In Bermuda, Santa Claus is a man called Austin Smith. He not only spreads a message of unconditional love, compassion, and gifts of food and encouragement over the Christmas season, he spreads it all year around. For isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Love, as Joan Aspinall reports for Bernews.
He could be called ‘Santa Claus of the homeless’. For the past thirteen years, Austin Smith has been feeding the homeless, most times with his own financing, every week in Hamilton on Court St. and Bulls Head Car Park through his street ministry called Church Without Walls.
“Anyone can feed the homeless,” he said, “but I offer them not only nourishment for their bodies but consolation and encouragement from God for their souls. Feed my lambs,” he said. “That is the message I am following.”
A giant in girth, this soft-spoken, humble man with the brilliance of a Bible scholar, the elocution of a teacher, seeks neither publicity nor fame, or sends out cards asking for monetary contributions.
For Austin Smith, in his quiet, unassuming way is consumed with a passion to help his fellow man, a passion he says that comes directly from God. “Even the worst of the homeless, those who are termed mentally ill, those who are visible to the populace, scorned, ignored, are first and foremost human beings, thus deserving the dignity afforded to all human beings.”
Austin Smith travels where few men dare to go. He works with the drunks, the drug addicts, the prostitutes, the mentally ill, and as he calls them the ‘criminally insane.’ As he states: “Men who hate women. Women who hate men. Some are hostile, abusive. Angry at the world. Very few could do this work. You have to be very special.”
In reference to church organizations, there are none working so closely with the obvious homeless as Austin Smith. Of the churches, he said, “We’re all in the same field working through God to help our fellow man, but they are on one side of the field that is green, and I am on the other side where it is barren and muddy. If some homeless are dirty, smelly, hostile—they are still human beings and deserve respect.”
He recalled a time when a homeless young drug addict was going through withdrawal symptoms which caused her to vomit all over his chest and clothes as he held her upright. An observing church minister asked why he was doing it. When Austin stated the he could go home where he had hot water and soap, the minister replied: “Better you than me.”
“Where does Christianity start or end,” he said, “if you point at someone and say ‘I’ll help you, but not you’, or ‘I’ll feed you, I’ll clothe you, but, not you.”
“When someone puts a caveat on giving, meaning they are directing where and what their gift should be used for, that is not giving from the heart.”
He is particularly concerned about the ever-growing population of Bermuda’s homeless, especially single women with children. “The visible homeless in Hamilton are only the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
“Unfortunately, there are decent people, who are living in the direst circumstances — in tents in the undergrowth, along the tracks, in caves. These homeless people are invisible by choice. Society is blind by choice.”
“There are many reasons for homelessness,” he said, referring to a paper put out by the Pacific Garden Ministry, PGM, in Chicago, which started out as a simple ministry like Austin’s and now provides accommodations, food kitchen, medical facilities, and counseling to help them get back on their feet.
“One is driven by the economy: no job, no money, inability to pay rent, buy food, clothes, etc. Another segment is those who have low paying jobs, but cannot afford to pay rent and end up sleeping in cars.
“Every morning, mothers living like that try to tidy up their children and send them to school, pretending everything is normal, while at the same time, there is a stigma attached to the children.”
“For those who can pay, the Salvation Army charges $10.00 per night for accommodations that offer more privacy and safety then their limited, but free section. Those who do not get in, sleep in cars in an area called Car City behind the Salvation Army.”
Going down the list, he said the Pacific Garden paper stated that one of the most shocking causes of homelessness was ‘laziness’
“They don’t want to be healed,” he said. “If they became independent, they would have to take care of themselves. They don’t want to become self sufficient. No one would bring them clothes and food. This is the tragedy—the mentally disturbed. They are the ones the public sees sleeping in the doorways, cubby holes, and under the porch of the library in Hamilton.”
Because of this growing number, Austin is now assisting families with clothing and blankets during his Sunday meetings in Bulls Head Car Park. His humble beginnings date back thirteen years ago when he first took a few sandwiches and drinks to some men on Front St. and Albouys Point. A crowd gathered around him at Albouys Point listening to his message of love and compassion. That was the launch of his career.
The next step was a ministry at City Hall Car Park which led later to Bulls Head where he fed the homeless codfish and potatoes, complete with avocado, bananas, hot sauce, all financed out of his own pocket.
His numbers grew to 30 – 40 people every Sunday, no mean feat knowing the cost of codfish. When his ministry developed a soup and sandwich distribution twice a week on Court St., the Eliza Doolittle Society stepped in with food donations.
Austin Smith’s career is noteworthy. He is a master plumber, a recognized award winner in his profession, and taught plumbing at the Bermuda College. Ironically, as of late, he finds himself in the same circumstances of those who he has been helping all these years.
Although not homeless, he lost his job and has no means of support or assistance. But, as distressful and painful as his circumstances may be, he continues to ladle out his soup and sandwiches on Court St., to feed his followers at Bulls Head, and comfort all with his words of wisdom and love.
If Santa carried a sack of human warmth and unconditional love, he would surely be named Austin Smith. If in this busy time of Christmas, you can see clear to help Austin Smith, please do.
As Austin himself says:” What you sow, you shall reap in abundance, especially if you give from the heart.” My, what wonders must await Austin Smith, if not in this life, then surely in the next.
For the original report go to http://bernews.com/2013/12/donexmasday-bermudas-santa-claus-of-the-homeless/