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Testimonials of the Homeless

Being homeless is hard, but the way many people treat those who are homeless is even worse, said John Randolph, who has firsthand knowledge of the issue.

"They treat you like dirt," said Randolph, 65. "As far as they are concerned, you are a bum."

Born in Chicago, Randolph has lived and worked in the south suburbs most his life, he said. He worked as a handyman for 15 years until he got laid off due to the economy, he said. After that, he lost his home, tried living with friends and family, and eventually ended up in South Suburban PADS, a homeless shelter. Through connections there, he got a job housesitting for five or six weeks, he said.

But he had no permanent place to live until he met John Harvey, the missions coordinator at the Overflow Ministry in Flossmoor.

What may be described as "the little church that could," the Flossmoor-based Korean United Methodist Church of South Suburban Chicago, home to the Overflow Ministry, has helped many people make one of the most difficult transitions of their lives.

Led by Pastor Arnold Hoskins, the church's Overflow Ministry has so far this year helped about 30 homeless people, including Randolph, find permanent housing, Harvey said.

"Really, we help anybody who has needs," Harvey said. "We try to provide for each and every person who comes our way, no matter how small or how big their needs are.

Randolph, who now lives in Homewood and volunteers for the ministry, said Overflow recently helped a family with five children secure housing.

"To me, that's what a church is supposed to do," Randolph said.

Randolph described area homeless shelters as a place to sleep, not a place to stay. They close from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., forcing many clients to find shelter during the day. Randolph said he often went to the library, and began writing poetry there.

Still, "Nobody really wants you around," he said.

Each person who comes to the ministry has their own story that determines what their needs are and how the ministry is going to help, Harvey said. First, they address the physical needs, and also eventually address the spiritual ones, he said.

"If bellies are empty … they aren't really receptive to talk about all the blessings that God has to offer," Harvey said.

The Korean United Methodist Church of South Suburban Chicago, has evolved over its 35 years from serving a primarily Asian congregation to include a variety of races and cultures, which better reflect the broader community, Harvey said.

"We are a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic (church)," Harvey said. "A true reflection of the faces of our community."

The Overflow Ministry started reaching out to area homeless shelters about eight years ago.

"As we went to the shelters year after year, we started to see a lot of the same people, the same faces," he said.

Now the ministry works with area organizations such as veterans groups and mental health professionals to help find permanent housing. In part, the ministry works as a pre-screening for other organizations. The ministry helps people work on the issues that got them displaced.

"We didn't want to be a hand out, we wanted to be a hand up," he said.

The ministry provides a range of services, including food and furniture and clothing pantries, which all help people transition.

"As we move them from homeless to housing, all they have is what they can carry on their backs," Harvey said. Randolph volunteers at the church, and at the ministry's events by performing music, he said. Though he is unemployed, he pays 30 percent of his social security to pay for rent, and the county pays the rest.

"It's a blessing; It's incredible to me," Randolph said. "I'm so thankful and that's why I want to give back.

" In addition to his music, Randolph also volunteers when the ministry hosts breakfasts, or dinners, such as one at Thanksgiving.

"They got me furniture, they helped me move," Randolph said. "It was a great experience, a humbling experience."