Time Out of Mind is a new film in select theaters which deals with the realities of homelessness. Try to take the time to see it (at the Ritz East in Philly) or stream it on Xfinity on Demand.
In the film, Time Out of Mind everything is “reduced.” George, played by Richard Gere, is reduced to the life of a homeless man. Producer and lead actor Richard Gere is reduced of his fame as people walk by him on the street assuming that he is not an award winning actor. Writer-director Oren Moverman is reduced of his control as he willingly let go of the reigns of the script and let the story tell itself. The film itself is stark and honest because it has been reduced of popular music, character backstory, or fast paced action.
Time Out of Mind in all of its necessary reductions captures the honest life of someone on the street. Men and women experiencing homelessness have had their humanity stripped away. We stop seeing them as people and we start seeing them as scenery. In one scene, Richard Gere begs for change on the street without a single person looking into his eyes. Instead of being mobbed by fans, Gere is ignored and dehumanized.
“There are no bad guys in this movie,” Gere explains unapologetically. The daily struggles of someone battling homelessness is enough of a challenge that the film does not need an antagonist.
Just as there are no bad guys there are also no answers. There isn’t one simple solution to homelessness. Every person is complicated and every person needs to be treated differently. This is why families, churches, businesses, service organizations and strangers need to work together to help each individual person in the way that works best for them.
One hundred years ago, an educated woman named Harriet Monroe wrote an article about her time at Sunday Breakfast Association, now Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission. Despite struggling with understanding how to best help, she works hard to bring a son back to his mother. Read this historical account and see how much things have changed!
A Rescue Mission gives a great opportunity to study mental and moral changes and my observations and conclusions made from years of study are herein embodied. For twelve years, I was among the workers of the Sunday Breakfast Association in Philadelphia, Pa. The Sunday Breakfast is one of the largest Rescue Missions of this country.
When I moved from Washington to Philadelphia, I found myself very lonely. At Washington where I lived from 1886 to 1888, I soon came in contact with literary people and belonged to both literary and scientific clubs some of whose members are to this day strong personal friends. But in the twelve years in Philadelphia, I never became much acquainted with university people or authors clubs. I broke loose from too great devotion to those pursuits in order to be used for more spiritual work.
One evening in the summer of 1888, I came along Arch Street where in a basement room at Broad and Arch some women were holding a prayer service. When the meeting was dismissed a gentleman came to me and said, “We need you at the Sunday Breakfast Association to speak next Sunday night. We shall have over one thousand men present all needing to find God.”
I replied, “You asked me to talk on Dickens, Shakespeare, or any literary character then I could easily do it but to win souls to Christ I am not at all sure I could do it.”
He did not argue he simply said, “I give you your opportunity.”
That startled me and I said, “I will try.”
So the next Sunday evening at the Breakfast Association, I made my first talk before an audience largely of those in poverty. The galleries and the platform were filled with well-dressed people and instead of trying to inspire someone in need, I tried to make a fine speech for the well-dressed people. My rhetoric was perfect, my periods nicely rounded, my illustrations pertinent and I sat down pretty well satisfied with myself. Mr. Benn saw what I had done so he shook a few grains out of all the chaff I had given them, made the application, and let me down as easily as he could. But while I sat there, I thought to myself, “What if a mother of one of these lost men had had your opportunity? Would she have talked platitudes to the galleries and the platform? Would she? Would she?” I saw my wrongdoing. As I fled from the house I nearly cried.
The next day, the card of a woman whom I had met in the highest social circles of Washington was sent to my room. As I came down through the hall, I saw in front of the house her carriage with footman and driver and team of Kentucky bred horses. When I entered she broke out in a sort of wail, “I hear you spoke at the Breakfast Association last night.”
“Yes, and made a great fool of myself. I do not expect to ever go there again except as a spectator. I fear I am more literary than religious.”
I wish I could describe the next few minutes. Her face blazed. “You! You!” she said, “Why your father was a minister, your mother is a good woman, and you are not going there to speak to lost men if you have the opportunity? You have had everything which training can give and you refuse to reach a hand to lost men?”
“Well what does that concern you?” I said.
She sat down. The agony in her face became anguish. She turned white then red then back to white till I feared for her heart. “What does it concern me? Well I must tell you, I have a son who sits down in that awful crowd.”
It was my turn now to be moved. “You?” I said, “Why you live in a white marble palace. Can it be that your son is a homeless friendless man?”
