On Sunday evening, a group of us arrived at St. Peter’s and Paul’s Church where volunteers were busy prepping dinner for dozens of homeless people near Washington Park.
But honestly, I hadn’t come to entirely to break bread with the homeless. I was there to help them reunite with their families.
It was the first time I had recorded a Miracle Message, which is a short video message homeless people record for loved ones. Our job is to record these messages, upload them onto YouTube, then try to locate their families and deliver those messages. The ultimate goal is to reunite homeless people with their loved ones, and we’ve reunited 14 families to date.
Even after 15 years of working as a journalist, I knew this was going to be some of the rawest interviewing I’d ever done.
And the takeaways I got from recording my first Miracle Message were equally as raw:
1. There’s an Unmet Service Need: Locating Their Family
There are a ton of service organizations out there doing so many awesomethings to assist the homeless; they’re giving them dry socks, feeding them a nutritious meal, and finding them a place to sleep for the night.
But in trying to cobble together all their basic needs, there’s one service they could really use: a chance to reunite with their families.
No, not all of them want to reunite with family, and many of them don’t have any family that they know of. But from what I witnessed on Sunday, there’s a large crop of homeless people who would much prefer a phone call with their mom or sister than a hefty helping of whatever is being served at the shelter that evening.
And that’s why we created Miracle Messages.
2. There’s an Information Gap, and It’s Protracting Their Situation
In this era of instant communication, where you can literally track your friend’s whereabouts in real time, it might seem hard to understand how so many homeless people have lost track, not just of their families, but of basic information that would help lead them back to their loved ones. The more time that passes, the less likely they are to have the most up-to-date information about their loved ones — phone numbers, emails, location, and even last names (if they get married or re-married). So even if they have a Facebook or a Twitter account (also a surprise to me!), they don’t have enough information about the people they’d like to reconnect with to get started on their own.
3. You’re Their Only Hope for a Family Reunion
During my 1-minute conversation with Michael, a 40-year-old homeless man from Southern California, he teared up multiple times as he explained that all he needed right now was his mother. He had never heard of Miracle Messages until we showed up at the church that evening, but he was the first to raise his hand when we explained that we work to reunite homeless people with their families. He had no interest in getting a second helping of pasta, the only thing he could chew on was the thought of seeing his mother again.
From a side room in the church, Michael looked directly into my Samsung phone and told his mother how much he loved her and needed her now.
Afterward, he explained exactly where he sleeps, just in case we had any news for him. He left the church with a full belly and renewed hope. And now I had to get to work in trying locate his mom and deliver his Miracle Message.