The Table Podcast

Transformative Relationships with Homeless People

In this episode, Bill Hendricks and Wayne Walker discuss how to minister to the unsheltered, focusing on the importance of evangelizing and discipling homeless people. Note: This interview was recorded before March 2020.

Timecodes
01:46
Why people experience homelessness
03:19
Walker’s involvement with the homeless population in Dallas
05:28
Helping the homeless requires more than a bed and a meal
07:37
Our Calling’s approach to working with the homeless population
09:15
Evangelizing and discipling the homeless
23:54
Understanding the Dallas Homeless population and demographics
29:54
Should I give money to a homeless person?
33:36
Our Calling’s Directory of Homeless Services
37:24
Learning how to be actively involved in the life of the unsheltered
42:18
The universality of people experiencing homelessness
Resources Our CallingWebsite App with directory for homeless services
Transcript
Bill Hendricks
Hi. My name is Bill Hendricks. I’m the Executive Director for Christian Leadership at The Hendricks Center. I want to welcome you to this edition of The Table podcast, brought to you by Dallas Seminary. On The Table, we discuss issues of God and culture. And in this edition we’re going to discuss … I’m gonna call it an issue, and then qualify that in just a second. But the issue is that of homelessness, an issue which just about everybody I think in our country is familiar with.

I almost hesitate to call it homelessness, because that has a way of objectifying it as a problem, when in fact we’re talking about humans made in the image of God. And I really can’t think of anybody who’s better qualified to be with us to share his insights today than my friend, Pastor Wayne Walker, who is the Founder and the Executive Director of OurCalling Ministry. Wayne, welcome to the table.

Wayne Walker
Thanks for having me.
Bill Hendricks
And you’ve been on the table before, I think, with Dr. Bock. So welcome back.
Wayne Walker
Well, thank you.
Bill Hendricks
Thanks for coming back.
Wayne Walker
I guess I didn’t say anything stupid, you know, too bad.
Bill Hendricks
I don’t think so. But I want to press in to what I just said. I do think that we have a tendency, by calling it homelessness, we’re automatically and immediately stating things in terms of a problem, which tends to mean that we think of homeless people as problems. And you’re so way beyond thinking that way. That’s why I’m glad that you’re here. So help us unpack that piece just maybe as a way to get started.
Wayne Walker
Well, I think in a little bit more politically correct terminology, people would now say that they’re people experiencing homelessness, not homeless people.
Bill Hendricks
Ah, good. So we’ve started to move to humanize this.
Wayne Walker
Oh, yeah. Exactly. And homelessness is a state of disconnection. You’re disconnected from family, you’re disconnected from friends, you’re disconnected from medical resources, income, of course housing, jobs. Those are all temporary things that, if we’re not careful, we think are also the solution to solve homelessness. But these are people that are experiencing a certain level of trauma, maybe experienced, have a history of a certain level of trauma, that find themselves just completely disconnected from the world.

What happens is you get disconnected from the things in life that make life stable for you, and then you find yourself in a community where it’s vile and exploitive. And then you get to a point where you just don’t care anymore. You see the guy with the duck dynasty beard and the backpack and you look at him and you say, “Man, why don’t you go get a shower?” Or, “Why don’t you shave?” Or, “Why don’t you change clothes?” And you get to a point where you don’t care anymore, because you feel that no one really cares about you.

Bill Hendricks
You’ve just given up.
Wayne Walker
You’ve just given up. Yeah. It’s like if you and I go camping, the first day we don’t want to touch anything, we’re trying to be clean. And by day three or four we’re willing to just wipe our face on our sleeve and just keep going. And if you’ve done that for six months or a year …
Bill Hendricks
It becomes the new normal.
Wayne Walker
… it’s the norm. That’s right. And so homelessness, people find themselves living in places they’re not designed to live, doing things that we’re not supposed to do, and find themselves in places where they’re being hurt, and often they’re hurting themselves.
Bill Hendricks
Wow. So, give me a little bit of your history. How did you get into this line of work? Where was growing up for you, and background? And you graduated from Dallas Seminary in 2007. Give us just a little bit of that story, and then how it led into OurCalling.
Wayne Walker
Sure. I’ve always been around poverty growing up. When I was about ten years old, my mom and dad became foster parents. And so we were not a wealthy family by any means, not even probably barely middle class. And we had foster kids come and move into our home. Over the years we had 67 different kids, and kids that had been abused in horrible ways, kids that had been subject to the worst kinds of torture and terror, kids that watched their parents die, or watched people try to kill them.
Bill Hendricks
Speaking of trauma.
Wayne Walker
Oh, yeah. All kinds of physical trauma, sexual trauma, emotional trauma. And so I grew up in that family with those kids. I also became an addict at a very young age. My mom and dad love the Lord and love each other. And yet, as a kid, I made some stupid choices. And it was in college when the Lord grabbed me by the throat and body slammed me through Campus Crusade, actually. And in that process I started to recognize that God had created us for something more than just a vocation and just to make something or build something.
Bill Hendricks
Just to jump in there, so in a sense, I guess you were headed down that path of giving up. You could have ended up there.
Wayne Walker
Oh, absolutely. I come from a long history of families of abuse and addiction. My parents are first generation believers. And so I’ve got lots and lots of dysfunction in every family, but in mine it doesn’t escape, just like everyone’s.
Bill Hendricks
So it truly is a story … as it always is … of God just reaching down and saying, “No. You’re mine.” Plucking you in the hands of grace.
Wayne Walker
I remember being in the back of a police care one time thinking, “You know what? I think God has a bigger plan for me than this.”
Bill Hendricks
Wow. Praise God.
Wayne Walker
And I think anybody is on the verge of homelessness. It’s not just because people are poor. I meet enough people that come from the wealthiest families in the city. It’s not just poor people staying poor. And it’s not just rich people becoming poor. It’s a state of disconnection that really, in some cases, has little to do with income. But we see people that are former NFL players or basketball players. I’ve met former chief of police.
Bill Hendricks
Entrepreneurs.
Wayne Walker
I’ve met former graduates of Criswell, former graduates of Southwest, and former graduates of Dallas Theological Seminary that are homeless. Former … people that have been PhDs and all kinds of lines of work that find themselves in that state. So, I’ve been around those people and served in shelters before, and in the Middle East, served as Palestinian refugees and different places and villages in Africa and places. And then when we came to Dallas, I was a software developer. It really helped pay for seminary. But I really got tired of working on the next version of an app, and wanted to work on the next version of a person.
Bill Hendricks
Love it.
Wayne Walker
And so we were probably here six months before my wife and I just started hitting the streets and serving meals. Just sandwiches. That’s usually how it starts. But they you quickly realize people need a lot more than food. There’s food options all over the city. There’s even housing options and recovery options and shelter options. And for some reason, those just aren’t working. Every person we see has been in housing before. They’ve had 40 different jobs. The things that you think are the solution are really the symptoms of the bigger problem.

