There is a darker side to this ministry. I have lost 67 persons to death since I started working in rescue, 14 years ago. We, quite literally, are standing on the edge of death. The first man who died on my watch froze to death. The second one passed out on a train track from alcohol.
These two tragic deaths helped to orient me to the gravity of our place in society. We are the last stop before the streets. When things go wrong, death is always close by.
The proximity of death to our ministry has also driven policy development over the years. During the wintertime, we use winter overflow guidelines that help to assure we have room for all who need to get in out of the life-threatening elements.
I have been asked why I keep a list of deaths in my desk drawer. The main reason is to remind me of the severity of this ministry. I have a face for every name on my list. On the occasion of another death, I read down the names and remember them once again. It is a kind of personal memorial service to assure they are not forgotten.
I am deeply troubled by the death rate in the homeless population. So often, the deaths are preventable and directly related to the homeless lifestyle. We lost two more recently. One was murdered and the other died on a park bench from issues connected to his homelessness.
As a Christian in a gospel ministry, life is very precious to me for many reasons. I am struck by its fragility, brevity and the finality of its end. I am one who believes in life after death. In this ministry, that belief produces a special sense of urgency. Especially since death always seems so close.
For us here at UGM of Salem, the gospel message is not about winning people to our way of thinking. It is about sharing the good news that life can be everlasting. We do not push or pull with our message. We hold it out there for anyone who might want it.
I have had the privilege, many times, to see the ability of the gospel message to free men and women from “bondage to the fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15). Those who fear death often fear the difficulties of life. When you do not fear death, you do not fear life. That is hope.