Reflection by Dana Krull
On a chilly Monday morning at the end of October, I had the privilege of going on a ride-along with Ben, a patient advocate with Mount Carmel Medical’s Outreach team, to visit nearby homeless camps where many of our Holy Family Soup Kitchen guests live. This was my first experience and it was eye-opening and heart-wrenching. I was thankful to have Ben’s company and guidance because he knows so many local homeless people and has earned their trust and respect by bringing them all manner of support to where they live, from bus passes, to band aids, to backpacks. Like me, Ben is a former military service member who didn’t expect to be serving his fellow civilians in these kinds of circumstances — but we both consider it a blessing to be able to do so.
Within the first half hour, I snapped this picture of one campsite among many tucked across the railroad tracks behind Holy Family Church in East Franklinton, less than a mile from the heart of the city and the Ohio Statehouse. I grew accustomed to seeing this kind of squalor in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not in the Midwest boomtown where I grew up. Minutes later at another site nearby, we met one of our regular HFSK guests, a fellow veteran who often stops by to pick up his mail. Tragic irony then hit me when we emerged from the wood line and I caught sight of the newly dedicated National Veterans Memorial and Museum. And minutes after that, as we drove up the bike path near a wooded area which city officials recently “remediated” of homeless residents due to complaints from locals, we ran into another veteran who receives daily takeaway bag meals from HFSK. He showed us a citation he had just been given late the previous night from a MetroParks ranger for failure to follow an order — he had been sitting on a wall near the site where the same ranger had previously cited him for sleeping. “I fought for this land, and what, I can’t even sleep on it?” he lamented to us.
After visiting more HFSK guests at their camps and seeing other sites around the I-670 underpasses where some of our guest volunteers reside, Ben drove us up to the Central Hilltop, my old childhood stomping grounds and now one of the most dangerous parts of Columbus. On Sullivant Avenue we picked up an 18 year old man who recently aged out of the foster care system where he had been addicted to methamphetamines and fathered a son whom he now cannot see. The young man needed help obtaining a copy of his birth certificate and Ben coordinated this through JOIN (Joint Organization for Inner-City Needs), another Catholic ministry on East Main Street, which graciously gave the man a voucher to use at the Bureau of Vital Statistics downtown. Although this young man who has been in and out of homes across the country may not have worn the uniform of our great nation, he, too, is a veteran of a lifetime full of combat. The harrowing trials he briefly described to us — which were surely only the tip of the iceberg — highlight the dire need for the restoration of stable nuclear families whose members have access to life-sustaining jobs and loving, supportive communities. America will surely fail without its families.
It occurs to me as I am writing this in the warmth and comfort of my home: I could have been this young man, were it not for the loving parents and extended family who set the conditions in childhood for me to thrive as an adult. Really, I could be any of the homeless veterans I met, were it not for the love of my wife, our families and our priest — and emergency savings in the bank — when I departed the military for good in 2017. Even under some of the most favorable circumstances, I’ve still had to do battle with anxiety, depression and other issues. So how much more would I be struggling during my transition without each of those blessings listed above? And, given all of this, why do I still hope that the left turn arrow will stay green so that I won’t have to sit next to the veteran who is often begging at a busy intersection near our home on the South Side?
I think the root, for me, is simple denial. When it comes to homelessness, the “out of sight, out of mind” approach helps me try to preserve the distinctly American illusion that I am in control of my own destiny, as well as the truly insidious (and unbiblical) notion that “God only helps those who help themselves.” But no matter how many zeroes are at the end of my net worth, when I realize how fragile my own existence is and how much faith and confidence I’ve placed in my economic or professional status instead of the Lord Jesus Christ, I am forced to come to terms with the fact that I am not in ultimate control of my life. While God certainly gives me latitude to make decisions and He allows me to reap their consequences, there are always other social and spiritual forces at work against me. Our common Enemy in this life wants to sow chaos, hopelessness, and death. But with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, the sustaining life He gives us in the Sacraments, and the mutual encouragement of those who are doing His work, we can serve our neighbors and show them the love of our Christ.
Dana Krull is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.