And we recognized that there wasn’t much in the space of outreach for the people on the streets. Homelessness is a huge community and it’s a huge culture. And most people think of it as the guys in the shelters. Our specific focus are what’s called the unsheltered, so those that sleep outside every day.

Bill Hendricks
They truly live on the streets.
Wayne Walker
Oh, yeah. Outside every day, the tents in the woods, the people behind the liquor stores, under the bridge. Some of them are panhandlers. Most panhandlers are not homeless, that we work with. But people that are outside every day, the people that won’t go into shelters, the people that are living in their cars with their kids. That’s our primary focus.
Bill Hendricks
And what’s your approach to working with them?
Wayne Walker
Well, I hope our approach is focusing on their real needs, and not get distracted by their felt needs.
Bill Hendricks
So you’re talking about their heart needs, their soul needs, their connection with God.
Wayne Walker
Yeah. So you take a guy who’s lost the last 40 jobs. And standard American logic is, let’s give him job number 41. You just set him up for failure. He can’t keep a job. He doesn’t know what to do with the money. He finds himself hurting himself or hurting others. You take a person who’s living outside and you think, “Hey. We just need to get this guy housing as soon as possible.” There are cases where that works, but most of the time, the reasons that they lost their housing to begin with, they’re gonna follow them wherever they go. And sometimes those reasons are not economic at all.

And so what we’re trying to do is really evangelism and discipleship. So we have a team of folks. And, of course, we work on all those felt needs, so clothes and laundry and shower and food and jobs and job training and IDs and get your warrant, and fixed and mental health care and physical health, and all that stuff is important. But if you have this foundation of faith, if you don’t have any hope in your life, if you don’t have a reason to get up in the morning and a reason to work hard, and a reason to take your meds, and a reason to take care of yourself, and a reason not to hurt yourself and hurt others, why not? If there’s no God, why don’t we all go get high very day?

God has a plan for us and a purpose for us that is way beyond us just taking care of our own physical needs. And so it doesn’t matter if you’re making six figures and you’re drinking like a fish, or if you’re a homeless guy drinking like a fish on the side of the road, we really want to address the heart issues. Our goal every day is how do you become the man or woman God wants you to be? And really focused on evangelism and discipleship, in the process of helping people meet all those other needs.

Bill Hendricks
Well again, I want to camp on something you just said, because I think many listeners who … they have a stable job, a stable income. They have education. They have a lot of resources or advantages, I guess I’d say. And they feel like, “And I have those, ’cause I worked hard in school, and I’m responsible. I get up every morning and I go to work, blah, blah, blah, blah.” But they don’t have God. And so in one sense, even though they may have a pretty good income, they still have a poverty of soul going there, which, if the circumstances come about in the right ways, it seems to me they’re right there with that person who can’t keep a job because they’re disconnected from life, basically. They’re disconnected from the Lord.
Wayne Walker
If you take the words of Jesus in Matthew, I think it’s 22, where he takes the whole Old Testament, the summary of the law and the prophets and summarizes it, gives us the Cliff Notes version, here’s the main thing, the greatest commandment is to love the Lord, with everything you got, head to toe, knees and shoulders, love with your soul, your mind, your spirit, your strength, everything you got. And that’s the goal of every person on the planet is, can we love the Lord with everything we’ve got? Unfortunately, in this world, we find ourselves distracted and loving other things.
Bill Hendricks
Very distracted.
Wayne Walker
So it doesn’t matter if your love of other things is smoking weed every day, or trying to hit the next stock, or the car you’re working on in your garage. It doesn’t matter what it is. It’s, do you love the Lord? I have no doubt that the Lord loves you. I have no doubt that the Lord loves you so much he sent his son. I have a real doubt that we understand how much he loves us, and that we absolutely reciprocate that love to him. And so that’s our focus.

