Skid Row is a twelve-block section of downtown Los Angeles with the highest concentration of violent crime on the West Coast. It is home to an estimated 5,000 people who ball up under cardboard boxes and plastic tarps at night. Sirens echo off the buildings, and the streets smell like weed and urine.
I’d show you pictures of it, but I can’t. It was too dark. Literally. I spent Friday night there with about 60 people from the LA Dream Center.
I can’t begin to tell you what a bad idea I thought that was.
But Dream Center teams have been showing up on Skid Row, day after day and every Friday night for years. They have so much street cred with the community, the game is entirely changed – even in the dark with sirens and crack smoke.
“Hey where’d all these white people come from?” I heard someone yell as we milled through the crowd.
“‘Dude, it’s the Dream Center,” somebody yelled back.
“Oh, ok cool.”
The residents of Skid Row trust the Dream Center, so they tell their stories and break your heart. When I finally pushed through the fear of going, I got to look in the eyes of a Vietnamese man who asked if I could get him a new tent, because his was broken. I prayed for a babbling woman in a wheelchair and found some Doritos for a 90-lb woman sleeping under clear plastic on the sidewalk.
Yes, many of them were extremely high and about as broken as a human can be, but they all have eyes and you can look into them; and that changes everything. Then, when they thank you for coming and treating them like humans, well…
But the question looms:
Aren’t we enabling people to be addicts and homeless by feeding them on Skid Row?
It’s a hard question. But many in the Dream Center’s army, who have escaped the cycle of poverty and addiction, will tell you – Jesus can fix this. He does it all the time. Furthermore, as the Apostle Paul told the Romans:
But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? Rom 10:14-16 The Message
The Dream Center volunteers, who sit on dirty sidewalks and pray for crack smoking homeless people, do it because Christ died to rescue all of us messed-up sinners, and it doesn’t matter how messed up. And if by offering food to a junk-sick homeless woman, The Dream Center can convince her there is a God who loves her and wants to fix her mess, they’ll keep doing it.
After all, to catch fish, you must go fishing.
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