I was listening to a story on NPR by Kirk Siegler. It was the kind of glimpse into a life that leaves you profoundly awed. Incredulous really. That there are people out there, working or living in a context so different from yours, in places so much darker than your comfortable sphere of light, you honestly can’t comprehend it.

Deon Joseph is an officer with the LAPD and has been on the same beat for 17 years. His assignment? Skid Row. An area of Los Angeles that has one of the largest populations of homeless people in the United States. Its growing number of drug addicts, parolees, and sex offenders are increasingly being diagnosed as mentally ill. There is nowhere for them to go. They are in and out of jail. They live in tents and boxes.

Most police officers last a couple of years working Skid Row, but Deon has stayed – year after year, day after day. Unheard of in his profession. As Siegler walks the beat with him during an interview, you can hear the confidence with which he moves through the streets. He knows everybody’s name. And they know his.

Joseph is changing the way policing is done. He doesn’t believe in the “hook and book” method. He doesn’t peer down his nose at the woman slumped against a cement wall. He acts with genuine concern and an effort to connect. Somehow he sees through all the hostility and aggression. Deon Joseph is that rare cop that has earned respect and trust.

With biceps literally bulging out of his sleeves, this hulk of a policeman keeps his cool in every encounter. He protects. He mediates. He tells a sick woman he’ll be back to check on her. Why? He believes people can change. “No one,” he says, “is without hope.”

You can hear it in his voice. He really cares. And he is offering hope to an entire population of people that have been labeled as hopeless.

You’ve got to listen to the entire story. Learn about the family he grew up in, the way his fellow officers view him, as well as the people he serves on Skid Row. His final comment touched me to the core:

“You never say, ‘Oh well, that guy’s a parolee, there’s no hope for him,’ or ‘That guy’s a crack addict, there’s no hope.’ I never say that. There’s always hope; there’s always hope… If I keep pushing, if they keep looking at me and saying, ‘That guy has faith in me. Maybe, maybe, he can guide me to hope.’ And that’s all I am; all I want to be … is a beacon of light in this very, very dark place called Skid Row.”

We may not walk the streets of LA wearing a badge, but we all have people in our lives who believe they are without hope. People who walk their own kind of skid row. They think they have nowhere to go. They feel forgotten, unable to change, unloved. They may not be in boxes or tents. Their pain may be hidden. But it is still there.

How do we help? There are a multitude of ways. And God is the best director, the great facilitator of change. But what I learned from Deon Joseph, is that we can’t give up. On anyone. If we know God’s love, we can share it. And we can pass on this truth. A truth we sometimes forget ourselves. That we didn’t come here to gain our worth; we brought it with us [1].

Officer Joseph is right. There is always, always hope.


[1] Sheri L. Dew, No One Can Take Your Place, p. 21

Catherine Arveseth
In four years, Catherine became the mother of five children, including two sets of twins. Catherine recounts her long struggle with infertility and how time in this personal “wilderness” helped her to see motherhood differently. Catherine also shares some of the complexities, joys, and coping strategies that help her live–and love–her busy life as a mother of five.
Catherine Arveseth

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