And some people focus on evangelism and discipleship with kids in school or with people in nursing homes, or people in a church. Our focus is evangelism and discipleship with those people that sleep outside.

Bill Hendricks
Now let me take that second part of that, the discipleship part, ’cause I’ve met a ton of people who say, “Oh, we’re gonna go out n the street and witness to the homeless.” And they give them tracts, or they give them whatever version of the gospel they share, which is wonderful. “Jesus is the answer, buddy.” And then, “Oh, there’s a shelter over here. They’ll get you some food.”
Wayne Walker
Be warm, be filled.
Bill Hendricks
It’s kind of … right. And you’ve introduced the term discipleship in the equation. And I must say, until I think I first met you about four or five years ago when you spoke at a faculty workshop and presented your ministry. And I’m pretty sure you’re the first person I’ve ever met who used the term discipleship in connection with the homeless. And it … At first it seemed shocking to me, ’cause I thought, “Well man, to be a disciple, you need to be part of a church. You gotta be a part of a community. That’s a process over time. These people are real transient.” How do you do unpack that for us.
Wayne Walker
It’s funny that you say this. I, years ago, was talking to your father when I told him I was gonna leave seminary, and I had a full time job at the seminary and could have stayed here, very comfortable. I wasn’t good at it, but I had it. And I told him I wanted to leave and go full time and work with the homeless community. In fact, I actually went around to all the different non profits in the city that work with the homeless and said, “Here’s what we want to do. We want to work with the people outside your shelter. We want to work with the people down the street that won’t come in.” And most of them were completely anti that. “You know, if they’re not willing to come in the door …” It’s kinda like church. If you’re not willing to walk down the aisle, and come in the pews, and sit down, we just don’t have much for you.

And so, when I told your dad, “Prof,” I said, “Prof, I want to go, and I need to do this full time, because they need more than a sandwich. They need more than a hand on a shoulder and a prayer once a week.” So. But we were that church that served thousands of meals on the streets. We could cook food in the best commercial kitchen at the church. We started with sandwiches, and then got to really gourmet food. And we go down there … and we still see this today. You drive down the street, you see this. A church shows up, and they pass out boxes full of shoes, and they give out tons of Bibles, and they serve tons of food. They lay hands and pray for people, and preach, and they leave. And that’s wonderful. If that’s what you can do, that’s wonderful.

But we also have to recognize that we would never consider that ministry to anybody else. Think about our kids. We don’t want someone just to fatten our kids up and play X-Box with them and talk about Jesus and leave. We want them to intimately teach our kids to follow Jesus. We want them to help them grow in their relationship with the Lord. We wouldn’t do this with men or women in the church. We’re gonna go just give them a barbecue sandwich and talk about the Lord and walk away. We want them to intimately be growing and learning about a relationship with Jesus, and learn how to follow him and how to pursue him.

And so when we go down and we … We’ve actually changed the gospel and to be very transactional when we do that with the homeless community. In fact, most groups don’t say this, but here’s the way it comes across. “If you’ll say these magic words, or listen to me preach, you can have this free stuff. I’ll give you a free meal if you say this magic prayer.”And even though that isn’t the words that are expressed, that is what’s received and implied. So you have every homeless guy in Dallas has trusted Christ seven times a week for the last eight years. He has no idea who Jesus is, ’cause no one’s willing to take the time and sit with him, and show him how to follow him.

I talked to a guy a few months ago. He came to me and he said, “Wayne, I’m not seeing any fruit in what we’re doing. They call me the sandwich man. I make hundreds of sandwiches and I pass them out in these five different locations, and it takes eight hours a day to make the sandwiches and go pass them out.” He’s doing it seven days a week. Awesome. Great. “You are the sandwich man. Don’t pretend to be the gospel man. Don’t pretend to be the discipleship guy. You’re fruit, but your fruit is sandwiches. If that’s what you want to produce, you’re doing it really well, maybe better than Subway and Jimmy John’s.” But if you really want to invest in people …

Bill Hendricks
That’s a different thing.
Wayne Walker
That’s a different thing. Think about it. You pass out all these sandwiches and all this food. How much time do you actually spend with a real person? How much time do you actually sit down and shut your mouth and listen to them, because, believe it or not, they are the expert on their problem. They’re the one with the PhD on homelessness. They’re the ones that understand why everything they’ve tried in the past hasn’t worked. When’s the last time you set down, shut your mouth, and listened to them, and really invested in them in a long term discipleship relationship? ‘Cause if that’s what you want, maybe you gotta stop making sandwiches.
Bill Hendricks
What you’re describing there dovetails with a view that I have. That the best way to understand people is through their story. If you don’t know their story, you don’t really have a means of knowing who they are, because that’s how their personhood gets revealed. And each of these folks has a story, and that story includes how they ended up on the street. And that story gets all kinds of clues as to, particularly, how the gospel, as it’s then worked out through discipleship, becomes applied into their life.