“Yes,” she said, “I live in a white marble palace and I hate it from turret to foundation stone because my oldest son is not allowed under its roof. He is a drunkard and will steal everything he can lay his hands on and sell it for drink so his father forbids me to see him or to give him money. The last time I saw him he was shoveling coal into a manhole and he looked the part.” Here she tried to give me a large roll of money as she said, “Take this and please go to the Breakfast Association and find my darling boy.”
“Madam, I am not authorized to take money for the Association. Dr. Henderson is the treasurer. Do see him I will not.”
“Will knows who you are. I told him much of meeting you in Washington. I want you to take this money and find and clothe my sorrowful son. Tell him when he sees a light at the top of the house that his mother is in the attic praying for him. Praying that he will not die under this.”
I took the money offered. The next Sunday evening, I went to the Association and my face must have told the story for when I said to Mr. Bean, “I have a message.” He let me speak to the crowd again. I told many incidents of heart broken mothers because of the sins of their sons and then I told of Mrs. W nearly in the above language. Probably two hundred men requested prayer that night and I saw God could use me for other than literary work.
Mr. Bean said, “That man will not show up till the others have gone.” So I sat down and waited.
When nearly everyone had left the room a poor blear eyed youth came to the platform. He said, “Mrs. Monroe, I am Will W. Do give me some money.”
I said, “Will do you intend to break your mother’s heart? Do you intend to keep on drinking?”
“Now see here Mrs. Monroe, I have honestly tried to quit.” Then pushing up his sleeve he showed me scars. “There I have signed the pledge with my own blood.” I met him the next day at a Turkish bath house. At first they refused to take him and only by paying a high price could I secure him a bath and proper barbering. I gave him a complete outfit of clothes and he looked very respectable. A good man was put on the case to talk with him and mentor him to keep at his side whenever possible.
My business took me out of town for several weeks but when I came back to the city I want the first Sunday evening to the Breakfast Association. After the meeting was over, Will W came slouching up to the platform as vile as when I first saw him. He had sold every article I had given him for drink. This sorrowful experience was repeated about five times but as good is stronger than evil the prayers of God’s people prevailed.
After staying off the drink for some time, the smells of the street began troubling him. For that reason, I went to his father’s wholesale house on Market Street. I had met Mr. W with his wife in Washington and he met me cordially till I said, “Mr. W, I have come to talk to you about your oldest son.”
He blazed at me, “Don’t you dare to speak to me of my oldest son! He has broken my heart, his mother’s heart, and disgraced my name! I will not permit even my wife to speak of him much less a friend!”
“But he is changed Mr. W! It will be different now.”
“Oh, he has a new dodge, has he?”
“Mr. W, you must talk to me fairly about this wrecked young life or refer me to someone who can act in your behalf. I want you to put him on a farm down near Media and get him away from the smells of Philadelphia.” Mr. W. saw reason and agree to the plan.
The next Sunday night, Will sat on the platform and testified to the power of God to save. When the meeting had closed a dainty young woman wearing a costly tailor made gown said to me, “Mrs. Monroe, I am going to marry Will W. this week.”
“Oh, my dear girl do not risk it till he has proved himself for two years! Do not risk it!”
“You believe he is changed, do you not?”
“Why yes, but we should see the transformation stay before you risk your happiness”
“Will needs me now to help him keep straight. You have not as much faith as you ought to have yourself or you would believe he will hold out.”
What more could I say? They were married. His mother was present at the ceremony and they went to the farm to live. Will was held by the power of God and after much blundering they made a fair success with a farm and with their family.
This testimony was written by Sunday Breakfast’s first female graduate, Christine, who is currently working at Wayne Hall. Learn more about Christine and Wayne Hall by reading her story and seeing life through her eyes.
As I ponder what to say about Wayne Hall, the women’s division of Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, a flood of stories and anecdotes run through my mind. However the best thing to do is speak from my heart to yours and tell all who will read this story about how Wayne Hall changes lives. I was the first resident to graduate from the Wayne Hall program 20 years ago. The decision to come to Wayne Hall was reached because I was living with family and it was difficult being around all that negativity without being affected.
I never knew that solace would come from entering a program with strangers who said they loved and cared about me. How could this be: when the people that were supposed to love me treated me unfairly and wrong? When I arrived at Wayne Hall the Director, Ms. Trecia and the House Mother, Ms. Vizetta, were as different as night in day in both approach and words but the care and love that they had for us was apparent.
