Kevin Adler, founder and CEO of Miracles Messages, an innovative non-profit using digital media to reconnect homeless people with their loved ones, sits down to talk with Mark about this amazing work.
Welcome to Jessup think I’m your host, Mark Moore. And I’m so excited to be joined on the show today by Kevin Adler. Kevin is the founder and CEO of miracle messages, an innovative nonprofit using digital media to reconnect the homeless, with their loved ones, have been so inspired by Kevin’s work, and I know that you will be inspired as well. Hope you enjoy the show.
Kevin, thank you so much for joining me on the show. And I was so inspired when you spoke at Jessup in Chapel about a month ago now feels like two years ago, but but I was so inspired. I was actually in my office, listening to the chapel livestream. While I was, I was multitasking. And but then I stopped and I just listened to the rest of your message. And I was so inspired, I got out of my office and basically ran to the RA, you know, as as socially appropriate as I could walk fast through through campus, and ended up catching you just as you were coming outside the chapel building. I didn’t know that backstory. Yeah. So just connect, because I was, I was just so moved by the work that you’re doing in the work, and the focus of miracle messages. So maybe for our listeners, if they don’t quite know, what is the work that you do with miracle messages? And kind of maybe how, how’d that all get started?
Yeah, well, thank you. I’m honored mark. Here, that little anecdote, I like to figure out what the appropriate speed is to be running while pretending to be professional. Are you an Olympic Qualifying or not? You know, so miracle messages is a nonprofit that I started about five years ago. And we help people that are experiencing homelessness, reconnect with their loved ones, and with us as their neighbors. The first part of that has developed into an award winning reunion service, where we record short video, audio and text messages from people on the streets, and that shelters and living in their cars, to family members and friends that they haven’t seen in a while. And it could be to say, I, you know, would love to come live with you. But it could also simply be I miss you. I love you. I’m sorry. I want you back in my life. So when one of those messages gets recorded, usually by a client directly, or a volunteer, or a caseworker, or one of our formerly homeless community ambassadors, and you’re usually using one of our tools, whether it’s the mobile app, paper form, the online form, or our one 800 miscue hotline. We have a network of volunteer digital detectives, that then go online and make phone calls write letters to see if they can locate the loved ones deliver the messages to reunite folks with our families. So that’s the reunion service, the how do we better connect with people experiencing homelessness as our neighbors? That’s a really exciting area that’s just been emerging, really, in the last couple months, even a couple of weeks? Around COVID-19? Yeah, new and exciting ways. And I’d be happy to share more about that. If that’s of interest.
Yeah, definitely. That I mean, that we’re definitely have experienced a shift in, in the world in the last, you know, in the last couple of months. And and yeah, interesting to see. So that’s kind of brought up new things within miracle messages. In that new Yeah, I want to express Yeah, a little bit of that kind of the new stuff you have going on.
Yeah. Well, let me read some news that is in front page of the New York Times right now. I just got the news in the last hour or two. And it’s, I think, very relevant and pressing it for where things could be moving very soon. So it was just announced that today, on Wednesday, there were five positive cases at the largest homeless shelter in San Francisco. Today, there are 70 Wow. Wow. And there’s a real fear as well as sense among advocates that our neighbors experiencing home listeners will be decimated by COVID-19. Health underline health situation, the aging on the streets, number of people who are 50 and older number of people who are immunocompromised respiratory issues, and then just the sheer ability to shelter in place and find a find a safe space to physically distant and stay safe and if you’re failing to, to get help. So it’s a disaster, and it has the makings of a compound disaster between the pandemic and the homelessness epidemic. So what we’re doing as part of that, is, as we’re encouraging as much as we can, you know, advocating for people experiencing homelessness, to be safely invited into hotels and motels right now, there’s a lot of vacancies. Right and, and getting people stable, the house in a place that is safe, is is of utmost importance, once they’re in a place that could be stable the house for the next couple months, potentially, the question is what then, and you just leave them there. There’s needs around food, medical care, physical safety and harm. And then just isolation, loneliness, anxiety. And so miracle messages is working with the City of San Francisco and in talks with a couple other regions, to develop a virtual buddy system, where we’re going to be connecting volunteers who received some training and support with people experiencing homelessness for 10 to 15 minute daily phone calls and text messages, oh, wow, check in with them. And then as issues are identified, it’s really just meant to be a good neighbor, and provide companionship and support. But if there are issues that are raised, to be able to log them in a case management system share that information on an update form that then reaches a caseworker who can follow up with a client and try to address the issue.