And one of the things I love about your work is you’ve got a menu, it’s a cluster of both practical and … if I could put it this way … spiritual services that you’re delivering to people. Tell us a little bit about that.

Wayne Walker
Well, again, I want to go back to the illustration of a church that shows up and just passes out food and stuff. I have seen, witnessed first hand, groups that do this and pass out the shoes, and then five minutes later the shoes have created a marketplace. They’re bartering. And I have watched people be abused physically and sexually for shoes. I have seen so many Bibles passed out on the street. We used to do it all the time. And I can’t tell you how many times I go under bridges now and find those bibles ripped out a page at a time, used for toilet paper. Or they’re used to roll weed. God said he wants his word in us. That’s not what he had in mind, smoking it. Although I have heard that pleasing aroma to the Lord … Anyway

But, when we invest in people, and we push the stuff aside … we want to meet physical needs. Jesus said, “When I was hungry you fed me, when I was cold you gave me something to wear.” Great

Bill Hendricks
But he also said, “Man should not live by bread alone.”
Wayne Walker
But you watch. His ministry was not … he didn’t open a Walmart of a McDonald’s. He is leading people to the Father through truth. And the investment in people’s lives has to recognize their physical needs, as well as their spiritual needs. Often we can get confused by the two. We have felt needs, real needs. The guy with the sign has something written on the cardboard sign. That’s usually a very strong felt need. Does not communicate the real need.

But to recognize that this guy has real needs, and as a church we can’t just say, “Be warmed, be filled. Come to church on Sunday morning. Hey, figure out how to pay your own rent.” “Hey, be warm, be filled. We love you, and we want to help you, and we’ll preach at you for an hour.” But we really want to invest in people that want to grow. So we have programs for kids, we have programs for recovery, we have a program for counseling, programs for people to get married. These are people that need a different kind of program, and an opportunity for them to grow in their relationship with the Lord.

And sometimes for them, that program is getting off the streets. That’s a vital thing. It’s important. Everybody needs to be off the streets. No one should have to live where these people live. But we have to recognize that housing is insufficient. It’s a necessity, but it’s insufficient. It’s impotent to really address the big issues in someone’s life. Same thing with a job.

And so what we try to do is we draw a circle around what we do, which is evangelism and discipleship. And then we invite in partners to fill in the void. And so we have about 20 agencies that serve in our facility. And then we connect people with about 200 agencies in the county.

Bill Hendricks
And some of these are government, and some are quasi faith.
Wayne Walker
Oh, yeah. So VA and medical and mental health care, and housing.
Bill Hendricks
So you’re partnered with the rest of the community.
Wayne Walker
Yeah. They come to our facility. We take people to them. We’re directly connected with them. And, ’cause we want to make sure that you get that thing looked at by the doctor. We want to make sure that you get that evaluation by the mental health care practitioner, ’cause you probably need counseling, and maybe some meds as well. That’s important.

But in the process of that, we went to help you grow in your relationship with the Lord in a contextual way. How can our staff really focus on one-on-one, intimate relationship, intimate discipleship with this community? And it is a community with a very different culture. Learning how to preach at DTS and going to the preaching classes, and all the pedagogy of Bible study methods and small groups was wonderful. But the context is very different in a homeless community. So when I preach, I preach completely different than if I’m preaching the North Dallas church.

When we teach small groups, and we do small groups. This morning our small groups are meeting. We had a 20 minute life skills class this morning on anger management. And then people break up into small groups, and Homeless men and women sitting around a table with a facilitator, intimately talking about how they deal with anger, and what that has to do in their lives. Having these opportunities for real, spiritual growth.

Now, let’s be honest. We’ve all stained our hands with four spiritual laws, passing them out on the beach and doing all that stuff. We did it for years. And that’s good. And street evangelism is important. But we have to take it beyond that. If all we’re doing is showing up and passing out food, then we’re actually creating other problems. We’re creating a need for a person to stay under that bridge to eat the food. We’re creating a trash problem. I can’t tell you how many tons and tons of trash are produced in the city of Dallas by churches that don’t pick up after themselves. We pass out resources that actually increase the drug trafficking and the sex trafficking in the streets. It contributes to the bartering system on the street. We’re enabling people.

I’ll give you an example, Bill. So you and I go under any random bridge today and we see two homeless guys, and we come up with sandwiches. We feed them. Awesome. Touchdown. We do that week after week, five weeks from now we show up and there’s six. Two months from now there’s 12 tents and 18 people standing around. You and I now have created a homeless camp. We’ve enabled people to stay there. And the longer they stay there, the quicker they die there.

