. And churches want to be effective, what do you recommend to churches?
  • [Larry] Well, again, it goes back to, I think there’s different ways to work on poverty. My view is a little different, and first and foremost, help the people that are closest to you. It could be a parishioner, it could be your neighbor, it could be somebody in your house, could be your brother or your sister who’s struggling. You know, I have a son who’s autistic and he fell away from the church, and I have another son who’s a FOCUS missionary, and he came back this summer and he said, “You know, dad, I’m really focused on Ian.” And by the grace of God, my son Ian was going to Mass and back in his faith at the end of the summer. Praise God, right? I mean, that is beauty. That’s helping the impoverished. So, it starts there, and then as a church, I think what you do is you can come together and offer volunteer time, bring people down to the ministries and show them the joy of giving. Participating in helping to understand that these people that appear to be homeless, and the people that you may not want to touch because they’re dirty, or their clothes are not the most fashionable, it’s only by the grace of God that we’re not there. And they’re just human beings like all the rest of us, and they’re looking for love, they’re looking for somebody to say their name. I mean, I think Brad will confirm that a lot of times, people say, “I haven’t heard my name in months.” And when you sit down and you say, you know, “Frank, how are you doing?” It changes their whole demeanor, because they never hear their name said. Imagine how you would feel if nobody ever said your name. So I think it’s giving of yourself that way, both in homes, in your parish, and at places like Denver Rescue Mission and Catholic Charities that you can change lives.
  • [Brad] Really, that’s great, Larry. I think the other thing we say is that we’re just the arm of the Church, and we try to just coordinate and work closely with churches who are doing a chapel every day at our facility, and working alongside folks that are coming from congregations.
  • [Don] You know, I wrongly said there may be a few pastors here, there are a lot of probably future pastors and future church leaders here, my slip-up. Well, so how about now? Do you have any students involved in your ministries, is there any way for students at CCU to be involved to have a particular burden for this, uh…
  • [Brad] Yeah, so let me say, you can just go on our website, denverrescuemission.org, there’s a little Volunteer button there, it asks you for a little information, and then you can see all the different volunteer opportunities. I mean, you could bring seven or eight folks down and help come serve a meal. If you really want to come, we have a five o’clock breakfast that takes places that we love people to come, and it’s usually pretty easy to have an opening there. And so…
  • [Larry] We have one of those as well.
  • [Brad] You have one of those as well.
  • [Larry] I think we always have an opening for that volunteer slot.
  • [Don] It’s the secret of church ministry, serve food, serve it.
  • That’s right.
  • [Larry] And we’ll even feed you if you come down. Honest to God, and it’s great food.
  • [Don] Well, I appreciate you guys!
  • [Larry] ccdenver.org is our website, exactly the same thing as Brad, we have a Volunteer button, click on it and you can come down and volunteer as well.
  • [Don] Before we close, anything you want to say to our students?
  • [Brad] Just that we couldn’t do this work without this great community that we live in. We live in a very giving community, and so I really appreciate that. And the other thing I just want to say is I continue to be very impressed by the young people that come to work at the Denver Rescue Mission. And so I’m an old guy there, but we have a lot of young people that are coming, just that are excited about the work. Some graduates of CCU, you know, but are just excited about making a difference in the name of Jesus Christ, with people that are poor, hungry, and needy, and I’m just really excited when I see you all here today.
  • [Larry] Yeah, I would second that, and I would also say that remember, you are the Church. You are the hands and the feet, the eyes, the ears, the mouth of Jesus Christ. Don’t ever leave your faith behind. You’ve got to keep that as the first and foremost thing in your life, and if you do, everything else works out. Maybe not as you thought it would be, but it definitely works out to the greater glory of God, and that’s the most important thing, so thanks for what you’re doing, thanks for being here, and for witnessing your faith in school, because so many young people that go to college wind up losing their faith, not growing in their faith and that’s the beauty about this university and I want to say thank you to you, and Jeff, and the whole crew, your entire staff for just being the bulkhead of Christianity in our society today for young people and really standing up for Jesus Christ. God bless you.
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