Recently I met a man I’ve long admired—Charles Strobel, a longtime advocate for the homeless and founder of Nashville’s Room In The Inn ministry. Room In The Inn partners with more than 170 local congregations in the Nashville area—including 34 United Methodist churches —to provide shelter for more than 1,200 homeless individuals from November to March.
It Started With An Open Door.
Back in 1986 when Charlie first decided to open the doors of Holy Name Catholic Church to the homeless, he knew the decision was a pivotal one. One cold evening, he briefly thought to himself, “If I let them in tonight, I may end up doing this for the rest of my life.” He did indeed foretell his future.
One question people ask Charlie repeatedly is, “What do the homeless need?” His answer?
“They need everything I need—everything you need. Of course, there’s Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs starting with the fundamental things like food, clothing, shelter and basic personal things. And then they need education, social support, recreation, employment and those things on the next level. But then Maslow talks about the highest level of need is the need to find meaning in life and purpose in living—to resolve the riddles and mysteries of our world and our life. I don’t have to understand them anymore than I need to understand myself. If I understand what drives me and what are the obstacles and roadblocks in my own life, then it’s easy to understand the homeless. We’re not that different.”
People also ask Charlie if he ever wishes he had some other “problem” than advocating for the homeless.
“They’re not a problem. I wrote once that they present a million problems, but they’re not a problem. Isn’t that what parents mean? I used to hear my mother say, ‘You all are driving me nuts! I can’t understand how you can do this and then do that, when I ask you to do this and you won’t do that!’ And she was telling me that we caused problems, but we weren’t a problem. It’s because love was there. The homeless are not a problem. Love is there. They’re not a problem because I love them.”
This winter there will be anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 homeless men, women and children on the streets of Nashville. Every city across America has its own version of that same reality. My hope is that every city also has a Charlie Strobel—a kind, loving and gentle soul who was once faced with a life-changing question, “Do I open this door and let them in?” If he hadn’t, the lives of so many—especially his own life– would have been so different. I, for one, am grateful for the choice he made.