Tim Cain is a TCT Network pastor at Kaleo Church in El Cajon, CA. In 2010, Tim spent a week living with the homeless on $5 a day. This is an article by one of the local newspaper correspondents, Steve Schmidt, who interviewed him afterward. The post can be found on the San Diego Union Tribune’s website.
Pastor spends a week living the homeless life
Tim Cain came to dread the nights. Sleeping on the concrete, or at least trying to sleep, it hurt — hurt his back, his rear, his arms.
Daytime wasn’t much better. He hiked around El Cajon, hauling a backpack, often in the searing heat.
This is what you do when you want to walk in someone else’s skin, he figured. This is what a preacher does if he wants his words to have weight.
Cain is the 33-year-old pastor of Kaleo Church in central El Cajon. For five days and five nights this week, ending this morning, he has tried to live as the homeless live.
“It was no camping trip,” he said, his eyes red-rimmed. “Get to know the homeless. Really get to know them. It will be sweet. It will be the beginning of an experience.”
Cain filled a small, blue backpack on Monday and left his El Cajon apartment. He didn’t haul much — a thin, ratty-looking sleeping bag, a few books, his leather-bound Bible, a ski mask to keep his balding head warm at night and a few toiletries, including baby wipes to stay clean.
He had no toothpaste and carried only $5 a day to live on.
Chris Reynolds, a homeless man whom Cain and his wife had befriended, initially thought the whole thing was a bad idea.
“I’ve got to say that when Tim first broached the idea, I was offended,” Reynolds recalled. “You want to have the homeless experience temporarily? I want to have the homeless experience temporarily.”
The pastor’s mind was fixed. Kaleo has about 100 members, and one out of four are homeless or living in other states of poverty. The 2-year-old congregation holds services at First Baptist Church on Douglas Avenue.
“I love the homeless, so I want to understand them,” Cain told his congregants.
Reynolds came around to the idea and agreed to be Cain’s street guide, like telling him where to bed down at night.
Joined by one of his church members, Aaron Moreno, Cain heard every siren, every dog bark, every foot fall that first night. He tucked himself behind a row of plastic trash bins, on property owned by a nonprofit organization.
He laid on concrete because he had been warned that sleeping on the grass would only invite bites from venomous spiders.
“The ground was really hard, our hands and arms kept falling asleep, the light was seriously bright and I couldn’t figure out what to do,” Cain later wrote on a church blog. “I slept with a ski mask over my face and still I couldn’t get the light out of my eyes.”
The following nights, sleep came easier because Cain was exhausted.
When his eyes weren’t shut, he rode the bus and walked several miles each day to do the most mundane things, such as finding a shaded place to sit or getting a cheap bite.
The days took on a hamster-wheel feel.
5:30 a.m.: Get off the cement and head into the street.
6-9 a.m.: Sit at a bus stop near East Main Street to pass the time. Wave at the bus drivers.
9:30 a.m. until late afternoon: Go to the El Cajon library. Head for the bathroom. Use the library computers. Read.
3 p.m.-sunset: More hanging out downtown. Sit under the trees at Prescott Promenade. Figure out what to do for food. (Cain never had enough money to eat more than one meal a day).
8:22 p.m. or 9:22 p.m.: Catch a bus heading east to Cain’s sleeping spot. Sit on a table outside an auto shop on Main Street until 11 p.m. or so.
Cain tried to work in some variety. He led informal Bible study classes under a tree outside the library. He went “canning” with Moreno: They rooted around dumpsters for soda cans and other recyclable materials to turn in for money.
By week’s end, Cain’s reddish-brown beard had thickened. His cap was soaked with sweat. His wife, Abbey, didn’t want to kiss him because he smelled ripe.
He planned to be back in his two-bedroom apartment by this morning and get cleaned up before his sermon this afternoon. He wants people to know that the Bible, particularly the story of Jesus, speaks plainly about the need to understand the down-and-out.
Cain wrote on the blog: “And so if self-sacrifice really means forgetfulness of self in others, if it means entering into others’ hopes and fears, their longings and despairs, then I believe it is time to at least begin to try and understand what that feeling must be like.”
By Steve Schmidt