When Someone is Desperate and Homeless (Emily Schroeder Orvik)

Please welcome Emily Schroeder Orvik to the blog! – BL

homeless

Growing up in rural Wisconsin I wasn’t exposed to many people in need. The community I lived in pretty much kept to itself, although I suppose when there was a family in crisis people quietly found ways through their churches to provide assistance needed. As a tween and teen, I had the great opportunity travel several times to some of the large East Coast cities. I discovered, much later, that my parents used distraction tactics to divert my attention from the homeless person on the park bench in Philadelphia or the panhandler in Washington, D.C.

When I completed college in the mid-80s and moved to the “Big City” to pursue my dream of a career in marketing and advertising, I was caught off guard by the empty bottles of MD2020 abandoned in bushes at the foot of Minneapolis City Hall steps. Living in the suburbs, I was somewhat insulated. Relocating into the city in the late 90s, and though the economic downturn I’ve seen men and women with carefully crafted cardboard signs – “Desperate. Homeless. Need help. God bless.” It bothered me, but what could I do? Cash didn’t seem right – who knows what it could be used for cigarettes, booze, drugs, food? And how did these people become homeless anyway? Wasn’t there something else, some other resource? And so I passed by.

Then my personal economy tanked with the Great Recession. The loss of a six-figure consulting salary with a major retailer; several significant bills that burned through my emergency savings; more and more people just like me with good educations out of work; drove me into anxiety and depression. What if I became one of “them”?

When a pro bono opportunity to write case studies for an organization that helps individuals impacted by addiction and homeless came up I hesitated, and then accepted. Before meeting my first “subject” I was scared. What would they be like? What would I encounter? My first interview was a woman about my age. I discovered our backgrounds were very similar. We both lost our fathers unexpectedly just as we were transitioning from our teenage years to young adulthood. The divergence – her mother remarried and her stepfather molested her, which began her path down drug use, running away, and more. The people I met were good people, who made some poor decisions and were hurt by others. Perhaps there I began to see true grace.

A short time later I secured part-time employment as the communication director for a large suburban congregation. As an annual service project, the confirmation students pack gallon-sized plastic bags with comfort items for those experiencing homelessness. A granola bar, hot cocoa packets, hand warmers, gloves, socks, hats, a bar of soap, a wash cloth, tooth paste and toothbrush. Also enclosed is a note of encouragement and support hand written by the person who packed the bag.  The congregation is encouraged to take several of these “Love in a Glove Box” bags to distribute to people they see in need.

I’ve shared these bags with the people I have seen clutching those cardboard signs on the freeway exits within a mile of my home. These people who I had feared, responded graciously. Thanking me for stopping for them, hugging me, asking God to bless me. Last summer, I came upon a gentleman at a ramp and had nothing to share. I felt badly and as we made eye contact, I apologized for being unable to help except to offer a prayer. He was gracious, said he understood and hoped that I would be blessed.

While I often stress over “#Firstworldproblems” of deadlines, auto and appliance repairs, and the trials of being part of the sandwich generation. While I can’t always be the help that someone needs at that moment, I make an effort to acknowledge those alongside the exit ramps. A quick friendly word, and hand pressed against the car window as a sign of understanding and encouragement. These brief moments where God slips in with the scent of Irish Spring soap and warmth of a sidewalk embrace changes everything.


Emily Schroeder Orvik is a daughter, sister, mother, wife, friend, Girl Scout leader, problem solver, and a “dog-mom” to a Hurricane Katrina survivor. Her career in marketing and corporate communications entails working with and in businesses of all sizes and types to help tell stories and create connections between people and brands.

A farm girl transplanted to the city, Emily still enjoys spending time in the garden and with horses. She also enjoys pursuing creative and culinary crafts. While she has spent a great deal of her career ghost writing for others, she sometimes shares her thoughts and observations at her blog Em-Perical-1 (https://empiricalone.wordpress.com) Follow her on Twitter at @EmilySO or on Facebook at Emily Schroeder Orvik.

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