Dr. Hal Bradley of ‘Crisis Victory’: “Ask for Guidance”

What keeps me going is the strong belief in treating people with dignity and compassion — in loving another person as you want to be loved. This includes encouraging unity and playing a part in something greater than myself to create a better future. The success stories I have experienced also motivate me to continue helping others. As […]

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What keeps me going is the strong belief in treating people with dignity and compassion — in loving another person as you want to be loved. This includes encouraging unity and playing a part in something greater than myself to create a better future. The success stories I have experienced also motivate me to continue helping others.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Hal Bradley.

When Dr. Hal Bradley lost everything and went to prison, he discovered his life purpose — to be of service and help others in need. Today, Dr. Bradley is an author, pastor, certified hospice counselor and guiding light to many. He has a PhD in Pastoral Counseling and assists the homeless in the Seattle area.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your personal background, and how you grew up?

I was born into a Christian home, raised by a single mother and regularly attended church with my family. At the age of 15, my mother sent me to Durango, Mexico to “keep me out of trouble.” It was this experience that changed my life forever and involved me in drug trafficking. Years later, while I was in prison, I knew I needed to turn my life around and decided to make the best use of my sentence. Within two and a half years, I became ordained and certified as a hospice counselor and course instructor. I was able to help other prisoners in hospice and ease inmates through the dying process. Since I completed my incarceration, I have lived a quiet life. I’ve spent seven years at the pulpit and eleven years in active ministry in homeless camps, hospital bedside visits and last rites services.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

Twenty years ago, while I was working on my doctoral dissertation, I was doing outreach for the church in the Seattle area. I had a firsthand view of the homeless situation there and saw how the demand for services was growing. There was a dire need for simple things such as coffee, blankets, toiletries — and someone to listen to them without passing judgment. You see, many homeless people suffer through self-esteem issues, blaming themselves for their situation. If they feel they are being judged, their challenges are exacerbated. The more I learned about their struggles, the more I knew that I wanted to be actively involved with this type of ministry.

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

Unfortunately, after prolonged periods of homelessness, many people adjust to that type of lifestyle. They can become complacent and comfortable within their circumstances. And the pandemic will ultimately increase this crisis, with more people losing their jobs, homes, health insurance and family members to the virus and/or lockdown. That’s the reality. But for some people, being homeless is a choice. They view homelessness as a freedom from obligations. Not everyone who is homeless has psychological issues or drug problems, they have simply decided to adopt this lifestyle. In my book, Crisis Victory, I explain the sociological reality of like-minded people in similar situations assimilating into environments together. Sometimes, these people have purposely redesigned their lives and created a new comfort zone, out of which it becomes harder to pull oneself.

For the benefit of our readers, Can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

People find themselves in homeless situations for different reasons, not all of which are nefarious or immediately preventable. Some may wind up homeless after a divorce or job loss. The first step when one has been forced into homelessness (or has experienced a crisis) is to accept the situation and respond accordingly. For those who do want to be helped and/or upgraded out of their situation, there are many resources available — including the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Catholic charities and other organizations. Those services have expanded over the past few decades to provide more food and clothing banks to those who need them. While others, again, may choose the lifestyle to free themselves of responsibility. They adapt to the new environment and the freedom from mortgages, car payments, insurance and other obligations. They may find other like-minded people to teach them the ropes for existing and surviving in this world, including necessary safety measures. For better or worse, communities are formed in homeless camps in which people look out for one another.

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

It is important to remember that some homeless people like the freedom they have with their lifestyle. They will not move to a place with less expensive housing, because they do not want housing. They want the freedom that the homeless encampments provide them. They become part of the community and have their basic needs met there.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

Give them a moment of your time. Treat them like the human they are, and not like an object on the sidewalk to be avoided. Help the person feel worthy by not ignoring them. Use the same rules of society that you would leverage if you were approaching a person in their home or office. Ask permission to sit with them — this allows them to feel in control of the immediate encounter and moment. Be aware of your safety and move on quickly if you feel uncomfortable. Try not to judge the person, but be willing to accept their honesty in the interaction. If they ask for advice on how to better themselves, you can offer an opinion but hold the judgment or reproach.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

Honestly, it is not likely that they actually need either, because many do not pay rent or have a vehicle. Yes, they might be looking for money to buy alcohol and/or drugs, but it is not our place to ask or judge. I would decide if I want to give them money based on how I would wish to be treated in their situation. We don’t know what they are thinking or how they will use the cash — they may just want to see the response of another human being. Helping them out could be worth it if doing so uplifts their spirits and trust in others. We can help others for the greater good. It is not about us. If you do not want to help the person, you can politely say, “Not today.” Offer them a smile, wish them well and move on.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

