Winter is loitering in Minnesota this year, even though we’ve asked it to move along. Last Thursday brought a half-foot of snow, and April 19th achieved a record low of 21 degrees before the sun came up on Saturday. The 19th was also the date for Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative’s annual event, A Night on the Street.
That night, I joined 268 youth and adults from 22 faith communities to sleep in cardboard boxes in Plymouth Congregational Church’s parking lot in downtown Minneapolis. The youth raised over $25,000 for housing specifically for homeless young people, and we learned about the realities of being homeless from youth who have been there and from street outreach workers who see it everyday.
Just before setting up our boxes for the night, we gathered for prayers representing the different traditions participating in the event. One of the prayers offered was Martin Luther’s evening prayer.
“I give thanks to you, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have graciously protected me today,” a teenager from Elk River began to read from her Small Catechism.
I know this prayer, but it sounded different standing out in the cold air preparing to sleep on pavement. The words also meant something new after hearing the stories of youth who have experienced homelessness themselves. And I am praying it differently knowing that on any given night there are 2,500 youth facing homelessness in Minnesota.
Luther’s prayer continues: “I ask you to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously protect me tonight. Into your hands I commend myself: my body, my soul, and all that is mine.”
Gracious God, the need for protection of body, soul, and possessions weighs heavily in the stories shared. One person spoke of walking all night and sleeping during the day when he was homeless for fear of being attacked or robbed while he slept. Hear our prayers.
The next line begins: “Let your holy angel be with me…”
Heavenly Parent, I’m not in charge of distributing angels, but it sounds like we need them to accompany youth staying warm on all-night bus lines, to dwell with those squatting in foreclosed houses, and to defend minors from exploitative adults. I give you thanks for the angelic work of organizations who accompany, dwell with, and defend these young people. Hear our prayers.
“… so that the wicked foe may have no power over me.”
Maybe we need a category like wickedness to name what happens to some of these youth. We learned about the reality of human trafficking in Minnesota and how homeless youth are particularly vulnerable. One outreach worker reported that within 36 hours of being homeless most youth are approached by an adult for sex. The foes of drugs and violence are also near. Hear our prayers.
This is just one prayer from one tradition that joined the chorus at A Night on the Street.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said that when he marched with the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma his feet were praying. In Minnesota, I believe we were also learning to pray with our shivers, our cold fingers and toes, and our stiff bodies getting up off the ground. Our prayers bubbled over into advocacy for the Homeless Youth Act. And they will overflow into our home communities of worship.
This is why we called our state representatives from the parking lot on April 19th. We chose to spend one night on the street, but we were confronted with what is an ongoing reality for thousands of youth. Currently, Minnesota only allocates $250,000 every two years to programs for homeless youth, or roughly $0.13 per youth per night. But we are so close to increasing that amount to $8 million. This would be a significant step towards ending youth homelessness in our state and would be part of an answer to many prayers.