Bill Hendricks
So it’s a case of toxic charity.
Wayne Walker
Exactly. Toxic charity, when helping hurts, all those kind of opportunities where we recognize that sometimes our help does more hurt. So, for example, we don’t serve any food on the streets anymore. If you want food, you can come to our facility. We don’t serve you any food you can take away. We want you, while you’re there, to meet with pastors and chaplains and counselors and doctors and all the things that you need and you want.
Bill Hendricks
So in that case you’re … if I could put it this way … in a sense using the food to introduce them to a bigger piece, which is hospitality. In other words, just like a table, we’re gonna gather around a table and have a meal together. But in the process, I’m gonna listen to you, treat you as a person, have a relationship that we’re gonna build here a little bit.
Wayne Walker
So dignity is one of our values. And I can’t tell you how many times a company will call us and say, “We had a Christmas party last night. We have a half of a bowl of salad left over. It’s been sitting in someone’s car for two days, and we want to give it to you to give the homeless. Or someone’s got a Crockpot in the back of their trunk and they’re trying to serve meals. Dignity is important. At our facility, we use food as a tool. We also use laundry as a tool. Laundry takes three hours. And for three hours our staff have an opportunity to invest deeply in your life. You’re not there because your clothes are dirty, your boyfriend beat you up and made him bring your dirty laundry to our facility. Great that you’re there. Terrible that you got beat up. How do we use that opportunity to invest in you and help you get away from him?

When we serve food, we serve steak once a week. We serve brisket, we serve ribs, we serve salmon. We want to serve really good food to treat our homeless friends with dignity, because they’re our friends. The average age is 55 years old.

Bill Hendricks
On the street?
Wayne Walker
On the street. The people we serve. So we’ve written a couple of apps. One of them we use for intensive case management. So we’ve … add tons of … almost 10,000 folks in it that we’re actively tracking in Dallas. And so we know a lot of data about the homeless community. Age of 55 years old, it’s only about a third of the homeless population are women, which is really interesting, ’cause sociologically in most communities there’s a whole lot more women than men, except in extreme poverty, ’cause women don’t live that long, and many of them are in transactional relationship to survive.

So a lot of prostitution. Every single day we see sex trafficking, human trafficking, domestic violence. Every single day. It’s a very, very violent community. And it’s usually not homeless on homeless. It’s because we attract the most vulnerable people. They attract the worst kind of predators. Whoever’s got the best food at the picnic, attracts the worst flies. And so we have very vulnerable people that attract the worst kind of predators, traffickers and other places. So, we’re trying to meet real physical needs, addressing safety needs, housing needs, health needs, all these needs, with this foundation of faith, focused on integrity and character and accountability and holiness.

It doesn’t matter if you live in a $10 million house, or you live under a $40 million bridge. God’s called you both to integrity and holiness and purity and a relationship with him, and to worship him. There’s different challenges in that big house or under that big bridge. But as men, God’s called us both to the same lifestyle and the same relationship with him and with others. And so we’re just focusing, as the body of Christ, with this very unique group of people.

Bill Hendricks
Wayne, talk to us about the reality that many people are on the street because they choose to live on the street. In other words they … if you offered them housing, they wouldn’t take it. And I know there’s a huge mental illness issue here, for many of them. And I know there’s different strata, if you will, of homeless.
Wayne Walker
Sure. I’ve heard this year after year. And I used to say it. Now I don’t say it anymore, ’cause I don’t believe it’s true. I do not believe that people would choose to live on the street rather than live in your house and sleep in your bed. I don’t believe that at all. And I say that because I have personally set down with over 1000 homeless people, and I’ve got records of it. We track the data, so I’m not just making this stuff up. They would prefer to live in a bed. They would prefer to be in a house.

Now they may choose a particular lifestyle that’s really difficult to do in a house, a particular lifestyle that means that they would have to quickly leave that bed and go do that thing and then come back. But because of the prevalence of corruption of mankind, Genesis, chapter 3, the fall, because of the reality of poverty in the city …

I’ll give you an example. So in Dallas, the median rent for a one bedroom apartment is $1200 a month.

Bill Hendricks
That’s the median.
Wayne Walker
Median. You’re gonna have to work two full time minimum wage jobs to pay that. So if you get paid minimum wage, you have to work 80 hours a week to pay rent.
Bill Hendricks
Just to pay rent.
Wayne Walker
Just to pay rent.
Bill Hendricks
We haven’t gotten to food and education.
Wayne Walker
Yeah. No water, no electricity, no, none of that. Just to pay the rent. And, by the way, you cannot rent the apartment unless you make three times the amount of rent as your income, or they won’t rent it to you. So we have some extreme poverty issues in this area. Dallas has one of the highest childhood poverty rates. And Dallas, it’s interesting, so we track a lot of data. We have the highest homeless population of any city in the South right now. We’ve just gone ahead of Houston, ahead of San Antonio. Our homeless population growth rate is faster than 95 percent of the country. And it’s not just because … the fallacy is that people just choose to be homeless. That’s not really true at all. We do have a high level of mental health issues. We do have a high level of addictive issues. But we also have a high level of mental health issues and addictive issues in every neighborhood in this county, as well.
Bill Hendricks
That’s for sure.
Wayne Walker
Not just homeless people that are drinking too much, smoking too much, or …
Bill Hendricks
Have bipolar, whatever.
Wayne Walker
Yeah. Exactly. So, we also have a poverty issue that has to be addressed. Many of these men and women will choose to live on the street because of a lifestyle that living in a shelter doesn’t afford. But they don’t want to live on the street. They want the lifestyle. I talked to a dear friend of mine. I’ve known him for about eight years. And I asked him. I said, “Why don’t you go get in a shelter?” And he said, “Because the food and the sex is better on the streets.”
Bill Hendricks
Wow.
Wayne Walker
The food’s better, because everybody shows up and gives them food all day long. All these groups, especially out of town that want to come downtown and do their thing and take an Instagram photo and go back. And I love those people. I used to be one of those people. But there are so much better ways to serve, so much more strategic ways to serve. Honestly, I would beg your churches to never go and do that without partnering with an organization that’s there doing the long term care with people.