That’s so good that, and that really, I think, highlights a point of miracle messages. The one thing that you highlight that I think is, is really interesting, and it’s an interesting aspect of, of advocacy for the homeless is that idea of social homelessness, the idea of a loss of connection, and community. And so to be able to meet that, not just physical needs, but then yeah, to be able to meet the community and connection needs, through that. I think that’s such a great follow up to, to is going on,
we really seen as a perfect complement to the kind of reunion service because we know, family and friends sometimes was part of the problem, not part of the solution. Right? There’s situations where there’s domestic violence, or situations where it’s unsafe for a young person to be living with their family, they don’t accept them for whatever it happens to be. And so in those scenarios, or maybe the family is as under resourced as they are, what do you do? You know, and we know from experience that about 10 to 20% of people experiencing homelessness? are good candidates potentially benefited by miracle messages as a reunion service. So for the 80 or 90%, that aren’t necessarily benefited. How do you build relationships and social capital and a sense of home where the person is the social home as you’re saying, right? And and that’s really where this service comes in. And they’re not mutually exclusive. We envision our volunteers through those one to one daily interactions, being able to say hey, do you have any family or friends you’d like to reconnect with? Maybe we can help rebuild those relationships, right?
And on the on the reunion side of miracle messages, what? How did you kind of maybe come up with that idea what first started that to go get video and try to reconnect people through that through the use of that kind of digital media?
Yeah, so it started out my uncle was homeless for about 30 years, and suffered from schizophrenia on and off the streets. But you know, never looked at him as a person who’s homeless just saw him as a person as my uncle. Yeah. And so after he died, I was at the gravesite with my dad, and just having a really deep father son conversation about his younger brother, my uncle mark, the life he lived when he wasn’t at the Christmas dinner table or the Thanksgiving dinner table with us. And I just started thinking about, you know, as moved as I was by sitting at the grave of my uncle, looking at the tombstone, it didn’t tell me much about who the man was, you know, it was Mark Adler birth, that your birth, your death and all the good years, all the good memories are in the dash, right. And I get back in a car and I you know, pull out my smartphone and start scrolling on Facebook, social media. And within, you know, a few seconds, I kind of stop and catch myself, I realized I’m learning more about my random acquaintances on Facebook than I did about my uncle at his gravesite. And so that was kind of thought one thought the next thought a few days later, I was at church. And there was a project at the church I was going to in San Francisco, called who is Jesus? And they invited you to answer that question was some kind of art form. So some people painted pictures, some people wrote songs. And I thought, you know, I’m not much of an artist, I’m not much of a singer. I love using storytelling tools, smartphones, social media, wearable cameras, to help show our humanity, our interconnectedness, I like technology, I like social impact. So I got this question on my heart, is really reverberated for the last five years to this work, which is how would Jesus use a smartphone? And I thought, well, gosh, you know, it’s not taking in sharing selfies or cat videos. And so I just started really taking that question to heart. And my initial response was over the course of a year, inviting 24 people experiencing homelessness to wear GoPro cameras around their chests. Oh, wow. And I said, Why don’t you walk around, do what you’re going to do. And then just narrate what’s going through your mind how you’re feeling? You know, I walked by you, hundreds of people walk by you every day, but you’re still there. what’s what’s it like to be you? And I got the footage back, and was just really, you know, overwhelmed for sad, by what I saw. Yeah. And in one clip, I heard someone say something that really caught my attention. He said, You know, I never realized I was homeless when I lost my housing. Only when I lost my family and trends. And that angle, I said, that makes a lot of sense. But I’ve never heard any organizations talk about that. I’ve never heard any service providers talk about what we’ve come to call relational poverty, as a type of poverty. And so long story somewhat less long. Decided five years ago at Christmas time to take a walk down Market Street in San Francisco, went up to every person I saw who was experiencing homelessness and just said, Hey, do you have any family or friends you’d like to reconnect with? kind of add some cookies and I’m drained and had a volunteer to with me and just went up to everyone not sure what to expect? Yeah. And the first person I met was a guy named Jeffrey. He says, I haven’t seen my family in 22 years. And so I sat down with him, started having a conversation. He volunteered to record a video to his family, I pull out my phone, recorded this really heartfelt message to his desus nephew, his sister, his father.
