TODAY’S GIVEAWAY, a $10 Amazon gift card, and a digital download of my book Shattered Guilt. If you missed yesterday’s drawing, it’s not too late. Go back and enter. Remember, you can enter all giveaways until June 22nd, and winners will be announced on June 24th. HIT RAFFLECOPTER BELOW TO ENTER TODAY’S DRAWING.
Human Trafficking and Homelessness
When you see a homeless woman on the street, what do you do? My mind goes crazy with the thought of what happens to them out there. Where do they sleep? Are they safe? It’s the older ones, destitute-looking, weathered, and worn, that get me the most. But I found out that 19% of homeless children (girls and boys) ages 17 to 24 were trafficked at some point while on the streets. For many, it begins a lifetime of abuse and slavery. I know there are many scenarios, and each city is different, but the connection between homelessness and human trafficking is frightening. My friend, who actively fights human trafficking, goes on rescue missions. In her thirty years of experience, she said 90% of the victims are runaways—homeless kids from broken homes.
Melanie and Hilly in Shattered Guilt
A character in my book is Hilly and she was one of those 19%. No longer on the street, but having lived that life in her past, her niece is now at risk. Here’s an excerpt.
Driving over to Virginia’s house, she prayed for strength and courage to face the aunt, Virginia’s guardian. Melanie had never spoken to her and had seen her only once at the grocery store. Virginia had been with her. Otherwise, Melanie would have never noticed. A pang hit her heart. She parked in front of the address and stepped out. Before starting up the steps, she heard a voice.
Hilly walked toward her down the cracked sidewalk. She gripped a plastic grocery bag hanging by her side.
A wind funnel stirred up, and Melanie shivered. Not so much at the breeze but at Hilly’s appearance. A light t-shirt, leggings, and sandals provided no warmth, her thin, frizzy hair hung limply, and the smell of tobacco and slight body odor lingered. Hilly shoved past Melanie and trudged toward her house.
“Hi. It’s Hilly. Virginia’s aunt?”
Hilly stopped but said nothing.
Melanie cleared her throat. “I’m Lacey’s mom.”
“I know who you are.”
Gripping the shoulder strap of her tote, Melanie smiled. “I saw Virginia this morning.”
“Anyway.” Melanie was at a loss. Taking a deep breath, she gushed, “Hilly, can I buy you a cup of coffee?”
Hilly turned and narrowed her eyes. “No. I don’t need no coffee. I don’t need no food or clothes. We’re good.”
“I’m sorry, I thought maybe …”
“Listen, Miz Melanie, thanks for being nice to Virginia.” Hilly looked down. “But I’m good. I don’t need no help.”
“Oh, I wasn’t implying …”
Her head bobbed, and Hilly looked up, then her eyes glazed past Melanie.
Melanie turned. Nothing was behind her. As the wind whipped up, Melanie’s mind went into a whirlwind. What to do?
“I know what you want. I been to shelters all my life. They’re nice people. Always telling me Jesus is the answer.” Her eyes focused on Melanie now. “But what I’ve done, and my life now? He can’t help me. He don’t want me.” She turned back toward the house. “But Virginia, if you can help her, I’d sure appreciate it. Bye, Miz Melanie.”
That was hard for me to write, as I thought about a woman I saw once behind a large shopping center. She seemed to be struggling to sit up straight, and I couldn’t even see her face, for the sign covering it. My heart broke, and I didn’t know what to do.
How do you help someone who doesn’t want your help?
Of course, the logical answer is, ‘You can’t.’ But God can. He works in mysterious ways, and you never know how your kind words or offer of help will pan out in a person’s life. Often, you will never know if you’ve made a difference in someone’s life. But that shouldn’t stop you.
I knew a woman in our city. Everyone knew her, and we assumed she was homeless, but she wasn’t worn or weathered. She was clean, modestly dressed. Seriously, she looked like Mary Poppins, hat, umbrella and all. Our church and our family befriended her, and other churches had too. She wanted no help except for food and a place to sleep.
I’ll call this woman Grace, but that wasn’t her real name. She would walk the streets every day. She’d show up at community events and join our church for potlucks. I was amazed that a thin woman like her could down three plates of food and two cans of soda in one sitting. Back then, I never thought of her being in danger. I only wondered where she lived and how she got along.
One day, my daughter was studying at the library and said she saw Grace sleeping outside. She was partially hidden against the wall, and fully dressed. When my daughter told me, she was concerned, and I was shocked. Grace was always out walking early, all day. What could have happened to her, to cause her to lay there so late in the morning?
