By Kelsi Peace, Managing Editor
Mike Yankoski’s desire to understand homelessness led him to take action – not in a soup kitchen, but on the streets of Denver, Washington, D.C., Portland, Ore., San Francisco and Phoenix.
A sermon about living compassionately rather than learning about compassion spurred Yankoski- who was in college at the time- to give everything up and hit the streets with his friend, Sam.
After living as a homeless man while in college, Yankoski returned to write “Under the Bridge,” a memoir of the experience and challenged Christians across the nation to take action.
“If you and I as followers of Christ are willing to be free with our money and available with our time, imagine what God can do with us,” Yankoski challenged students at Monday’s final Faith Alive Chapel forum. “It’s easier to pray someone’s needs are met than to actually meet those needs.”
After his time on the streets, Yankoski knows about the needs of the homeless. He told students about his experiences in churches but said some of the greatest compassion he encountered came from unexpected sources: children and the homeless.
Yankoski recalled an evening spent panhandling in Georgetown, a wealthy area near Washington, D.C., where four hours of stringent panhandling saw only $1.18. A group of young boys approached Yankoski and his friend, Sam, asking for money to purchase baseball uniforms for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. When Yankoski offered his $1.18, one boy recognized his need, and instead tossed $1.25 to Yankoski, saying, “Don’t worry about it man- I got you covered.”
In Oregon, a fellow homeless man offered Yankoski half a loaf of bread to feed him, ignoring his protests that the extra would guarantee food the next day. Instead, Yankoski said, the man told him God would provide.
“It was the people like those two. that’s what made the difference,” Yankoski said. “There were a few really strong homeless Christians. We met some pretty phenomenal followers of Christ out on the streets.”
The experience marked Yankoski’s life, spurring a decision to act as an advocate for the homeless instead of opening a small business with his computer science degree. Not that Yankoski didn’t try – he said after three failed businesses, he knew “our lives are not meant to be about that.”
Instead, he spends his time passionately sharing his experiences and spouting statistics that hold personal meaning. Of the 700,000 people on American streets today, and the $3.5 million who will be homeless over the course of the year, Yankoski reminded students a son or daughter is represented.
“Those aren’t just numbers, these are lives,” he said. He levied a challenge at students to help the homeless: offer both time and resources. And sometimes, it’s the time that is the most valuable. “I can open up my journal and show you where I’ve written, ‘Someone talked to us today,'” he said.
The sense of isolation and detrimental effect of being ignored stuck with Yankoski when he left the streets. After months spent carting a sleeping bag, books, a Bible, an old camera and a change of clothes in a backpack, he returned to a place where food and water were at his fingertips, and people looked him in the eye again. But it took months, Yankoski said, before he could return a gaze.
“We’re unwise if we apply [stereotypes] to every person,” he said, citing instances of homeless people he met with phDs.
Yankoski challenged students to get involved – listing Web sites for social justice issues, including and slavery, and encouraging students to sponsor a child for $32 per month with Compassion International.
The swarm of students who waited to speak with Yankoski after the forum peppered him with further questions, and 14 students committed to sponsor a child.
When students asked about the overwhelming statistics and plethora of ways to get involved, Yankoski assured them hope exists.
“Don’t be discouraged,” he said.