I lived at Wayne Hall for a year and a half with three other families. While at Wayne Hall, I went to college and held a job. The staff believed in me so much that when they found out about my love of writing, Ms. Trecia gave me an electric type writer and had one of my poems turned into a book mark. I also spoke at the first annual Sunday Breakfast Banquet. Even after I moved on from Wayne Hall, I never truly left. Once a person comes to Wayne Hall they are forever family.
Whenever I needed help the staff still looked out for me. I never thought that 20 years later I would return to be working with residents and loving strangers like so many loved me, even the donors whom I had never met. They gave, so someone who others thought had promise, could have a chance to flourish.
Before coming to Wayne Hall, I was angry and hurt that my infant son died in my arms; not because I was on drugs or alcohol, because I have never put poison into my body, but because I had a weak cervix and could not carry my child past 5 months. I knew people who didn’t want children or those who had them and mistreated them. I thought God had forgotten about me, but He knew years later I would have to speak to girls who had children die and comfort them the way I was comforted.
Since leaving Wayne Hall, as a resident: I have earned an Associate’s Degree from Community College of Philadelphia and a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Temple University, I have a 22 year old daughter, a wonderful husband, and a new business, making natural skin and hair care products called Beautiful, LLC. I let some of the girls witness this business venture so they too will believe that the beginning of a person’s life does not determine the end; hard work and effort does that.
However the best part of my life is striving to follow Christ and to have a job where I can freely do so without fear of being harmed. It is so awesome and mind blowing that God is using me, a person who has made mistakes to help others.
The current director, Rita Whitaker, says that my strongest assets are my “innocent candor, candid humor, and passion.” My passion and love is what makes me willing to fight for the residents even when they don’t want to fight for themselves. She says I am teachable, which makes me smile because people who have closed hearts and minds stunt their own growth.
As a Christian woman, I strive daily to be humble in a world so full of pride. I am indeed a work in progress and making strides because of the love of the Lord. I am moving forward because people cared enough to extend themselves to help me reach my potential.
I came back to Wayne Hall three years ago to help others, like people helped me. I saw a paper from Sunday Breakfast and decided to donate through a short lived nonprofit organization I started. I contacted Rita Whitaker to donate to a specific family of Wayne Hall for the Holidays. I never knew in a million years that a few months later I would be working there and that the young family I helped would actually be on my case load.
Now I am a House/Case Manager, which means God is using me and the staff to help women through some of the toughest times in their lives. We as staff, love our residents, even when things get challenging. They also teach us and help us grow. I have grown so much my second time around at Wayne Hall into a better mother, wife and Christian.
Riding on the train to come to volunteer at Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission in the early spring, I see the promise of new life everywhere. There are tiny buds on the trees, the daffodils are blooming with bright splashes of color, and birds are nesting.
That new life is evident here at the Mission too, but it lasts all year long. Dedicated staff members work with strength and gentleness to bring that promise into the lives of people who have had many harsh disappointments in their lives. For these people, all hope in anything has been crushed out of them. They exist, but don’t live.
Over the past nine years, my husband and I have spent one day each week here. In that time, I have watched the warmth and color come back into the lives of men who have passed through the Mission. It begins when a man eats a good meal and has a safe and comfortable night’s sleep. It continues when a man listens to and grabs hold of the Word of God.
Life without a dependable food source, without fresh clothing, safety or protection from the elements is frightening and exhausting. It steals from the mind as well as the body. New life is evident in the relaxation that comes from getting off the street and feeling secure. It is evident when eyes are able to meet the gaze of another person; in handshakes and fist bumps. Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission has been a lighthouse for the homeless in Philadelphia. I am continually amazed at the absolutely tireless efforts of so many fine, caring people to comfort those in need.
The men that come through the doors have widely differing backgrounds. Some of the men are veterans; some are college educated; some have been in jail; some have a long history of deprivation; some are addicted to alcohol or drugs. The staff works personally with each, whatever their need, to help them become healthy and self-sufficient.
But what has to happen first, and this is truly difficult, is that the person has to recognize that help is needed and to reach out for it. Reaching out involves being vulnerable and having a small amount of trust. New trust is delicate and must be carefully nurtured. The Sunday Breakfast staff is so good at doing just that!
Listening to the Word of God strengthens this fledgling trust. Hearing that forgiveness is available for all our sins fortifies each of us. It is only with trust that we can submit ourselves to the loving arms of Jesus Christ. That love, stronger than even a mother’s love, can lift us up out of a lifetime of hurt and ruinous choices.
