“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked, and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” – Mother Theresa
The first and third Tuesdays of every month are circled prominently on the calendars of the regular NC volunteers who serve as Watchmen of the Streets – a Christian, non-profit founded in 2009 that shares faith, friendship, and hope for the future with the local homeless.
“Our volunteers serve on the streets, in wooded areas, clothes pantries, and storage units, by spreading the word about the mission, speaking to other community groups about us, and aiding in fundraisers for survival supplies,” says founder Heath Burchett.
Visits to homeless camps might mean new tents and sleeping bags for occupants, as well as toiletries and food, and always prayer! Nothing is more powerful than that one-on-one interaction, and volunteers often find themselves being prayed for by their homeless neighbors as well.
“We have around 30 regular volunteer leaders in North Carolina, and throughout the year we estimate a couple of hundred volunteers come through at some point to serve,” explains Heath. The group typically has one or two groups per homeless outreach outing that might deliver survival aid, hand out meals, offer prayer if desired, direct neighbors to local resources, and above all, build life-changing relationships with our friends who find themselves on the streets.
Watchmen on the Streets services the following areas – some on a frequent basis and others as circumstances allow: Charlotte, Mooresville, Statesville, Kannapolis, Concord, Winston-Salem, Hickory, Black Mountain, and Asheville, and as far away as Belize, where there are currently 50 volunteers serving. Heath’s office, a storage unit, and outreach trailer are in Cornelius, NC. Here’s why they believe in this mission.
“The biggest misconception is that everyone experiencing homelessness is lazy and doesn’t want to work, has mental illness, or is addicted to drugs,” shares Heath. “Yes, some are mentally ill, choose the street, or fight addiction. But does that mean we only help those who help themselves? I’m inspired by the life of Jesus and Mother Theresa, who loved everyone, everywhere, no matter what.”
Heath firmly believes Jesus led him to work within homeless communities.
“He went to where people were, and met them on their turf, with His unwavering love,” Heath says. “From a very young age, I have gravitated towards the unloved, the abused, and the impoverished.”
By developing real relationships with people, the group sees change (no matter how small) and in some cases, they witness the total turn-around of lives.
“One thing to note is we haven’t all been given the same hand in life,” adds Heath. “Some people have stable, loving parents, and others have abusive, unstable homes. Some inherit a family business and never earn their way, while others only know poverty. Some receive Ivy League educations, and others were forced to take jobs at a young age to provide for their families. It’s easy to say what we would do in that situation, but that’s not a fair assumption. You don’t know a person’s story until you really get to know them.”
The reality is many folks served by Watchmen of the Streets live in their cars or drive to a tent to sleep, not being able to afford a hotel room every night. Some work part-time or full-time jobs, but rent is at an all-time high, and the waiting list for rentals is long. Heath and his volunteers are inspired by the gratitude, faith, resilience, and perseverance they see in those on the streets, and have seen many who have gotten off the streets volunteering right along beside them.
“It inspires me to see the giving hearts our homeless neighbors have towards others, even in the midst of their own needs,” says Heath. “I have witnessed our friends on the streets praying for our teams, and I have witnessed them giving something special to me or another volunteer, out of thankfulness for our friendship.”
Watchmen of the Streets also joined with Luke 14 Banquets, a project Chef Wes Choplin from Choplin’s in Cornelius did in the past. Chef Choplin went into homeless encampments – with his staff or sometimes even solo – and provided three to five course gourmet meals.
“What an amazing outpouring of love!” adds Heath. “Many of our volunteers would regularly witness tears of joy for this act of love. Although we have not provided meals in the physical encampments recently, Chef Wes has welcomed some of our homeless to his restaurant, always greeting them with a hug.”
The Blu Star Grill in Mooresville also provides meals to Watchmen of The Streets to deliver to homeless neighbors at every group visit.
“The food is delicious, and smiles abound from the great meals and the love owner Nelson Bass, Chef Zach and staff, put into what they do,” says Heath. “We are grateful for their service, as many count on us for their nourishment.”
During this past year, the group aided 25 people in moving from tents to apartments, along with life-changing help for women and children in potentially dangerous situations.
Great things happen when our community comes together to reach out to our homeless neighbors! Volunteers are always needed (those under 18 must be accompanied by an adult) and must be willing to sign both a waiver and a commitment form which protects our homeless and their location. The group is also in need of runners to take food from Blu Star Grill in Mooresville to a rally point in Huntersville, or directly to Charlotte to those they serve. For more information or to donate, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Watchmenofthestreets.com to fill out a volunteer form. The group also offers compelling educational documentaries that tell many personal stories: Hungry for Love (Available on Prime Video & YouTube) and Hungry for Hope (Available on YouTube).