Heart for Helping the Homeless

10.23.18 | Homepage | by The Rev. Charles Keen

    I first met Shorty in the spring of 2007.  My daughter had twins earlier that spring and we began to make several visits to her house in East Dallas. There was a Shell station on the corner of Jim Miller and Interstate 30 where we often stopped for gas. On our first or second time to stop there, a man came over and offered to fill up our tank.  He was short and stocky with a beard and a kind face.  This happened the next two or three times we stopped at that Shell station.  The man and I began to talk as he filled up the tank. I learned that he was homeless, mostly sleeping under a nearby overpass on Interstate 30, and that he was from Talco, a small town near where I’d grown up. I later learned that he was from a well-to-do family but that years ago he had gotten into drugs and subsequently ended up on the streets of Dallas. His real name I eventually learned was Joel Scott Wright.  His street name was Shorty.  I often encouraged Shorty to go to a shelter but he’d always say he was just a country boy who liked being outside, and besides he didn’t like all the rules in the shelters.  I bought him a sleeping bag and would often leave him money for meals. 

     During the winter months and particularly on unusually cold nights, I would drive over to look for Shorty, and If I found him in the neighborhood, I would get him a hotel room and a meal.  I remember one particular time when it was very cold and sleeting, I found Shorty with a friend under the overhang at the Shell station.  I put them in the car, drove to the nearest motel, got them a room, bought them some chicken and left some money when I left. When I gave Shorty money, I would tell him that I expected him not to use it for liquor which he loved and had a taste for.  He would just smile and say “surely you would not begrudge me a glass of wine.”  He could be very charming.  Once I found Shorty on his usual corner at Jim Miller and I-30, but he was missing his customary ball cap and he had a tooth missing. It seems a lady had brought him some food, but shortly thereafter a couple of younger men came along, hit him in the face and stole his cap and food.  I found out this sort of danger is a perennial problem for people living on the streets.

     Eventually, Shorty was arrested for “selling” drugs. Actually, it turned out the drug dealers would often use the homeless by paying them a few dollars to deliver the drugs to a user and on one occasion when Shorty was delivering he was caught by the police.  I learned he had been arrested when he called me from a prison in south Texas.  He wasn’t there long and when he returned to Dallas, I met him at the bus station.  He looked pretty good, was clean shaven, had a haircut, was sober and on his way to a drug rehab center where he could not have visitors  I did go by a couple of times, could not visit, but left some clothes. 

    I then lost touch with Shorty and have not heard from him for several years. It is sad for I know he has my cell phone number and usually calls when he needs something. I have tried to contact his family in Talco, but no luck and the family hasn’t seen him either. 

    Out of my friendship with Shorty, I began to get involved with the issue of homelessness.  That experience with Shorty convinced me that the best way to provide effective help to people living on the street was and is through an agency or agencies with professionals.  While I became friends with Shorty and helped him in certain ways, I was not successful in getting him off the street and back into a productive life I knew he was capable of.  So, I became involved in the work of the The Bridge, a homeless center with shelter and resources. I eventually became the chairman of the board of the Bridge.

    This is much the way that the Ecclesia Ministry began in Boston several years ago and reached the Diocese of Dallas with the founding of The Gathering in 2012 by the late Rev. Jim Webb and myself.

    The Gathering is a church without walls and has been meeting at Thanksgiving Square for more than five years under the leadership of a team of dedicated laymen and women who have the left the sanctuary and taken to the streets where they meet new brothers and sisters.  Their t-shirts read “The Church has left the building.” Under the team’s leadership anywhere from 40 to 100 homeless gather for worship, music, scripture, homily, communion. followed by lunch served by one the parishes or missions in the Diocese.

     We are working on the vision that this not a ministry to the homeless or for the homeless but the ministry of the homeless.  This Mission of the Diocese has experienced several weddings, including that of myself and Sandra Keen, some Baptisms, Funerals, healing opportunities and even a couple of confessions. The Gathering has experienced celebration, recovery, tragedy, joy and sadness and above all we know we are all broken and that is what brings us together every Sunday. There are some too, who have been with the Gathering since its first Sunday in December of 2012, fulfilling the dream of the late Jim Webb. 

    Once you have left the sanctuary some Sunday, you might come to Thanksgiving Square at 1 p.m. and watch and experience how the Holy Spirit is working outside the walls of the Church and who knows? You might even want to stay and help.