Our Homeless Friends and Their Stories
Marty’s Baby Step: Don’t Kill Your Landlord
Peter’s story of his friendship with Marty:
For all stories of Our Homeless Friends, the names have been changed to respect the privacy of the people involved. This is also why we don’t have photos – unless that person has given us their explicit consent.
Why are we so passionate about our approach to solving homelessness? Because if you take someone like Marty, when I knew him several years ago, the idea of just giving him free housing and expecting that to solve his problems is borderline insanity. Don’t believe me? Keep reading…
Marty had a really tough life. He was living with some deep and burning psychological and relational scars, and he was very angry. Because of this, he was not safe to be around.
I spent a lot of time getting to know Marty, and even brought him to the church I was attending at the time. He came a few times, and ended up causing a ruckus. His anger boiled over and he just couldn’t handle the open environment.
Around this time Marty had found temporary housing at a private residence, and was having a lot of trouble with his landlord. I had spent a lot of time listening to his complaints and anger about the way he felt he was treated. It was getting worse. Eventually, as I was about to find out, his landlord kicked him out and threw all his stuff outside.
I was getting ready to show a house to a client (I work in real estate). Marty called me and said he was going to murder his landlord. Yes. He was going to kill him. Like, for real. And I’m sitting in my car outside this big house with clients waiting, pleading with Marty not to kill his landlord.
I probably should have called the police, but in the moment, I had a connection with him, and I didn’t want to break it. Plus, I knew he had been in prison earlier in his life and that he was capable of carrying out his threat.
For Marty, his struggle with homelessness wasn’t a lack of housing. It was his anger. His furious rage that made it so hard for him to handle it when someone offended him. And for most people with anger issues, people in authority – like landlords, police officers, and teachers – tend to provoke the greatest outbursts of violent rage.
Thankfully, I was able to talk him down. Marty didn’t kill anyone. And I realized afterward that if I hadn’t taken the time before that day to build trust with Marty, he wouldn’t have had anyone to call in that moment. I believe he called me because deep down, he wanted me to talk him out of it.
For government and nonprofit organizations that just hand out housing and food and treat the homeless people like case study files, they don’t get called in moments of passion like this.
But these are the moments that either perpetuate homelessness, or lift someone another step out of it.
I’m so thankful I was able to build trust with Marty so he felt safe enough to call me in that moment. And I’m thankful he listened, and very proud of him for making the harder choice to let go of his anger and look for a better way to solve his problem. Marty has since moved on from Seattle, but for him, on that day, his baby step was to pacify his anger and not kill his landlord.
One baby step at a time…
What You Can Learn From Marty’s Story
Every story has a lot to teach us. But there are also specific takeaways about how to work with and build relationships with homeless people
Here are two lessons from Marty’s story:
1. Listening builds trust and credibility with the homeless
By listening to Marty in the weeks before this and spending time with him, Peter was able to establish trust. In any relationship, trust is the key ingredient if you want to really influence someone’s life.
As the saying goes, “They don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”
So often we want to answer, respond, and talk, when someone unloads their struggles on us. But listening – just listening – makes people feel accepted and valued and cared for. Listening helps us empathize.
Because Marty knew Peter genuinely cared about him and accepted him where he was in life, he believed that calling Peter was a good step – possibly the only step – that might stop him from making a disastrous decision.
It was this trust and friendship that saved a landlord’s life, and allowed Marty the chance to live free and continue escaping homelessness.
2. Don’t prescribe solutions
When Marty spent all that time complaining to Peter about his new landlord, Peter didn’t just tell him all the ways he should act, or all the things he should do to get his own place so he wouldn’t have to put up with this, or the many other probably true things he could have said.
Why not say those things?
Because most of the time, especially with long-term homeless people, they aren’t ready for those kinds of answers. It’s too big, and it doesn’t meet them where they are. It’s just more advice like everyone gives them, often without saying anything.
Peter didn’t tell Marty all the life mistakes he had made and all the things he should do to correct them. He just befriended him.
Then, in a moment where Marty was losing control, he called Peter. He didn’t call anyone else. And now, when he was open to having someone tell him what to do, Peter got to be the one who helped him.
Do you want to be a friend to the homeless?
Come to one of our Relational Meal Events or Volunteer Trainings, and learn the Babysteps way of homeless ministry and outreach!