Helping Homeless People

Following are the 12-Steps I wrote (and tried to follow) when the frustrations that went hand-in-hand with spending most of my time trying to help homeless people break the cycle of streets, shelters, and, for far too many, jails, became overwhelming.

Adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Steps program, these 12-steps were just for me. However, please free to use/adapt them to your own situation.

Just be sure to give Alcoholics Anonymous (and me) credit.

Step One: Came to realize that my life was becoming unmanageable: that the lives of people I was trying to help had already become unmanageable—that I was powerless to manage their lives for them—and that if I didn’t straighten up and do a better job of taking care of myself and my obligations (including the rent for my apartment) my life was sure to become even more unmanageable.

Step Two: Came to believe that a power greater than all of us could restore at least some of us, including me, to sanity.

Step Three: Made a decision to turn my will, my life, and my futile attempts to control other people’s lives over to the care of a wise and loving God. 

Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself and the “help” I was trying to provide to others, often rendered unrecognizable because of my frustration and anger at the very people I wanted so much to help.

Step Five: Admitted to God, my sponsor, and a lot of other people, including myself, the exact nature of my faults, especially my judging or condemning, or mindlessly defending the dysfunctional, counterproductive, sometimes outrageous or downright dangerous behaviors of others.

Step Six: Was entirely ready and willing to “let go and let God” take over as general manager of the world. Actually, I wasn’t getting paid for it, anyway.

Step Seven: Humbly asked God to remove my shortcomings—including my fruitless attempts to control others and my carping criticisms of those whose best efforts failed to measure up to my utterly unrealistic expectations.

Step Eight: Made a list of all persons I had offended and became willing to make amends and even eat crow if necessary to make a fresh start. That took more time than I had expected since, in addition to most of the street people, a couple of priests, and most of our volunteers, I had to dig deep. My list included all my political opponents and a lot of their supporters back in Arkansas. It also included all the service providers in Memphis that I’d smarted off to before I realized they’d been trying to help homeless, mentally ill, addicted, and/or other desperately poor people for years before I ever lifted a finger to help.

Step Nine: Made amends to all those I had offended or hurt except when to do so would have hurt or offended them even more or created an even bigger mess. (This one let me off the hook with both my ex-husbands and all my political opponents and their supporters).

Step Ten: Continued to take personal inventory—mine, not everybody else’s—and when I was mistaken, misguided, manipulative, myopic, manic, moronic, mean, or just a teensie-weensie bit malicious, promptly admitted it.

Step Eleven: Sought through conscious contact with God to improve my conscious contact with reality, remembering at all times that my goal is to put myself and everybody else out of the homelessness business.

Step Twelve: Having had a spiritual, emotional, and intellectual awakening as a result of these steps, sought to carry this message to other do-gooders and wannabee do-gooders in a new spirit of cooperation and dedication to purpose.

Finally, instead of just talking about the Serenity Prayer or saying it, I actually began to pray that wonderful prayer.

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. AMEN

Then I realized that I needed even more, so I added to that prayerand the self-discipline to act or not act based on that wisdom.

Please feel free to adapt these to your own particular circumstances. Just give Alcoholics Anonymous, “The Big Book” and The Concrete Killing Fields credit.  J

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