So we have groups that’ll come down and serve meals right in front of a facility that’s serving a meal. You can serve inside, in air conditioning, where there’s bathrooms and toilets and clean plates and forks and knives, or you can serve outside in their parking lot. And we have some that’ll try to serve in front of our facility at the same time we’re serving lunch. And it’s like, “Why?” It’s not a competition.

Bill Hendricks
Duplication of effort.
Wayne Walker
And if you really want to come minister to people, we have a kitchen staff. We have a commercial kitchen. How about you let us cook the food and the serve the food. You can do that if you want. But if you really want to minister to people, come sit down.
Bill Hendricks
And eat with them.
Wayne Walker
And have a meal, break some bread, and talk about your problems, and share your testimony on how hard it is to be a man of integrity in this world today. Share your story and your witness of what the Lord’s doing in your life. Quite passing out stuff out of a window, because that doesn’t save anybody or cause anybody to get off the streets. In fact … It’s funny, ’cause I always get asked, “Hey, Wayne. What about that guy that’s always on that same corner, they’ll keep giving money to him every week?” And I’ve seen him out there for three years. I’ve seen him out there for 12 years.
Bill Hendricks
We keep giving money to him. What do you expect?
Wayne Walker
Well, yeah. Of course. If I stand in this one spot, you give me 20 bucks, I may go to that spot every single day. The definition of insanity, doing the same thing. Well, the insane one are the ones that keep giving out that cash.
Bill Hendricks
Well there must be something in it, because as I reflected on this program coming up, I have seen homeless people, out on the street, and it’s hard work. It’s hot. There’s traffic. It’s dirty. It’s dangerous. And yet they’re there. I know there may be some desperation involved, but for some of these folks, they’re selling a little thing of water to you, whatever. But it’s like, “Wow. That guy must be … That’s gotta be a hard job to have.”
Wayne Walker
Well, I think we all choose where we work. And most panhandlers make a minimum of 50 bucks an hour. Some of them are making a whole lot more than that. I was driving up near Preston and the tollway, Northwest Highway and the tollway recently, which is a really wealthy area of Dallas. It’s extremely wealthy. Mark Cuban lives close to there. It’s a very high area. And I saw someone panhandling. And as I pulled up I knew her. So I rolled down the window, and … they always hate this … and like, “Hey, Vicki. What are you doing out here?”
Bill Hendricks
You’re outing them.
Wayne Walker
And the reason why I said this is I said, “Vicki, you’ve been in an apartment for four years, and your sign says you’re homeless. You know there’s no integrity in that.” And I know in that area, she can make 500 to $1000 a day. Now she could do that, and do it for one or two days a week, or she could go work at McDonald’s, and come home smelling like french fries and grease and work horrible hours.
Bill Hendricks
And not make enough money.
Wayne Walker
That’s a job that she chooses. But I’ve also met so many people panhandling that have said the words, “I wish people would stop giving me money. I’m out here because I’m an addict. I’m a fiend. And this is the only thing I know how to do. And I wish people would stop giving me money ’cause all I know how to do with it is hurt myself.”

I was under a bridge a couple weeks ago and I met a guy. And I was looking around. There’s so many empty cans everywhere, tons of trash from churches that feed him and tons of stuff, which is great. But if he would go to a place where there was food, where he could get recovery, that would be so much better. Anyway, I look around and I see all these beer cans and I said, “How much beer do you drink a day?” And he said, “Well, I drink about seven 40s. Seven 40 ounce beers. So you do the math … there’s no math classes at DTS.

Bill Hendricks
A lot of alcohol.
Wayne Walker
So I’ve got my calculator out. That’s 280 ounces of beer. You divide that up, that’s more than two gallons a day. I couldn’t drink two gallons a day of anything. I’d be having to wear diapers all day long. “Well how do you get this?” Of course, panhandling. “Why do you drink it?” “‘Cause I hate myself, and I hate my life.” Do you really think that guy’s gonna go get into a motel today, and do you really think a motel is really gonna meet his needs? Do you really think that guy’s gonna go to McDonald’s today, or even if you give him a McDonald’s gift card, do you really think McDonald’s meets the needs of a person in that desperate condition?

Imagine you drive by and you see someone with a bullet wound. They have a wound. It’s physical. It’s obvious. They’re bleeding out. You would not give them a McDonald’s gift card or a ten dollar bill or a bag full of goodies, nor would you give them a sandwich. He needs professional care. And as much as we can, these individuals need to go and be connected with professional, full time services.

Bill Hendricks
And so, to that end, I recall you actually hand out to well meaning people, well meaning Christians and police officers and others, little, I want to say menus, as it were, or a little booklet.
Wayne Walker
So this is it right here.
Bill Hendricks
You’ve got one there.
Wayne Walker
Brought one, because I figured you’d ask about it. So we made this a few years ago in Dallas as the official directory for homeless services. It’s printed with a special process, so if it gets wet the ink won’t stick, the pages won’t stick, the ink won’t run. It’s made to fit in a pocket. And it lists where can I eat today, where are the shelters, where can I go if my girlfriend’s pregnant, where can I go if I need an ID? There’s maps inside.

