Paul Abbott: A Man With a Mission: Part 1 – Soul Safari
A Man with a Mission: For Paul Abbott, family is everything—particularly when it comes to helping the homeless. He believes that committed spiritual parents and siblings can help create a sense of belonging for the homeless. Besides Jesus as their bedrock, it may be their only chance for a brighter future.
How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone. – Bob Dylan
It’s a good question. And a universal one. How exactly does it feel, be it literally or metaphorically, to be without a home? Some of us will never know. Others know all too well.
Paul Abbott, the Good News Rescue Mission Outreach Coordinator, knows—at least vicariously. Almost every day he roams the streets of Redding and maneuvers through makeshift encampments where the homeless hang out and hunker down. He often feels like he’s wading through a sea of orphans. The disenfranchised, the demoralized, the disillusioned, the drug-dependent and the defeated-by-life derelicts: they’re all there. It’s a wasteland filled with “no direction home” wayfarers on the road to nowhere.
He’s there to form relationships—to build trust and to let those who’ve been beaten down by life know that they’re not forgotten. And to offer a pathway out, if they can grab hold of even a modicum of hope. It’s an uphill battle, but Abbott is nothing if he’s not relentless in his optimism.
A Beleaguered Leader
On this particular day, Abbott is talking to an elderly gentleman man named Michael. Born with a severe disability, Michael can still walk (he was confined to a wheelchair early in life), but does so with some difficulty. One arm is permanently stunted. It’s not the first thing you notice about him, however–instead it’s his warm, kind countenance that draws you in. There’s something else that’s readily apparent: his keen intelligence.
You wonder, as you often do, why he’s here, placed in the category of “chronically homeless.” He doesn’t want to be, Michael assures me, an almost invisible tear trickling down his cheeks as he shares his story. The deep shame he feels over some of his regrettable life choices is palpable. He’s a sensitive soul. At other times, he seems almost angry, his bitterness over a conspiracy of circumstances that left him saddled with both emotional and physical disabilities, seeping through.
Friend to Many, Foe to Himself
Like many of us, Michael can, at times, be his own worst enemy. And yet he’s also been a friend to many. It’s not unusual to have other homeless people wandering over to his tent, just to sit and tell him their troubles. Abbott sees him as a leader.
Later, Michael jokes with Abbott, their sincere fondness for one another clearly evident. Out of the blue, Michael grins and tells me that he wants to nominate Abbott as “humanitarian of the year”—right up there with the young public health doctor who stands next to us, leaning against the HOPE van. As a disheveled 50-something homeless woman howls in pain from the back of the medical van, reacting to having her festering leg sore just lanced, all three of us smile at the use of the word “humanitarian.” Juxtaposed to the wailing sounds behind us, it almost seems incongruous, but it also doesn’t.
Life is lived out loud and without pretense here among the homeless, as another woman standing some 20-feet away from us vividly reminds me. As we talk, she ceremoniously conducts an orchestra of rustling leaves. They seem to respond to her flaying arms, blowing in the gentle breeze with symphonic precision. Abbot may or may not be able to reach this woman, who is clearly suffering from what appears to be schizophrenia or MPD (multiple personality disorder).
He does what he can, for everyone that he can—within limitations. Here, simple kindness goes a long way. Wherever he goes, Abbott offers a hug, a bottle of water, a listening ear and, when accepted, a connection to services like the Mission that can be of more practical help. This is what being a humanitarian to the homeless looks like in its simplest form.
Michael tells me that he feels seen—which means Abbott has done his job. Or, as some would term it, his “God job.” He believes it’s the first step to empowerment—to breaking the cycle of homelessness and addiction. He practices what he preaches. After speaking with Michael, Abbott, who’s always dressed like he’s going on a safari (a soul safari), pulls up his nifty little camping chair and converses with yet another down-and-outer. The directionless young man, most likely an addict, is just one of many you encounter on the streets. “What would you like to see happen in your life in the next few years?” Abbott asks him, softly. Abbott’s manner is so gentle, so non-confrontational, it’s easy to see why so many of the homeless find it easy to talk to him. I’ve even found myself wanting to tell him my hopes and dreams. You soon discover he has a few dreams himself—not surprisingly, they all center on helping to solve the problem of homelessness in Shasta County. Continued in Part 2 …
To volunteer for homeless ministry go to: https://gnrm.org/get-involved/volunteer/
Check out our new Faces of the Homeless gallery: https://gnrm.org/faces-of-the-homeless-photo-gallery/