I went home that night. And that night, I did nothing. I sat on the video, because I wasn’t sure I could believe who this guy was. And I didn’t know if I didn’t want to interfere. Right? But a few days later, it was just kind of, you know, on my heart, felt like is burning a hole in my pocket and said, Okay, I got to do something with this video. So I went on Facebook, and I found a Facebook group connected to the guy’s hometown. So posted the video there, short message, and within an hour, the video was shared over 100 times. Made the local news that night. classmates started commenting, hey, I went to high school with Jeffrey I worked in construction. Does he needs a job. You know, I work at the congressman’s office does he need health care. And in the first 20 minutes of the post, his sister got tagged. We got on the phone The next day, and she told me that Jeffrey had been a missing person for 12 years. Wow. And so I shortly after that, quit my job. I’ve been working in edtech doing startup Social impact in the education space and decided to do this full time because I knew Jeffrey wasn’t the only one and that this shouldn’t be happening. We shouldn’t have someone in downtown San Francisco few days before Christmas, that visible in some ways as a person experiencing homelessness in front of the old maybe flagship store, that that isolated that lonely and having that social support network just under the surface, thinking about him every night and waking up every morning wondering how he’s doing.
Yeah, that’s so powerful. And that, was it really kind of that video with Jeffrey, that kind of spurred? You moving forward? Well, yeah.
It I sat on it for a couple more months after that, because I thought maybe it was a one off, it was a needle in a haystack. Maybe I don’t know if I’m care enough about this issue. Like I never I never thought homelessness as my issue. I thought, yeah, education, social justice. You know, democracy, human rights, but environment, but like homelessness. And what I realized Mark was, it’s not homelessness, that drew me in has led me to devote the last five years of my life to this work. It’s my belief in the intrinsic value of each person, yeah. And the interconnectedness of us all, and that we’re all created in God’s image. And once, you know, I became aware of my values and my core beliefs as rooted in the Gospel, then I was able to say, well, where are those values and beliefs not manifest? Where’s the where’s the Delta, between this truth of interconnectedness and intrinsic value, as we’re seeing right now in the pandemic, how interconnected we are in terms of public health and your well being as my well being and vice versa? So where is that not manifest? And then what can I do about it? And how can I learn more? And so that’s what led me to start asking questions. And, you know, fast forward to today, we’ve now reunited over 325, people experiencing homelessness, families, average time disconnected, separated as 15 years 80% of the time, it leads to a positive outcome 15% leads to housing, stable housing or living with family, again, fraction of the costs of any other program. And so it’s been, it’s been really a godsend and a blessed journey to be on since then.
That’s so great. And I find it fascinating that you connected it to I wanted to kind of circle back to this connected to the thing that your church, the program in your church of answering that question, Who is Jesus? Because I think that’s such an amazing question. Because I had a really good friend who worked at a homeless kind of advocacy program down in Sacramento. And he worked there for like 23 years, and I met him through there, and was kind of hanging out with him. And he used to kind of in the morning, bring all the volunteers together. And there was a place called friendship Park. And people could just come hang out, get a warm cup of coffee, get a day old pastry, and find community and connection. And he used to kind of get the volunteers who wanted to, to get together and pray. And he would always when the first time I heard it, it blew me away, because it was something I’d never heard before. But he would pray that we would all see Jesus in the guests who were coming in today. And and it was it was the the opposite of I think what I had always heard growing up, like I need to be Jesus to those who and he was like, No, you need to see Jesus in the least of these. And and it was just a fundamental shift in my life, to be able to see him and note that and that what’s crazy is that comes exactly from Matthew 25. When when Jesus says, Whatever you’ve done for leases, you’ve done for me, and it’s this connection of, you know, so answering that question, Who is Jesus? It’s almost like, in that video, Jeffrey is Jesus.