We did a lot of review with the homeless community and focus groups to figure out what fonts to use, what colors to use, what’s easier to read for people that are older. We update this data and reprint this thing about every quarter now. It does have a message of the gospel, ’cause we think Jesus is pretty cool and most important.

And police officers carry this in their car. DART bus drivers use this in Dallas, that’s our transit system. The shelters use this, the hospitals use this. We go through about 400 of these a week. This is what you give someone who has need to connect them with those important agencies. And those agencies, in fact, not only want to love them well, even the secular ones, and help them get off the street, but if they want to look holistically at a person’s need, this is what you give to somebody. Give them this, give them a bottle of water, give them a granola bar.

But I’ll also tell you, a few years ago we invented … we invented … we created an app version of this. We launched it a few years ago.

Bill Hendricks
I remember that.
Wayne Walker
And the app has really blown up. So we built this little app to point people to the closest shelter, domestic violence center, rehab, detox, and place to eat in Dallas. Well, the problem with the apps on the app store is you can download them from anywhere. So people are downloading this app around the country, seeing this list of resources in Dallas, and we don’t want them to come to Dallas. So we ended up building a nationwide directory.
Bill Hendricks
That’s fantastic.
Wayne Walker
It’s got over 100,000 resources in it.
Bill Hendricks
What’s the name of the app?
Wayne Walker
OurCalling.
Bill Hendricks
OurCalling.
Wayne Walker
Just go to the app store and search for OurCalling. And it is the most comprehensive list of homeless service providers nationwide. And so it’s now being used all over the country, every state in the country. It’s being used a ton in the big cities, like LA and New York, and even in Hawaii, where they’ve got a homeless crisis. And you can open it up anywhere and find the closest shelter, find the closest domestic violence center. And in Dallas, we also use it for reporting. So if you see a tent in the woods, or even a panhandler, with the app you can report that to us, and then our search and rescue teams will go visit that location. So we’re using your eyes to help us with street outreach.

And so we built this app. And it’s funny, ’cause we really built it for volunteers and people that want to help the homeless. But in Dallas, over 70 percent of our homeless friends have phones. In some places the percentage is even much higher.

Bill Hendricks
So the homeless themselves are using it.
Wayne Walker
Oh, yeah. So the phone’s moved much higher up on the hierarchy of needs. And so not only are you able to report a tent in the woods, we have homeless people taking a selfie saying, “I’m here. I need help. Come help me now. What can I do?” I was looking through the data recently with some of our staff, and about two weeks ago, a woman submitted a picture of a sonogram. She had it on her phone and she submitted a picture of a sonogram. And she said, “I’m homeless. I’m pregnant. I’m due in a few weeks, and I don’t know where to go. What can I do?”

So this app gives us an opportunity to reach out to her and love on her well, and connect her with all the service providers she needs. But ultimately, the connection is not just horizontal. For us the connection is vertical. We want to connect them to the Lord.

Bill Hendricks
Well, I’m glad you use that word connection, ’cause that segues perfectly into what I wanted to ask you about and bring up. You’ve mentioned how the homeless, really it’s a disconnected population, disconnected spiritually, disconnected from the resources that would help. And you’re trying to connect the person to their God, and then to a vital living, ongoing transformational relationship with God through discipleship, and then connect with the resources that help them do that and help them become hopefully people with places to live again, and meaningful income, and so forth.

But there’s still another level of disconnection, and that is many, many, many people like me, white upper middle class, educated, and many of our listeners are gonna fit that category, we’re disconnected from homeless people. It’s very, very easy to drive by, to roll up the window, to change the channel … however I zap them away. I don’t want to connect, in a way, which in itself has a certain soul poverty attached to it oftentimes.

Here at the seminary we have a program that OurCalling is a part of called the Agape Program, in which we’re trying to help connect students, as they’re going through their training, to be connected and be aware of what’s out there, by way of need in communities. And so they can get course credit for doing projects and volunteer work in a place like OurCalling. And OurCalling, I think if I understand it correctly, is one of the groups that our students access quite a bit. Tell us about how that’s worked out.

Wayne Walker
So it’s funny that you say this, ’cause years ago, when I was on staff here at DTS, I was on a committee that … and I got to watch from the corner, this whole project get birthed. And it’s not a project that suggests students go play with poor people. It is a project that’s designed, it requires students to be involved in broken people’s lives. It’s easy to do anything in life, it doesn’t matter if you’re a businessman or a stay at home mom or you just attend a church on Sundays, to really ignore broken people, even more broken than you are, and to really just focus on one particular group of folks. So maybe you’re serving broken people that are in North Dallas, upper middle class, but even be exposed to different brokenness in the community.

And so we have students that come in that are not only required, but you have professors that’ll say, “Look. I’ll trade you a grade on this assignment … you write this big paper or do this exegetical or do something, textual criticism … I’ll trade you this grade of doing this big paper assignment to go spend some time with someone and listen to them, and get to know them and pray with them. And then write me a page about your experience.”

