Off the Streets: Racing to Save Homeless Teens
INDIANAPOLIS -- From the crossroads of America, Eric Howard found himself at a crossroad with God.
"God just captured my heart in this hotel room and I can tell you what I was wearing, the length of my hair, the steam on the mirror, the color of the carpet, the tree outside, the bedspread," he told CBN News.
"And from that point on my life just took a different direction on what I thought was success and what is success -- [they] were two different things," he said.
That moment put Howard on a journey to serve a group many don't even know exist, founding an organization called Howard's Outreach, Inc.
When many think of Indianapolis they think of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500. But the folks at Howard's Outreach do a different sort of race.
They are racing against time to save homeless teenagers living on the streets of Indy.
A Question of Dignity
Howard's Outreach Inc. provides basic and often overlooked necessities -- necessities that Howard said he didn't even consider until a run-in with a frustrated teenager changed his thinking.
"Hey, I've been doing ministry with the homeless for 12 years, 14 years. Please tell me what I don't understand," he said of his initial conversation with the teen.
"And he says, 'I can go out and get a job' and of course ... I said, 'Why don't you?' Probably wasn't the best answer I could've said at that moment," he said. "And what he said is 'What you don't understand is that I can smell myself. Do you really want me serving up your shake and fries?'"
"And then it dawned on me. It was a question of dignity," Howard explained.
Through the help of donations, Outreach added laundry facilities, showers, job interview courses, outdoor adventures, graduation assistance, and the little things that teens look forward to -- like driving lessons.
Offering little things like these are an attempt to provide a sense of normalcy and a place to call home.
"So you walk into a living room; you are received well -- just like walking into our house or whatever. You are bringing it to a guest," Howard said, describing the Outreach center.
Outreach also incorporated a Street Initiative Team that ventures to parts of the city where others fear to tread. Often at night, they spend hours looking under bridges and overpasses to help those in need.
A House of Love
One specific offer appealed to 24-year-old Tiffany Pettiford.
"What I found at Outreach was what I was looking for literally my whole teenage life to becoming an adult was just love," Pettiford said. "This is a safe place where you can come and feel love. They have the love of God there which is really important."
Life started out rough for Pettiford and she found herself homeless since 21 years old.
"As a young child I went to 12 different elementary schools. I went to three different middle schools and two different high schools. So, I never really had stability," she explained
Then changes at home forced her into a life on the streets.
"I could very well be dead if I hadn't turned my life to Christ. I can remember times I'd be walking the streets at two, three or four o'clock in the morning in areas I probably shouldn't have been in," she recalled. "Anything could have happened."
And something did happen. She found God's love on the steps of Outreach.
"The first day I went there I walked to the car three times before I actually went in the building. I'm like...I don't know if I should do this. I was very hesitant," Pettiford said.
She found her physical needs met as well as her spiritual needs.
"I literally came here broken. From my mind frame, from how I looked at life emotionally and physically, it really changed me into the woman I am today," Pettiford reflected.
A New Miracle
Now that woman is a thriving 24-year-old college student with a great job and a new home. She's happy to show off her new life and give credit to God's love and the help of Outreach.
She has also rediscovered the lost relationship with her dad.
"My brother and someone who he calls his older brother were online looking for him. And at the same time my dad was looking for us. Me and my dad's relationship is actually really good. I'm the youngest, so I kind of get spoiled a little bit," Pettiford laughed.
That reconnection and that laughter is proving that when God writes the story, miracles can even come from the trunk of a car.