Wyndi White, a 63-year-old ordained minister, said she has frequent conversations with God.
About a year ago, the medical practice administrator said she received clear instructions to start a homeless outreach. Not only that, she said God gave her a playbook.
"The Lord told me: 'I don't want you to drive up on someone and hand them a bag (of food) and say 'God bless you' and drive off. I want you to get out of your car and have a conversations with them,'" she said.
"I want you to find out what their story is, what their name is, why they are homeless, what they need, (and then) ask if you can pray for them."
On top of that, she said, God told her to give out her cell phone number to people on the street and encourage them to text her when they needed help.
In the beginning, White's husband, Jerry Gorsuch, 57, was dubious.
"I thought she was crazy at first," said Gorsuch, who works at a big-box home improvement store. "I kept wondering about how we were going to do it. I didn't know anything about helping the homeless."
Now, a year later, White and Gorsuch said they spend most of their disposable income on a homeless ministry they have named "Doing What We Can Homeless Outreach." It operates from the former Aurora Designs beauty salon at 4922 Brainerd Road.
Three days a week — Wednesday, Friday and Saturday — the pair spend time at the storefront, dispensing food, toiletries and providing services to homeless folks. Some days they also offer a Bible study. They estimate they've served about 300 people since starting the outreach.
One wall of the office is filled floor-to-ceiling with plastic bins of clothing, sorted by season. There's also a pantry filled with packaged and canned foods the couple distribute from their vehicles in a territory that includes a swath of Brainerd Road, North and South Terrace and parts of East Ridge.
The other side of the Brainerd Road homeless center has a bathroom, a shower and a shampoo sink, a remnant of the beauty salon where complimentary haircuts are available from a visiting stylist. There's also a refrigerator stocked with cold drinks, a cellphone charging station and a stove for cooking soups and chilli when the weather turns colder.
Word got out quickly in the Brainerd-area homeless community that White and Gorsuch were running a different kind of outreach. Soon, folks were texting them for very specific help: like help with a loved one getting released from jail after midnight, help after an assault, help filling a prescription, help with a ride to Walmart.
Sometimes, homeless folks will flag them down calling out their street names, "Miss Wyndi" and "Mr. Jerry."
Interestingly, White and Gorsuch have gotten so close to the people they help — actually interviewing them about their struggles and needs — that their perceptions of what causes homelessness are worth noting.
The couple said almost all the people they talk to on the streets fall into one of four groups:
— Drug users. Most are hooked on fentanyl or methamphetamine, they said.
— Economically distressed. Many have experienced job loss or on-the-job injury, followed by home and/or car repossession. They don't have reserves or credit, White said, and so they find themselves homeless after an interruption in cash flow. Some still have their house pets.
— The mentally ill. A significant fraction of the homeless are battling untreated mental illness. "Some have full-blown schizophrenia," White said.
— The "homeless by choice." Some chronically homeless people tell the couple that they are satisfied with their lives and don't want to go back to a more traditional lifestyle. Interestingly, some of these families are multigenerational, with two adult generations of the same family living in an encampment.
Recently, the Doing What We Can Outreach received nonprofit designation from the IRS. White said in order to grow, the ministry is seeking help from individuals, church and civic groups. The outreach operators said they need more volunteers so they can open the center on days when they are working their full-time jobs. And cash donations would help them pay for rent and utilities, they said. Clothing is needed, too.
White said her willingness to get to know the people she helps has been eye-opening.
"I didn't know anything about homeless people," she said. "Most of them are very intelligent. A lot have great personalities, great senses of humor. They are real people, they are not just phantoms on the side of the road."
Follow the Doing What We Can Homeless Outreach group page on Facebook to help or email DWWCHO@yahoo.com.