So I remember years ago I was taking soteriology and sanctification classes, and trying to figure out how to teach this to homeless folks. I remember one time buying the VHS set of Bible study methods, your dad’s stuff. And I was at a church, using one of their classrooms, and we’re watching these videos of your dad, learning Bible study methods with a guy who was a heroin addict, a guy was a crack addict, a guy who was an alcoholic, learning how to be actively involved in people’s lives.

And it’s not just an assignment for students. One of the things I tell volunteers and people that want to come down. You’re not coming here because you’re serving us and serving the homeless community. You’re coming here because you were created to be actively involved in people’s lives. This happens to be a community that is very needy. The Lord may be calling you to serve a different community. But we’re here because of our obedience to the Lord is not an option.

And it doesn’t matter if it’s your neighbor next door, or the nursing home down the street, or a homeless person, or a coworker who’s really struggling. We are created to be actively involved in broken people’s lives, and we have this opportunity for students to come and get exposed to poverty, get exposed to what we’re doing, and invite them to participate.

And it’s fun because we’ve hired a lot of students on our team. And we’ve got a fun staff of folks that serve all over this community, and it’s growing. We’ve got positions even open now. But it’s fun to see the exposure of individuals that wouldn’t normally be sitting next to someone who is homeless, how quickly they recognize how much they really have in common.

Bill Hendricks
Yeah. We’ve just got about three or four minutes left. As I reflected theologically on this theme, interestingly a song came into my mind that used to sing as a kid a lot. “This world is not my home. I’m just passing through.” And I thought, there is a sense in which all of us, as believers, we at least can identify with the homeless, that at least this is not our home. We have a home here, temporarily, but as Peter says, we’re sojourners. And so to that extent, there’s some ability for us to realize we’re not yet home. We’re still on the way. I guess the folks that you’re working with would experience that in a much more pronounced way.
Wayne Walker
Well, one of the things we like to say is, the homeless community doesn’t have the capacity to hide how they’re feeling on the inside. In fact, what you see on the outside is often a representation of their emotional and spiritual condition. You can see on the outside the way they feel on the inside. So three days ago … true story … I’m at a hospice center. And I’m with a dear friend I’ve known for almost 15 years. This woman has over 20 convictions for prostitution. Her life is just a mess. And I’m there with her, watching her, and I’m reading the Book of Psalms to her, and I’m there with her when she takes her last breath.

She’s a homeless woman I’ve known for years. I had no concern if I gave her enough sandwiches. I had no concern if she got into a physical home, which she did. On and off she’d get in, get out. I had no concern if she got enough tee shirts or had enough places to take a shower. My greatest concern was her spiritual home, like you said. Does she know the Lord? And in that moment, was she prepared to meet him? That’s our priority. That has to be the focus, that has to be what drives us to get up in the morning with anybody in our context. With us it happens to be homeless people, people that are out and struggling and need more than just a place to live.

These folks that are experiencing this mess called homelessness, they need the Lord, and they need the hope that’s only found in Jesus. Only Jesus Christ can solve what’s wrong in their heart, and that can start to heal the rest of their life.

Bill Hendricks
And I would just point out, this is a problem in global cities worldwide. This is a problem in rural small towns throughout the United States, as well.
Wayne Walker
Every town has homelessness. It’s every downtown. Even Mayberry had Otis, had a drunk downtown. So every … it’s worldwide. Poverty is a unique community. Poverty culture is unique to try to get into and serve. Learning how to serve them contextually is just as challenging as learning how to speak a foreign language or translate the Bible into an unwritten tongue. But it’s a community that is universal in desperate need of the body of Christ, not to just be involved in social justice, but to be involved in the gospel, because one of the things we often say is, social justice without the gospel is no justice at all.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah. Well, and God has planted his church and his people everywhere. And he’s done that precisely so that we would make that connection, so that we could connect people to him and be part of his body.
Wayne Walker
Unfortunately in most cities, if each church would adopt one homeless person, there would be no more homeless people on the street.
Bill Hendricks
Wayne, I want to thank you for being with us on the table podcast today. God bless you and your work. And if you have a topic that you would like us to consider for a future episode, please email us at thetable@dts.edu. For Bill Hendricks, I’m with the table podcast. Thank you for being with us today.
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Bill Hendricks
Bill Hendricks is Executive Director for Christian Leadership at the Center and President of The Giftedness Center, where he serves individuals making key life and career decisions. A graduate of Harvard, Boston University, and DTS, Bill has authored or co-authored twenty-two books, including “The Person Called YOU: Why You’re Here, Why You Matter & What You Should Do With Your Life.” He sits on the Steering Committee for The Theology of Work Project.
Wayne Walker
Wayne Walker, founder of Our Calling, continues to serve as its executive director and pastor to the homeless. Wayne earned a master’s degree in cross cultural ministry from DTS and was called to befriend and minister to men and women in the homeless community while he was completing his studies. During that time he established personal, discipleship-oriented relationships with homeless individuals, many in the same urban setting where he and his family continue to work today. Wayne and his wife Carolyn, have been married twenty-one years and have four children ranging in age from 12–19.
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