Well, and that’s so well said, Mark. And I think that applies in so many areas of life, like, you know, thinking of Jessup University, you know, Friday night, and you’re going on a date, right, get dressed up, you’re looking in the mirror, if you take a moment, to just say, you know, that person I’m going out with, that’s someone’s daughter, right? That’s someone’s son, that someone’s ground grandchild, that maybe some day will be someone’s mom, someone’s sister, suddenly, you almost can’t help but almost well up with respect, right and gratitude to be able to spend that sacred time together in the context. And I just think we lose sight of just the beauty and the rootedness of the people before us constantly, right. And so at miracle messages, you know, our shirts, the slogan says, everyone is someone, somebody. And we have found that the quickest way to build empathy for a person experiencing homelessness is not to see them as a homeless person, any more than if we were going to build respect for each other. We don’t define each other as housed people. Right? Right. But to see the person as someone’s son or daughter, brother, sister, mother or father, as someone, somebody, and when we see people, I think, in the same way that Jesus would try to see them and we would try to, we would try to see Jesus, wow, this is the Son of God, my brother, you know, this is my Savior. Suddenly, we know exactly how to show respect and reverence. It’s not even a question. It’s when we lose sight of the beauty and the, the godliness, you know, that, that we’re each created in his image, that we start falling short.
Yeah, so true. And that’s what I think I really appreciate about miracle messages that focus on of noting, and understanding the humaneness of everyone. And, and and yeah, that totally changes when you and you know, and some other talks that you’ve done, you you’ve resveratrol, some studies that that show, that that kind of part of our brain, when we see another person doesn’t get triggered when we see a homeless person. And yeah, and just that concept of, yeah, that I’m mad. I’m not even recognizing that I’m seeing a person. And how that fundamentally changes if you you shift. And that happens. I mean, in California, we have such a growing homeless population, right. And in different communities. There’s, there’s all kinds of different angles and views. And it’s interesting in just the community of Sacramento, you know, there’s voices that talk about the problem, and how do we fix this problem, but it’s always viewed as a problem not viewed as, how do we help these people and, and making that shift? And that’s why I love Yeah, with miracle messages, is it? it humanizes everyone, because like, Hey, who do you? Who do you have a connection with that, that maybe you haven’t seen in 2030 years, and you want to send a message and as simple as that can kind of change someone’s trajectory?
Yeah, well, you’ve done your homework as our vision is, we want to, you know, end relational poverty on the streets and inspire people to embrace their homeless neighbors, not as problems to be solved, but as people to be loved. Right. And, you know, I think it’s important to just kind of take a moment like we’re not exonerating the actions that day or that we have done. Right, right. We’re right. But But Jesus knew that the human tendency is not towards, well, we’re just going to sanctify everyone.
Yes, we’re going to pass your stop casting the first stone right, yeah, right, to condemn everyone to condemn and judge everyone and see this winter in the log. Yeah. So, you know, I
think Jesus was speaking to us, but you know, it’s it’s worth noting that, like, I’m not going around. Like, with the, you know, the the Hallmark Channel where everything’s kind of blurred out when they say something powerful,
right? Yeah. Everything. No glow around halo effect. Yeah, that’s not us. Like my eyes. Don’t listen.
But so we’re seeing people as people want, we’re messy. I’m messy. There’s things I’ve done. I continue to do that. I’m not proud of like, how I treat people how I treat myself. How I treat God, you know, I mean, right. Let’s be real, but it’s still it’s just meeting them as people. Yeah, I’m that level playing field. So
yeah, I really appreciated that when you were at Chapel you kind of talked about the complexities of homelessness, and that even even reuniting families doesn’t solve every problem. Right. And, and, and we understand that and I think that that first just great step is to start to to approach everyone as a human being made in the image of God and and start there.
What in your life when you find that you’re not approaching people that way? What’s going on?
Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of it is because I was even thinking when you were saying this. We have we have a hard time just maybe seeing our you know our neighbor at the grocery store. As another human being, we just walk right by, and we need to get where we need to get and, and let alone then homeless person maybe who is another step removed. And and I think part of it is, is that in my life when I see that happening even with my family, it’s because my focus is on myself, right focuses on maybe my needs, what I need what I want to do these things and, and I’m looking at other people just as obstacles maybe or and and i think that that I think that’s some way that the issue of homelessness is approach sometime too, right because people are thinking of property values and things like that. And, and, and starting to, to view our homeless neighbors as human beings and even our own neighbors, our own houses, neighbors, as human beings, as people who have family and connection and loved ones. I think that that’s the I feel like that’s the fundamental heart move that Jesus is trying to get us to. Because I agree with what you’re saying, like, he knew we weren’t gonna, that wasn’t going to be our natural inclination, our natural inclination is going to be to judge and condemn and always put ourselves above. But with the work like I am still just I’m so inspired with the work that you’re doing. How can people like myself and maybe like listeners get involved and help miracle messages?
Well, one immediate need is we need volunteers to get matched with their homeless neighbors. You know, like, yeah, commit three to four hours a week, for the next month, two months, three months kind of timeframe. To do a 10 to 15 minute check in with a person, it doesn’t have to be where your base be. It’s a phone call, it’s a text message. And we have it a partnership with a company called Dialpad, where they’re providing 1000s of phone numbers to us for free for our volunteers, so you can have your number no contact information protected. Yeah. So getting people to sign up for miracle friends, which is the name of that program is
called miracle friends.
Miracle friends, yep. And they go to, they can go to miracle friends.org. Or, you know, it’s through miracle messages. So miracle messages.org slash miracle friends, okay, and learn more about that program. And then, of course, if folks want to help locate loved ones, be digital detectives, make phone calls, write letters, try to find family members and friends, that’s needed to and they could sign up on our get involved page miracle messages.org slash get involved. But you know, even if either of those are too much to ask, you want to just start, take a moment to watch one of our videos. You know, and just think about the people that you walk by when you’re walking down the street, and you’re not staying safely at home. But if you’re, you know, thinking about the people who don’t have a home to stay out right now. And the people that you see on your way to the grocery store, and you kind of turn to the other, you know, even less likely to engage now. Right? Right, right? What, what comes to mind when you see the videos that we have, and then you think about the people in your neighborhood, you know, and again, we want people to save to always feel comfortable. But even just taking some time to check your own prejudices and your own stereotypes and stigmas, right is such a key to unlocking the humanity and the sense of loving thy neighbor that that Jesus was so adamant that this is literally guys, one of the two commandments like right, remember these two? Were doing all right. So love God love each other. So,
exactly. I’m trying to simplify this for you guys. Just two minutes. I gotta
tell you gotta remember and what a beautiful message for a Good Friday on a Good Friday, unlike many others, right? Where we’re all facing this global pandemic, there’s real loss of life, there’s incredible suffering, there’s, at the very least inconvenience for pretty much everyone. You know, what does it look like to go back to the cross? back to that very, you know, basic. Ask that basic invitation. And how can we at this time of isolation not be alone?
Right. Well, that’s so good. Thank you so much, Kevin for joining me on the show. I know our listeners are going to be inspired and I hope, I hope they check out so it’s miracle friends.org and that is Connecting, Connecting with someone 15 minutes a day through text message, phone call, are, are at the very least check out miracle messages.org all the same goes same plays, and they can find different ways to support you. And and get involved. That’s what I’d love to is that. I feel like that with miracle messages, there’s so many ways to get involved where you don’t have to be in the Bay Area you can be and can still support and help you. So I know that I think a lot of listeners are gonna jump on that. But thank you again, so much for being on the show. And
all thank you for having me. And you know, I’m sure there’s listeners out there that are gonna jump right on this. And then I’m also sure there’s some where they’re gonna feel I’m not sure. I’m a little uneasy. Yeah, no. And if that’s you, I would just I think the word that just comes to my heart is just be still for a moment. Like as this as you finished listening to this program, just kind of take in and maybe write down or just pray on what messages on your heart because that uneasiness. discomfort is where I was as well, where we all are at different times. Right. That’s something to honor to. So I just say Come as you are. And when you’re ready, we’re ready for you.
Thank you for listening to Jessup. Think Be sure to follow us on Twitter at Jessup think we would love to hear your thoughts on the episode and engage with any questions you have. Our aim is to provide a framework for further reflection and deeper exploration of these important topics. You can also help the show by leaving a review on iTunes these reviews help the podcast reach new listeners. Until next time, I’m Mark Moore and this is Jessup.
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