We had many encounters with Grace, but another incident gave me more insight. It was an unusually frigid day. I saw Grace walking, hunched over, bracing herself against the wind. She was so thin. I thought she might get blown over. I had most of my kids in the van with me, but I stopped, offering her a ride somewhere. I wanted to bring her home, but I knew I couldn’t for the safety of my family. She’d raised some accusations before, against people who tried to help her, and I was told to be cautious. Grace instructed me to take her to a friend’s house. They weren’t home, but she said she’d wait. They didn’t know she was coming, but she said this couple had been kind enough to let her sleep on their couch once. After a long conversation in my van, listening to her tell me things that I wasn’t sure were true, she slipped out, smiled at the children, and waved.
It was so cold. That’s what I remember the most. Grace had difficulty trying to close the van door because of the wind. How could I leave her to sit out in the cold? Suddenly, I remembered that my sister’s church ran a homeless shelter. It was short-term and had strict requirements, but I blurted out the name and told her residency conditions. Then, I offered to call and take her there. Grace was appalled. I had never seen her angry or upset, but with gritted teeth, she told me those places were run by authoritarians who just wanted to control your life and that they were for dysfunctional people.
“I’m not one of them,” she said.
She told me that she was just hard on her luck. (Grace had been on the streets of our city for five or six years since I’d known her.) She thanked me, closed the door, and walked up the steps to the house, and sat, huddled on the front steps, in the cold.
I went home and cried. I called the Police, asking for homeless shelters for women. I got a few numbers and called, but they were full. I gathered the children, and we prayed. I had to give it to God, knowing that in His sovereignty, He was there for Grace too whenever she might call upon Him.
So, what happened to Grace? I don’t know. She slowly disappeared from the streets of our city, but I can’t stop thinking about her. I know she came from Canada and had family there. She said her family didn’t understand her. I can only hope that our city’s kindness and encouragement for her to seek help took hold. I pray, and I hope that God led her to safety. Either way, I trust Grace to Him. That’s how we can help someone who doesn’t want our help.
What more can I do?
Be prepared. In yesterday’s post, I suggested getting familiar with your local law enforcement human trafficking task force. Do the same with homeless shelters for women and children. They are not only up against survival but in danger of exploitation. Please inform yourselves of shelters in your area and how they work. Get their phone numbers, put them in your phone contacts. Get a couple of their business cards so that you can hand them out. Did you know that 211 is a confidential resource contact for people in need. There are many organizations, both locally and nationally. I’ll list some in a Resource Document in a later post. Be willing to help, by being prepared when the opportunity arises.
Here’s a cool idea that a friend shared with me. Survival bags for the homeless in a gallon-sized baggie. Protein bars, a piece of fresh fruit, a pair of socks, and a water bottle all fit. You can even add a dollar, and don’t forget to add a business card for a shelter or just a tiny flyer with the name and phone number. You never know when someone might call for help.
When trying to help a homeless person, a trafficking victim, or someone in need, we don’t often get the response we expect. Each case, and each person is different, but pray and act. Just do something!
But I pray to you, Lord, in the time of your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. Psalm 69:13
TUNE IN TOMORROW to hear of my encounter with a potential human trafficker, and I’ll share another excerpt from Shattered Guilt. Don’t forget to click below and enter today’s giveaway. Tomorrow is another one! Thanks for joining me.
In my limited experience working on legislation aimed at treating child sex trafficking victims as victims (instead of criminals or prostitutes) many of the children trafficked are considered “throw aways”; they have been in the foster care system or run away from bad situations at home. There are many psychological tactics employed to keep these kids from leaving once they’ve been brought into the cycle of victimization. Conversely, in working with an organization that fights human trafficking overseas, some of the women in brothels who are considered to be there “willingly,” often times, don’t speak enough of the language of the country they are in to know their rights (to not have to stay in the brothel) and have been tricked into coming to that country by the promise of a job (no mention that the job is prostitution) that will allow them to send money back home where it is desperately needed. They quickly become “in debt” to the brothel for their upkeep and use of the rooms, they’re ashamed to tell family back home what is really going on, and don’t know there’s a way out. It is wonderful that you, and others like you, are using your talent to draw attention to these awful situations and educate us on how best to respond to them. Thank you!
Thank you for informing us, Debra. The more we can learn as lay people, the more equipped we can be in this fight. I sure appreciate your encouragement for us all. God Bless you.