Millions of people are living in the streets of America's cities and small towns. They sleep on park benches and in subways. Some suffer from addiction or mental illness; others are just down on their luck. Most people walk by them, hardly noticing them. VOA introduces us to one man in Washington D.C. who took the time to stop and say hello, and at the same time transformed his own life.
As the sun rises over the nation's capital, Jonathan George begins to stir under his blankets on the steps of Capitol Hill United Methodist Church. Then, Rob Farley, a Washington Attorney and member of the congregation, shows up, fresh from his morning run.
Two years ago, people in the neighborhood began to complain about the homeless sleeping on the church steps. So, Rob began to wake up the men each morning and get them moving along. Then something unusual happened: One of them asked for a cup of coffee. "And I was like, oh, I don't want to do this. But it was cold, so I said sure, come in and get a cup of coffee. So, I brewed a pot," he explained.
Initially it was just coffee. Then other homeless men started coming, and coffee grew into breakfast and friendship. "This is where we hang out. we come in, I get the coffee going. Victor is downstairs preparing some soup. And then we get, uh, guys start coming in," he said.
Jonathan George has attended the breakfasts for almost two years. George worked most of his life as a building maintenance man. After he was laid-off, he became homeless.
On any given morning, 7 or 8 people show up for breakfast. Initially it's a place to have a warm meal and wash up after a night on the streets.
But then friendships form. For Rob and the other church members, it was a lesson in why people become homeless and what can or can't be done to get them off the streets.
"We have obtained the help of a social worker, Julie Turner, through an organization here in D.C. called the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. And she has been working with us to help folks get into housing," Farley said.
It hasn't been easy but there have been success stories. Alisa Lasater is pastor of the Capitol Hill United Methodist Church. "We have had four folks that let Rob or me take them to rehab. Two of whom are still in the process doing really well," she said.
Rob says the breakfasts have brought new meaning to his life. "I don't know what they have gotten, hope they have gotten something," Farley said. "But we have been able to at least transform me as a person that is more open, more understanding, more humble ."
Alisa Lasater says the transformation has been mutual. "What I am clear on is that people's lives look different. Whether that is someone going and advocating for different policies, or whether that is men in this room who have said to me, I believe now I can make a change," Lasater stated.
Rob and Alisa are not sure where the breakfasts will go from here. But they have learned that homeless people are as human as anyone else.