“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
By Lisa Morgan
Joseph had served in Desert Storm. Prior to deployment, he and four of his bothers in arms ceremoniously burned a cigar into each other’s shoulder, vowing to suffer another burn in honor of each one who returned. But there would be no need. Joseph would be the only one to return, his last brother being taken during a shift that they had swapped. That should have been him. Without the love and support of a single one of his friends, returning from war that riddled him with survivor’s guilt among other surreal events, Joseph didn’t make the transition to civilian life smoothly. That monthly check he received from the government for serving, only reminded him of the men who no longer stood by his side. Turning his paycheck over to the Wounded Warrior Project to assuage his own condemnation, and his personal pain over to drugs in order to quiet the agony of his soul, Joseph made his home on the streets, under the bridges and trees of the Coachella Valley.
Christian Jelmberg, founder of the Street Life Project, had made many rounds to the places and people surrounding Joseph, delivering meals, clothes, toiletries, offering help, transportation and rehabilitation services. But on one fateful Sunday, unbeknownst to both of them, Christian showed up right on time, just for Joseph.
Joseph had gotten released from jail, and he knew he needed to change. He remembered Street Life Project, but couldn’t remember what time or where to get picked up, so he could go to church and start getting his life straight. He made his best guess, and was on the side of the road waiting. No one showed up. Finally he decided, he was done. Joseph’s drug of choice was meth, but today, he was going to take whatever money he had managed to pan-handle, meet his connect, and hopefully score enough heroine to disappear forever. No one would miss him. No one would even notice he was gone. As he walked down the street, Joseph said one last thing to a God he’d shaken his fists at plenty of times, “God, if you’re going to save me, now would be the time to do it.” That’s when Jelmberg drove by, on his way to church.
You see, Jelmberg had a vision about a decade before. That vision caused him to see life through the eyes of a homeless man. That vision was detailed, and it mapped out a plan of action that could be taken world-wide. It was a vision so huge, it scared Christian. But it was also a vision that wouldn’t let him go. To better understand the people he was compelled to help, Jelmberg spent 10 days on the streets, homeless. He was dropped off in the desert, literally penniless with only the clothes on his back. His day was full just trying to fulfill his own basic needs day to day. He found a fresh water source. He held up a sign, “Will Work for Food”. No work was ever offered, but he managed to eat. Merely surviving, traveling on foot all day long, searching for his next meal and refuge left Jelmberg little free time. He tried to get some clean clothes from a thrift store chain that boasts supporting those less fortunate, and was denied. The clothes there were for sale only. He began to see and feel the condemnation that the homeless live under, and to understand more clearly, the sense of complacency that could keep someone from reaching out for help. And Jelmberg had one advantage over some of the other homeless: he wasn’t crippled by addiction.
On this fateful Sunday, with his outreach in progress and growing, Jelmberg was making his traditional rounds to pick up anyone who wanted to go to church, and buy them lunch at the nearby Taco Bell. As he drove past, he had thought maybe he recognized Joseph on the side of the road. He was still unsure, trying to recognize him in his rearview mirror, when he saw the somewhat shaken young war veteran wave him down. He stopped the car and Joseph got in, and together, they headed for church. They headed toward hope, instead of that bridge, that connection, and the dead end that awaited him there. God showed up in the form of Jelmberg and in every person that helped Joseph find his way back home.
The Street Life Project helped Joseph get treatment for his addiction. He began working with Street Life helping others the way he’d been helped. When he moved to Virginia, to reunite with family, Joseph founded Street Life Project, Virginia. Jelmberg, having funded the Street Life Project in Coachella Valley basically on his own was already tapping all of his available resources, so Joseph had to find resources on his own. Joseph did what he could do to help until he landed employment in his passion; he was hired on as head chef at a restaurant. Today, with what resources he can network and give, Street Life Project, Virginia has helped get several homeless off the streets and into a life of hope and promise.
Joseph is just one very special success story out of several. Daily, Jelmberg and the volunteers at Street Life Project are paving the way for more stories of courage and redemption. As you follow their website, you will read story after true life story of people being loved back into life, many whom in turn, become volunteers, paying it forward and encouraging others. One by one, the final chapters to these human stories are being re-scripted. While not every story is rooted in drugs or alcohol, those who struggle with addiction are finding the strength and hope to break the chains of addiction. Those who have hit hard times and have no family to turn to are finding a new family in the volunteers within Street Life. There is miraculous story after miraculous, redeeming story being lived out right under our noses. Not all of them are pretty or have found their way yet, but with Street Life Project, they have a loving chance.
Street Life Project is moving full steam ahead with specific goals in sight that will allow them to assist these people and more. As they network with other charities and services around them, they themselves have specific needs to streamline an outreach that is truly our valley’s boots on the ground for getting people off the streets and back into life.
A van would help Street Life Project get people at shelters or in transitional living places to and from job interviews, medical appointments and the like. Many of the volunteers use their own vehicles, making several trips to get those reaching out where they need to be in order to start building a new and healthy life. This would also create a job for a qualified candidate.
A Thrift Store Location
Street Life Project has a few storage units that are costing hundreds of dollars a month, storing the necessary items (clothes, furniture etc.) to help the homeless transition into life off the streets. The hope is to open a thrift store that would be available to those in need as well as for purchase, helping to subsidize the outreach’s expenses instead of costing them, and again, creating jobs.
Jelmberg is documenting every story, struggle and success. Ultimately, he wants to establish an interactive website that will show their blueprint, and be a significant part of informing and supporting Street Life Projects across the country.
Just this past weekend, immediately following his weekly roundup of the homeless to take them to church and lunch, Jelmberg had the daunting task of finding homes for 4 disabled individuals. Finding rooms for them to rent could end their cycle of homelessness. Living on monthly disability checks, these individuals stay as long as they can in cheap hotels until the money runs out, and then are forced back on the streets. Helping them find an affordable room to rent can change everything for them.
This growing outreach needs hearts with hands, the kind that don’t need to be seen and patted on the back, but can find the joy of helping others reward enough – volunteers like Deanna Arce, who every week, shows her beautiful little girls what love looks like as she prepares meals and delivers them, or simply offers a friendly, kind, compassionate ear. “Ever since I was a little girl, I felt a connection to the people I would see on the streets. I feel like this is what I am here for. This is what I am supposed to do.”
Street Life Project is putting faces and names to our valley’s homeless. It serves as a living blueprint to solving homelessness where it can be solved. If you see our valley’s homeless population as a problem, you are absolutely right. It’s an even bigger problem for those on the streets who can’t see any way out. Street Life Project supplies the boots on the ground. They are the hands reaching back to those courageous enough to reach out for help, and the mouth of information and tireless encouragement to help them embrace change and the work that comes with. It supplies the hearts that are willing to hear their stories and get to know these individuals for the people they were, the people they are, and the people they have the potential to be. Not everybody wants to get off the streets. It’s all they know, and we all fear what we don’t know. Sometimes the streets can seem less treacherous. There are days I might agree. Street Life Project is there to show them that it’s not. Street Life Project is here to show us ALL that it’s not.
To find out more about Street Life Project you can call Christian directly at (760) 702-4944. Just be patient – Jelmberg also runs a real estate company. Information, photos and video can be found and donations can be made on their website: www.streetlifeproject.com