Being homeless is hard. We all know this.
Not knowing where your next meal will come from is hard. Not having security about where you’ll sleep at night is hard. Not having a roof over your head is hard. Not being able to provide for yourself is hard. Not having a network of family and friends to help you out is hard. Being looked at as the bane of society is hard. Not having a change of clothes (especially socks) is hard. Having to poop in public and not be able to properly wipe is hard. Not being able to bathe is hard. Not being able to go to the doctor if you’re sick is hard.
About 11 years ago I met a crack dealer named Pony. After we met and began to talk, he told me his real name. “Thaddeus, like Jesus’s disciple.” Every time we met for the next 6 months or so he’d remind me of his real name, “Thaddeus, like Jesus’s disciple.” My friend the crack dealer really wanted me to learn his real name and he helped me remember it because he was named after one of Jesus’s disciples. Thaddeus and I became friends over the next years. He met Jesus. Because he met Jesus, he stopped dealing crack. Because he stopped dealing crack, he became homeless. And because he stopped dealing crack, the people he used to work for started trying to kill him. They ran him over with a car 3 times. They shot him 5 times. On the same day. My friend, Thaddeus lived. Thank God.
Thaddeus helped me understand something that’s harder than all the rest though. A life of homelessness isn’t just hard because of all the insecurities and need that every day carries. A life of homelessness is a life of anonymity. No one knows you and no one cares. You just don’t matter to the world. That’s the hardest part of being homeless.
Many homeless people live and die in the shadows. Their bodies are found frozen in abandoned elevator shafts or bloated behind dumpsters in alleys. There’s no funeral. There’s no headstone. There’s no mourning. There’s no obituary and no one to notify. They’re just gone. And before they die, years before they die, they know this is the end that awaits them. Because it’s every day.
I met Thaddeus on July 7th, 2007. We became friends and I’d see him almost every week. I saw him on December 19th, 2009 a few weeks after he’d been run over and shot. I thought it was the last time I’d see him. He was so frail and still had 5 bullets lodged in his body. And when I didn’t see him in the following weeks and months, I thought he’d died and I’d never know for sure. Then, across town 6 years later on August 17th, 2015, we ran into each other again. He’d gotten a job and was no longer homeless. He was doing well. “Jesus has been good to me, Mike!” I was overwhelmed with joy to see my friend again and to know he was alright. I ran to him and hugged him. However, on this day 2 years ago, February 15th, 2015, my friend Thaddeus Hambrick died.
But Thaddeus didn’t die in anonymity. I will always remember my friend, Thaddeus. Like the disciple. His picture’s on my wall. His memory burned into mine. Your strength, endurance and humility inspired me, Thaddeus. I’ve used your story of coming to and following Jesus as an example for many. I’ll never forget you. I will see you again, my friend.