I know a little bit about being homeless.
While I never had to stay in a shelter or live on the streets, like many people I had a hard time keeping a job. Because we couldn’t afford a place of our own, my wife and I lived with my in-laws. Before then, I stayed with friends, on couches and in closets while trying to make ends meet.
At the time, I was a worship leader and a truck driver. Yes, I worked for my church and because that didn’t pay our bills, I took on a job driving trucks.
My new wife was suffering from a heart condition that threatened her life, we were thousands of dollars in debt, and I was on the road trying to earn enough of a living to keep a roof over our heads.
I know what it’s like to be ashamed of your situation. Embarrassed by your circumstances. Down on your luck and desperate for a chance—any chance—to earn a living and provide for your family.
Which is why I am drawn to helping the homeless. I know the brokenness and hopelessness many of them are feeling, and I know they deserve the chance and the help to get back on their feet.
Homelessness is a complicated thing to measure, but the most recent research from the National Alliance to End Homelessness indicated there were 77,157 homeless families in the United States in 2012. Moms, dads, children – whole families needing assistance and care. The research also showed that over the past five years, the number of family households “at risk” for homelessness has reached nearly 5 million.
I have found my life calling in outreach to homeless families. My goal is to offer the homeless families in my community hope, change, and a future. I want to remind people of their worth at a time when they are surrounded by situations that make them feel worthless.
If you watched season eight of "American Idol," you may know a bit of my story. My journey on "Idol" began just four short weeks after the death of my wife, and high school sweetheart, Sophia.
Sophia was optimistic, energetic and selfless, all qualities that supported her passion to meet the needs of children. After she passed away, I felt hopeless for a long time. But I was reminded that hope was always in front of me, I just needed to find it.
My success on "American Idol" led to my music career—a platform I’ve been able to use to establish Sophia’s Heart, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children and families who have been affected by poverty, sickness, broken homes and broken dreams. Families that need to be reminded that hope is there in front of them, too. We help them find it.
At Sophia’s Heart, we provide transitional housing for homeless families while seeking to rebuild confidence and the motivation to dream again. The program accomplishes these goals by providing coaching in the areas of life skills, job training, financial planning, spiritual encouragement (if requested) and health and wellness.
We have created family suites that look and feel as comfortable as a guest room in someone’s home.
We’ve taken pride in designing beautiful spaces with furniture and beds that are comfortable, warm and inviting.
We even have “welcome home” baskets waiting in the rooms of each new resident.
Our goal is to help these broken families believe they’re important, even if they don’t feel it.
When you help restore a person’s sense of value, it’s amazing how their willingness to dream also returns—they begin to hope for a better life, and believe they deserve one.
When it comes to outreach to homeless families, we could have settled on cots and a soup kitchen. It’s certainly a cheaper route to go, and it does provide basic needs.
But these are people. People who need to feel valued and loved by others; who need to feel they have a place in the world. They need attention, direction and support, just as much as three squares and a place to sleep.
No one wants to be homeless. No one wants to need help.
The families at Sophia’s Heart, and the homeless in your community, are struggling with self-doubt and thoughts of failure (I’ve been there; haven’t you?), and we strive to help with holistic change – mind, body and soul when they come through our doors. We want to give them all the tools needed to find their destinies.
On a recent tour of our Nashville facility, I found myself hoping out loud that Sophia’s Heart will be the “Harvard for the Homeless.” An institution where homeless people come eager to learn, to dream, and to find hope and new beginnings.
If you know of any prospective students, please send them our way.