When I first thought of sleeping on the streets alongside my homeless friends, I said to myself, “That is a crazy idea Yanitza,” but immediately I felt God reply, “It is crazy, but I don’t call you to live a normal life or a comfortable one, so do it.”
I knew I wanted to relate more to these beautiful people I have made such a strong connection with, but I wasn’t sure the best way of going about that until God answered me.
I was given the urge to spend one of my nights out on the streets of Ocean Beach to just love and share my time with the people who are so often rejected and ignored.
I prayed and prayed and prayed the week following up to the night I was going and God just instilled such a strong sense of peace over me. I was not afraid, I was not discouraged, but rather I was excited as I waited in anticipation for what God had in store for me.
I layered up my clothes, put a few items in my backpack and headed out. When I got there, I found my friends hanging out on the wall where they normally are on a weeknight.
They looked confused as to why I was carrying a sleeping bag and my backpack. I could tell they were curious as to what I was planning on doing for the night, so when they asked, I told them, “I’m hanging out with you guys all night.” There was joy and worry in their faces.
They had joy because they felt so appreciated and respected that someone who had a home, who had a bed and had all of the things they lacked, chose to sacrifice a night of those comforts to sleep on the cold, dirty streets that they call home.
But they were afraid because they were more aware of the dangers that came with being on out the streets, especially for women, and they did not like the risk of me being exposed to them. As I explained my purpose and my confidence I had, they all encouraged me.
Mama T (who is the street mom in OB) offered me a spot to sleep next to her; she is not a woman to be messed with, so she knew I would be safe. Laura (who recently moved from the streets into a home in OB) gave me all the details I needed on street safety.
She told me what to look out for, where the best spots were to sleep and she even offered me her place to crash if something came up that made me feel like I couldn’t sleep outside anymore. I was so happy to be out there with my friends and to feel God working on my heart.
The night didn’t end up being some type of great salvation night for all of these street folks and it didn’t up being as dangerous as people feared, but it was a great experience. I got to walk around and pray over this community of people. I was able to witness and experience the good and the bad that come with living on the street.
I witnessed the homeless community in OB who were willing to look out for one another. Unfortunately, I also felt the stares of “normal” people walking by looking at me in disapproval or in shock that I was sitting there with these “unlovable” or “invaluable” people.
I saw how poorly my friends were treated and how other humans could throw trash at them with no conviction or shame. I saw police following them around and watching them more closely than others. I didn’t look like I had been on the street for longer than a day and yet I was getting offered food every hour while my friends had been offered nothing.
Even in my tripled layers, long socks, beanie and a sleeping bag, I was still freezing cold as I tried to sleep. I could not get comfortable and I even had to move sleeping spots multiple times due to the cold and police.
I had to find a spot that was not crowded with people and that hid me from the cars driving by. By the time I had found this spot, I only had a couple hours left before I had to wake up and move to avoid getting a fine for loitering. We spent most of the time along Newport, which leads up to the pier.
When it was time for me to get up and move, I was so tired and cold and unmotivated to walk around to go find the public restroom and get ready for the day.
But sure enough, as I walked down an empty Newport Street, my friends were up and walking around preparing for another day in the OB. They thanked me and sent me on my way, and from that, I was relieved to go back home and sleep in my twin bed.
Before this, I have had this homeless community on my heart for only reasons God knows and I know that I am still supposed to be present there in order to bring God’s kingdom to them. I am still figuring out what that looks like exactly, but until I get the whole picture, I am taking the steps.
Small but great in faith, and that’s what it is all about, having enough faith in God that any fears that stand in the way of me completing His will become so small and can’t stop me.
With that, I want to challenge whoever is willing and wanting to grow in faith to be bold for God, to be fearless and to have peace in the actions he calls us to live out. And to take a step.
God doesn’t call us to comfort, He doesn’t want us to be dormant with our faith and He definitely doesn’t want us to neglect the poor and the broken. I would love to have you come hang out with us in Ocean Beach some day or even possibly spend a night or a weekend living in their conditions. So if you are interested, please don’t hesitate to call, text or email!
Photos courtesy of Yanitza Patfield.
Yanitza Patfield is a sophomore pre-nursing major at San Diego Mesa College and a former PLNU student. She left PLNU to study pre-nursing in another program.