My work has helped me (and others) better understand the homeless lifestyle, catalysts and preferences — and society changes with these changes. The crisis is not going away and will likely increase due to the pandemic. The homeless are not bad people. They have simply assimilated into that environment. Most homeless fall between the ages of 18–40 and could get a job if they chose to do so, but they have chosen this lifestyle instead. We each have different comfort levels and standards of living, and we each deserve basic human respect in that.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

The pandemic has definitely impacted how I can help others. Previously, I would invite the homeless into my home, feed them, let them shower and do their laundry. I still won’t turn anyone away, but now must help them from a distance. We can still talk and pray together, while being safe. Additionally, my hospice work and in-person visits have become virtual or telephone interactions.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

I have many stories. One involves a woman who was robbed and severely beaten. She had felony warrants and a heroin addiction, so she was brought to me rather than to a hospital. I took her in, helped her and prayed with her. She visited me recently. She is now a better person. She has ceased prostitution and other illegal activities. She has a job and a child now. This was a full compassion moment, which changed her life forever. Stories like this keep me motivated and going with my work.

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

One gentleman stands out from the many — he lived in his car with his family and needed help. I let him move into a mobile home on one of my properties and filled the place with groceries. Today, he is off drugs, in a good marriage and has a stable housing situation. By sacrificing my vacation home, I was able to give him the hand up he needed without any expectation of gain. But I never take the glory for the help I offer others. It is all God’s glory.

Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this crisis? Can you give some examples?

By respecting the homeless and the outreach of those who work to help them, we can help address the root of this crisis. First, society needs to connect with outreach people who go into the homeless encampments and interact with homeless individuals on a daily basis. We have experience in what can be a dangerous environment. Second, find a way to be beneficial in the moment. We can help without sacrificing our own beliefs and lifestyles. And third, offer a solution to upgrade the homeless person’s standard of living, if that is what they want.

If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

I would push lawmakers to partner with experienced people to assist funding efforts and achieve successful results. They should work with and interview people in outreach services, on the front lines. I would push funding for camps, instead of just for tents and the like. Lastly, I’d suggest the creation and support of organizations that specifically focus on the future-focused needs of the homeless, such as career resources, mental health counseling, withdrawal assistance, etc.

I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?

What keeps me going is the strong belief in treating people with dignity and compassion — in loving another person as you want to be loved. This includes encouraging unity and playing a part in something greater than myself to create a better future. The success stories I have experienced also motivate me to continue helping others.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

I don’t believe this problem will ever be solved completely. It is here to stay. People have chosen this lifestyle and will find it harder to break out of the situation as time goes on.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I wish someone had told me the following:

1. More about the true environment of the issue

When I was first ordained in Seattle and working on my dissertation, I would walk through alleys and find people in bad situations. I always carried thermoses of hot cocoa and coffee, and cups to offer people warm drinks. One night, I found a woman who was being assaulted and was able to stop the attack, but I was beaten up in the process. I wish I had known more about the danger in the field.

2. More training on how to work with the destitute

If I’d had a mentor, I believe it would have made me more effective initially. Now I am an instructor and will help those newly involved in outreach refine the skills they need.

3. More information on PTSD

I have suffered from PTSD, in part from my work with the homeless and from experiencing near-death experiences. You need to have a release to get you beyond the stressful situations.

4. How to comfortably adjust back into your lifestyle when you leave work in the camp

This is not easily done, as one’s entire mindset must shift after leaving the homeless encampments. While you are there, you will witness horrors, but you must remain calm and try not to judge others. Once you can show people in the homeless encampments that you are not there to harm or judge them, doors will open that allow you to help them. When I leave the camps on my motorcycle, I may take a long ride to reflect and destress before going home. I also like to occasionally sit by the river and decompress.

5. Ask for Guidance

This work is bigger than any of us. You need to take some time to ask for spiritual assistance and feel the power of the work at hand. This helps to relieve the stress.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d love to end the division and bring unity. Through prayer, I believe this can be achieved.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Love one another, give God glory and praise.” Every day, I take time to pray, harness the goodness that God shares and pass it on to another person.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’d love to spend time with the U.S. customs agent I met in 1993. I’d love to thank him for the positive change he has brought to my life and show him the person I am today.

How can our readers follow you online?

Please visit my website to find out more information about me and my book, Crisis Victory, here: http://drhalbradley.com/

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