It is here that new life begins. Suddenly, as in late spring when the trees burst into leaves and the sun is so warm, there is hope for a future that is vastly different than the past.
As the men enter the Overcomer’s program at the Mission, they find a community of faith to support the new journey being traveled. Life’s needs such as food, clothing, and safe shelter, are provided. The men can become physically healthy while their faith in God, and themselves, grows stronger.
Being even a very tiny part of what happens at Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission is such a privilege. The whole transformation starts with unknown, kind people supporting this work. It ends with a healthy man, strong in faith, going out into the world to make it a better place.
What an amazing gift!
More often than you would expect, when guests at the Mission hear that I am “a writer” their expression changes as they explain that they too like to write. Honestly, it is more accurate to describe myself as “a reader” because I genuinely enjoy reading so much more than I enjoy writing. So when I have the opportunity to read someone else’s work then I get very excited about it. Reading is a way to enter someone’s life and see through their eyes.
Despite all the negative surroundings, these homeless writers feel the human need to express themselves. This makes me feel closer to these individuals because it is a basic human desire. The desire to be understood. Don’t we all want to be known by those around us? Not just seen or acknowledged but actually known? This is why these men and women save room in their bags for a composition notebook and a pencil. Because being understood is beautiful.
Maybe this is why people share with me when they hear me called a writer. Maybe they think that I understand this yearning to be heard and known. Because I do understand it. The only difference is that I have countless outlets for my personal voice while they only have their notebook.
So in order to give a fellow writer an opportunity to be known by you, I am handing off this blog post to my friend and Overcomer, William. I did not give him the topic or edit his work. See life through his eyes and get to know him!
By William B.
Now I’m here at Sunday Breakfast- though
I thought I’d never be
In such a situation life got so so
Hard you see.
Because of my wrong actions I have
I took people for granted lots of
Problems that would bring
But right here at the Mission the
Lord has touched my soul
And things are getting better since
I let God take control,
I am an Overcomer not just a
So you can learn what I found out
And truly feel the same.
Sunday Breakfast is a blessing
That has truly changed my path,
Now my life has a new direction
I won’t have to face God’s wrath.
Yes, I was a sinner. I was living in my sin.
Who would have thought that I’d be
Saved and somehow I would win.
I’ll continue on this mission and
Always always care,
I will pass on what I’ve learned here
And with all my love I’ll share.
While driving down Pearl Street and politely nodding to the men sitting on the sidewalk, I feel guilty. When sleeping in my comfortable bed and listening to the rain tapping outside, I feel guilty. As I talk to a man who was literally sleeping on the street two months ago about my apple preferences (Pink Lady), I feel guilt. I feel guilty because I am able to afford to drive to work when others are sitting in the sun to keep warm. I feel guilty because I have a nice place to stay with people who care about me. I feel guilty because I pick and choose what kind of apples I eat when I should be grateful for eating at all.
Don’t be mistaken, the concept of homelessness is not new to me. I grew up around (not in) homelessness. My mother volunteered at our local soup kitchen (Martha & Mary’s Ministry). I can remember being taught how to draw from a homeless man in the public dining room and talking to a homeless woman about my petty grievances. I never really considered why they were at a soup kitchen every day or what their life outside must be like. Likes birds and buildings, they just existed. After starting my job at Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, with a very fancy title of Development Communications Coordinator, my perspective started to change. These people didn’t “just exist.” They weren’t part of the scenery for my child self, they are humans who I interact with on a daily basis and I feel guilty for being a “have” when they are “have nots.”
I am not saying that my feelings are “correct” or the “right thing” to feel. But that does not change that it is true. It is this same guilt that makes every single one of us awkwardly avert our eyes when we see someone sitting on the sidewalk with a cardboard sign. My intention is not to force you to join me in my guilt; I just want you to understand how I feel every day that I come in to work at SBRM. The feeling gnaws at me and it inspires me. I can’t change how I feel but I can change how it makes me act. I can dedicate my time, skills, and money to making a difference. Instead of hiding from my guilt I am trying to embrace it in order to push myself to be a better person.
I truly hope that you don’t feel guilty for being a “have” in a “have not” world. But if you are a kindred spirit and you do feel the same way that I do then I pray you will put those feelings to good use. Give of your time to volunteer: look the people that you avoid on the street in the eye and smile. Use your skills: if you have the gift of teaching come down to our 13th street mission and help a man get his GED. Utilize your resources by giving to our Food Drive or donate money to the Mission. Guilt is unavoidable. It is what we do with it that matters.