College Kids without a Home

What happens when you take two suburban, middle-class college kids and watch them live on the streets of the U.S.A. for five months? You get one thought-provoking book full of stories that reveal a whole range of emotions and provide an unusual look at a diverse demographic that is usually ignored in the United States.

Mike Yankoski, a former student at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA, and his friend Sam, set out in 2003 to put their faith on the line and see how the church is taking care of the poor and brokenhearted in this land, and to learn personally what it meant to trust God for their literal daily bread. Yankoski recounts their adventures in his book Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America in vivid details with conversational diction that creates an easy entry-way into the experiences that he and his friend had during their months on the streets. He relates conversations and individuals with men in Rescue Missions, churches, soup kitchens, and the streets, describing his experiences in Denver, Washington, D.C., Portland, Phoenix, San Francisco, and San Diego. Truly it is a journey that I never wish to take, but I appreciate his experience, and his articulation of it in this book.

Interspersed in this tale are quotes from famous theologians and authors, lending some perspective outside the immediacy of “life on the streets.” The most gripping one for me, dropped into the text after Yankoski describes how difficult it was to keep a sense of dignity about one’s  self, is a quote from C.S. Lewis — “Christ died for men precisely because men are not worth dying for: to make them worth it.” This quote exemplifies one of the overarching points of this book: that Christians in America, though they are called to love and serve the poor, often consider them “less than” and “unworthy” of experiencing even the affirmation of their existence. Yet each of us have our own struggles and none of us are worth it; in the end, it isn’t out effort for creating our own worth that matters anyway, since ultimately our stories are about the redeeming love of Christ.

In his afterward where he discusses the transition back to his “normal” life, I felt a sense of familiarity stemming from my transition out of AmeriCorps. After not eating out in restaurants for a year, only purchasing a couple new items of clothing and wearing only work-worthy jeans and sweatshirts for a year, I found myself wanting to wear lots of make-up, to go shopping, and to put lots of focus back into making myself look presentable (or a little more than presentable, I suppose.) As you know, I transitioned slowly, taking a road trip and unpacking over a period of a month, repainting my room, and taking time to myself as I resumed life in my home town under my parents’ roof. I felt what Yankoski expressed when he walked into a book store after his first night back in a real bed and said, “I’d but this whole store if I could. Right now. Even the stuff I don’t want. Just because I can.”

I’m trying not to have a “just because I can attitude”, to still conserve my resources and to serve my community. I will start back volunteering at the library here next week, and I think that there are good things coming out of the non-profit work I’ve found here. I pray that I am not callous to the needs of others, that I give dignity instead of taking it away, and that my worth would not be found in the things I do, but rather in the worth of the one that knows me better than I know myself. There are good things coming, and I’m happy to be here experiencing them.