Hope for the Homeless in Poland: Part II

The following excerpt was adapted from an article printed originally in the Christian Education Journal and written by CA staff member, Paul Haenze, and his colleague Karolina Kaminiów. It is the second part in a two part series about a Polish nonprofit that exists to bring healing and wholeness to men and women coming out of homelessness.

Principles of ChSD

One cannot spend much time with Daniel before hearing the Polish phrase "przy okazji," which can be translated both as "on the way" and "at the appropriate time." It becomes quickly apparent that this is the first key principle of the ChSD ministry.

Much of the working philosophy of ChSD is to create community, a new identity group for those who are being helped. As people live in this new community, they begin to experience life together on the way—on the way to work, on the way to chapel, on the way home. As they experience life together, the homeless learn new skills. They learn the intrinsic value of work. They gain new personal skills such as caring for their appearance, watching what they eat, and learning to how they spend their money.

They also learn interpersonal skills. As they live together, they change. Daniel and his staff constantly look for opportunities to say something at the right time. In that context, group members learn to speak up when it's the right time to contact family. They solidify their plans for learning and practicing a trade, dropping a smoking habit, and moving out of the center and starting life anew. There are also times for Daniel to give spiritual input about following Christ.

Without the real-life mentoring provided by activities on the way, there would be no opportunity for giving life input at the right time. Without timely input, living on the way would not provide opportunities to really change.

Poland-Homeless.jpgWhen Daniel bought the schoolhouse, it had not been used for over ten years. The stucco had faded to a dirty gray and large pieces of the exterior had fallen off. As Daniel and his crew began to chip away, they made a surprising discovery—the original building had been built from local stone. The underlying workmanship was unsurpassed, and they decided to return the building to its original state. Daniel uses the school building as a metaphor of the second principle in helping the homeless: uncovering the person hidden by homelessness.

Newly registered homeless men and women are given haircuts and delousing as necessary. They are also given new clothes, as the old ones usually are not much more than rags. When the new residents look in the mirror, they begin see themselves as they truly are.

The center then begins the tedious work of recovering lost documents: national identity cards, birth certificates, educational transcripts, and references of work experience. The residents begin to develop a sense of self. They slowly recover the identity that they had left years before. For those who have run from the law, encouragement and help is given to make restitution. Some have returned to prison as a consequence, but most are able to return to the loved ones, families and friends whom they left years ago. All are able to stop running from their past.

Waldek (name changed) was brought to the center from a psychiatric hospital. For months he sat on a chair and stared out the window. At one point, he had to return to the hospital due to a mental relapse. Over several months' time, however, he began to recover and interact with others in the center. One day he joined the work crew and soon showed real talent for stonework. Within a year of coming to the center, he was laying stone floors with complicated mosaics of his own design. He soon learned to build stone walls from the local limestone and began to mentor others to do the same. He is a true example of Daniel's third principle of engaging in work.

Every able-bodied person is given some sort of work or daily chore. Those who are able also learn a trade under the direction of certified trainers, usually former residents. As they begin to work, they recover their dignity, learning that they can provide for their own needs.

When visiting any of the centers, one is immediately struck by the stacks of wood and the containers for run-off water. The wood is brought in by crews who scour the forest, looking for deadwood and fallen trees. It is used to heat the buildings during the winter. The water collected in the run-off containers is used to water the gardens and for general outside cleaning. These two examples illustrate Daniel's fourth principle of teaching the residents that God provides everything we need for life.

Lottery-ticket_sqre.jpgSurprisingly, the largest expenditure of the homeless in Poland is not alcohol or food, but lottery tickets. Most homeless believe that their condition is nothing more than bad luck. They buy tickets hoping that their luck will change. As they learn that God already provides for us, and that work can make us self-sufficient, they begin to make different decisions about life, work, and home.

From the very beginning, Daniel has lived with his family on-site. Daniel, Teresa, and their children interact regularly with the residents. One of Daniel's most poignant memories is of the time they had their first resident over for Sunday dinner. Their daughter climbed into the lap of the man, threw her arms around his neck and exclaimed, "Uncle, I love you!" (Uncle and aunt are used in Polish culture to express closeness to someone who is not necessarily part of the family.) From that experience, Daniel learned the necessity of giving the residents a glimpse of real life, of what returning to their families might look like.

Daniel and the others at the Christian Charity Organization are effectively demonstrating that no matter what someone has done in the past, or what they look like now, they can never lose the value given them by God. They have found that people will hurt them, even as they help. But it's never too late to try one more time.

As they draw close and live with people along the way, they help each individual find a better understanding of self, an understanding grounded in being a unique creation of a loving God. As they assist each one in uncovering the person they were meant to be, they provide the necessary tools to succeed—training, a healthy environment, a new community. And by speaking into their lives at just the right time, they are helping people learn to give thanks to the One who has wonderfully made them.

This article was originally published in the Christian Education Journal, Fall 2013, Vol. 11, Special Supplemental issue, pages 118-126. This article is copyrighted and is republished here in two parts with permission of the journal. Visit CEJ's website for information on other similar articles (www.biola.edu/cej).

Photo credit: The image of the man above is from dunikowski via photopin cc.