BY ANSHIKA AGARWAL
“Get out of my restaurant. You smell. You’re a loser. Go get a job.” Pastor David Shearin –– formerly homeless himself –– reflected on the harsh reality that homeless individuals face on a daily basis. As the deepening homelessness crisis grips America, catalyzed by rising housing costs and slow wage growth, more individuals are being thrust into a cycle that seems impossible to escape.
But David is working to change that.
David has seen at firsthand what homelessness can be like: “I was adopted and grew up in the Bay Area. I became addicted to drugs and alcohol. I got myself into lots of trouble with the police, didn’t do well in school, and when I got older, I experienced homelessness myself.” Whether it is economic issues, health conditions, substance abuse or domestic violence that cause homelessness, individuals in chronic homelessness all share the grim experiences that come with it.
David recalls what changed his life for the better: “When I was in my thirties, I went through a program called Salvation Army in San Jose. That’s where I got 'saved' and turned my life around. And then I started attending Street Church at Peninsula Covenant Church, about two years before I got clean and sober.” At Street Church, David found hope, aided by the hot meals and spiritual direction he received. After his own recovery almost 14 years ago, David felt empowered to give back to those experiencing homelessness and spread the message of faith that had saved him. In 2008, the founder of the Street Church asked him if he wanted to take the ministry over, and that’s when Street Life Ministries was born. Four years later, they became an established 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. David takes pride in their powerful mission: “We work with those who live on the streets, share a prayer, a hot meal, and welcome folks in to be a part of a regular community and family.”
Street Life Ministries has grown tremendously since its inception. When David first came, the ministry only ran one night a week with an average of 12 attendees a night. Now, they have three locations, run four nights a week, and serve 100 people each night. Aside from the sheer numbers, however, David sees the biggest value in the trust he and others involved with the ministry have built with their beneficiaries. The key to these personal connections lies in his own life story, having lived through many of the same situations as the homeless he works with: “The biggest thing about our folks who live on the street is that you cannot pull the wool over their eyes. The more real and authentic you are, the more they are going to trust you.” David continued that while there are many approaches to the homelessness crisis involving “booksmarts, degrees, and college,” Street Life Ministries differs in its methodology. For him, having “walked the walk” of homelessness and being able to empathize speaks volumes into the lives of their beneficiaries.
What David loves most about the ministry is that they have worked hard to let everyone know that it is a safe environment. “At the end of the day, we just want people to come with no tension, enjoy the meal, enjoy the music, and enjoy the message,” David said. One way that the ministry has created a comforting atmosphere is through live music. Many of the homeless individuals attending have come from a day full of stress and agitation, not only from their own struggles, but also from the criticism and judgement from people around them. However, according to David, “when they come to the ministry and hear the music, it actually soothes their soul. It creates something inside and it makes the atmosphere just a lot calmer and happier.”
Street Life Ministries’ connections to local hospitals and rehabilitation programs have been successful in getting people off the streets. The best part? Many of these recovered individuals come back to serve the ministry, the same way David once changed the course of his own life.
In response to the growing homelessness crisis in America, David believes the most important change we as a society can make is shifting the mindset surrounding homelessness. He has seen that many people have a misconception of what homelessness is like and they are often scared to interact with the homeless, but believes it is important to educate ourselves to overcome the stigma: “I have seen that the media puts ‘homelessness’ and ‘problem’ in the same sentence. But people are not problems. Homelessness is not a problem –– it's a condition."
Homeless individuals face serious issues that effectively turn them into a statistic and avoid the root causes. David believes that the first step towards change is empathy and gaining a deeper understanding of the realities of homelessness: “I truly believe that we are all brothers and sisters who need to help each other out. Ignoring the issue just keeps the problem growing, and that is exactly what we are seeing right now.”