What I Learned from the Homeless that Can Save Lives

America has been a free society since 1776 when the Constitution was signed by our Founding Fathers. Our basic freedoms include Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, and the Right to Peacefully assemble. However, today our freedoms are threatened by politicians seeking power and control over our American way of life!

A recent poll stated that only 36% of young adults, 18 to 24, are proud to be Americans. What happened?

When society fails to make children a national priority and “we the people” don’t work together in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, and communities to improve children’s lives, we should expect a decline in our democratic way of life. Today, taxpayers spend a staggering 80 billion a year on child abuse and neglect without discussing prevention. Over the decades, youth grew up with abuse of drugs and sex, with increasing problems with gangs, violence, and homelessness. No wonder many young adults are no longer proud to be an American.

Working with the homeless showed me why we see a decline in America and how we can create change!

As a crime and violence prevention specialist, I’ve worked with many police departments to strengthen their “Neighborhood Watch” programs. While working with Community Services in Oakland CA, I noticed homeless men hanging out around the building, and we gradually got acquainted. One day they invited me to join them at the neighborhood park to meet Mother Wright. She was an amazing mother of 12 children and instead of retiring, she worked nonstop to feed several hundred homeless people every Saturday in Old Man’s Park. That was the beginning of my four-and-a-half-year journey with the homeless.

One Saturday, we didn’t have enough people to serve the food and Mother Wright asked for a volunteer. A young man stepped out of the line. After we finished cleaning up, James asked if I would help him. My first thought was, he wanted money but that wasn’t what he wanted at all. I learned he was on a methadone treatment program to help with his drug addiction, but it was about to end. He was scared and didn’t know what to change. He didn’t want to go back to San Quentin prison. Since I didn’t have a clue, we sat and talked every Saturday. I listened to his story of pain, abuse, and drugs.

After several meetings, James said some of the other guys wanted to join us. I wasn’t about to meet a group of homeless men in the park, but there was an old church on the corner. I suggested talking to the pastor. Since James was still struggling with drug abuse our meetings didn’t always occur but James showed up eventually and we talked to the pastor. The pastor was welcoming and agreed to let us meet in the basement. We decided to give it a try and meet every Wednesday for 3 months.

Much to my surprise, at the first meeting 18 men showed up and the pastor was there to help. It was bizarre as some men fell asleep on the floor – they had trouble focusing or even listening to each other. The smell was overpowering but no one seemed to notice. I wondered if this was a good idea, but I didn’t want to back out. My brother had been abused and homeless. I wanted to find out why some people turn their lives around while others stay locked into drugs and homelessness.

The Pastor took charge which was something a white woman from the suburbs could not have done in this chaotic situation. I saw how important prayer was to help the men calm down. It took two meetings to get them to sit still and listen without angry outbursts. Over time the group dwindled as some men couldn’t focus and on days they got money for food, some bought drugs and couldn’t function at all. It seems so strange that taxpayers were paying for drugs but not for support groups to help the homeless with their struggles.

The men that showed up, wanted to change their lives. As they grew more comfortable, they shared personal stories and listened to each other. They realized they were not alone in their pain which helped them offer support. We heard horror stories of child abuse, drugged adults, sexual assaults, whippings, beatings, and starvation. As the group got more comfortable some men bragged about abusing women and how many babies they had. They even discussed selling drugs and children for sex. Most of the men didn’t think they had any options growing up in their neighborhoods.

It became clear that no amount of counseling or rehabilitation would help if individuals were not willing to change themselves.

The pastor was critical for this process to work. He told them God had already forgiven them, but they had to take back their power and forgive others or they couldn’t heal and move forward. Since the pastor was a former alcoholic and wife abuser, he had his own life story to tell. He helped everyone realize they had the power to change but they had to find the will and courage from within. With the help of the pastor, the men asked for God’s help. Some men developed a new understanding and turned hopelessness into hope. I saw how God gives us the power to save ourselves.

At the end of 3-months, five men got jobs and three men enrolled in drug rehab who didn’t think they had a problem. A small success but after listening to many life stories for four years, I learned what the homeless NEVER learned as children which is a warning to adults who care about kids.

The homeless opened my eyes as to why some people stay locked into pain, fear, drugs, social isolation, and hopelessness and continue abuse from one generation to another. Many of the homeless never learned how to discover their own power to stay safe and healthy. Children need to learn at an early age, they cannot rely on the government or other people to save them.

Family love, respect, and support help children discover the power of the human spirit to overcome any adversity.

I saw the importance of helping adults and youth tap into their personal power to develop courage, character, and a self-protective conscience.  When people value themselves, they value others and grow spiritually centered which prevents them from becoming bullies or victims. They develop healthy relationships and will not be manipulated by others. Self-esteem is a do-it-yourself project!

If we focus on empowering children and working together, we can create peaceful families and communities. Let’s break the cycle of abuse and stop tolerating angry, violent people. We can raise children to trust their God-given talents, inner power, instinct, and intuition to stay safe and healthy. Freedom and democracy will thrive which will keep everyone safer! It will be “we the people” working together in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, and communities who can overcome evil self-destructive behavior. We have a choice! We can become weak and dependent on the government, or we can trust our inner wisdom to strengthen our American way of life! It will be up to all of us to decide which path to follow!


Stephanie L. Mann
Stephanie L. Mann
Stephanie Mann co-authored, Alternative to Fear: Guidelines to Safer Neighborhoods,” which helped launch the national “Neighborhood Watch” Program. Within 2 1/2 years, involved residents in her community (17,500 residents) decreased crime 48%, WITHOUT a local police department. Mann worked as a community leader, neighborhood organizer, county coordinator, state consultant and authored, “Safe Homes, Safe Neighborhoods: Stopping Crime Where You Live” (Nolo Press 1993) In 2010, while working in Richmond CA, with “Mother’s Against Senseless Killings,” Mann saw people too scared to be involved or report crimes. She wrote, “The Adopt-A-Block Guidebook,” with an easy-to-follow guide for existing groups and “My first steps to a safe neighborhood” for citizens. These booklets give individuals and groups the tools to reach out and bring people together to help each other. Stephanie started a homeless men’s support group while working with “The Mary Ann Wright Foundation” in Oakland CA. She recognized the need to support children at an early age and wrote, “Street Safe Kids: 10 Step Guide for Teens and Adults” (which has been used in after-school programs) to help youth grow strong from within to develop self-esteem and stay centered. Book available on The Safe Kids Now National website states, “Every child needs a healthy family and neighborhood to stay safe.” In partnership with the CARR Foundation, a binder, “Safe Neighborhoods: Access to a Healthy Community,” was created for city leaders to make neighborhoods safer for families and neighborhoods. Stephanie’s books strengthen families and can decrease the social isolation that fuels bullies, domestic violence, abuse, drugs, gangs, and other destructive behaviors.”

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  1. Hi Darlene,
    I finally saw this comment from you. I’m a bit slow getting back on this site. You do such a good job with your articles. Love them!

    This has been a difficult week watching the news. Freedom comes at a high price for our soldier families. My heart hurts for them.

    So what did you name your article? I will go and see your articles. Keep up the great insights! People need YOU!

    Blessings, Stephanie

  2. Superb, dear Stephanie. I remember a bit of the story about the homeless men, and I am most appreciative that you shared it here. You could not be more accurate. The power lies within each of us, and it is up to us to use it to create change. As I say to some of my clients who know I am cheering for them, I cannot want more for you than you want for yourself. Not an easy journey, but as someone I heard recently remind us, it is not supposed to be.

    I was thinking about the title and theme of my next article. Reading yours, helped me make the decision.

    With a smile,