A Leader of Hope: Anna's Story
by Jess Luoma
It's not every day that you meet someone with so much heart who has experienced so much loss. Anna Byers is something special-- an anomaly of hope among the homeless. Very few can endure the amount of loss and suffering that she has and still have poetry flow from them spoken from a smile that is altogether infectious.
Watch this short video to hear how Anna found herself experiencing homelessness for the past 7 years.
Anna left her home in Montana after her husband became abusive and gained custody of three of her four children through a series of lies and opportune connections. Though she admittedly had struggled with drug use, she says she was sober when her kids were taken from her. As a fellow mother, I can only imagine how excruciating a loss like this would be.
She made her way to California and after a bad car accident, she wound up homeless. Because she had no family to return to and began to form family among the homeless in Shasta County, she chose to stay and has been homeless for the past seven years.
Why would someone choose to stay homeless? Anna quickly found her heart again in offering her faith to her newfound brothers and sisters camping around her. The struggle of surviving on the streets, the disdain experienced by society and it's systems, and the constant thievery and relocating, can hurt the soul seemingly beyond repair. Though Anna experienced all of this and more, she never shook her core belief in unity, love and understanding.
Though drugs have always been prevalent as a means of coping with pain and as a survival tactic among the homeless, the outbreak of fentanyl over the last few years has taken the lives of dozens of Anna's friends. Anna describes fentanyl users as those who are "dreaming life away because they can't take reality." Watch this short video to hear why some homeless are dreaming away their pain through drugs:
The hope of reuniting with her kids is a shared driving force among so many on the streets. What keeps you going? This is a question we often strive to get to as we sit down with our friends in encampments and through our Future Story workshops. Is it your kids? The dreams of purpose you've always known deeply? The simplicity of safety and stability? Is it those words of encouragement that you've held onto over the years that speak a better word over your life?
In turn, we also ask ourselves, how are we contributing to the barriers that keep people stuck and cast down? There is an entire list of systemic issues-- affordable housing and a lack of transitional shelters, to name a few but the most detrimental are those of our attitudes. How are our internal judgements born of a lack of understanding passed on to those on the streets we pass by in the luxuries of our cars? How are we choosing distance and disconnection over the higher road of compassion? When we feel the nudge to stop to offer water, food or a few minutes of our time to simply ask "how are you?" and we ignore it, are we in turn, neglecting the ones the Father loves? What can we give in the spirit of a "hand up" that we are still holding tightly onto?
"Whenever you question anything, ask yourself and God for an answer. Whenever you question your strength of will, know that you're not the only one who's got you. There's always going to be someone there, whether you see them or not, that's thinking about you & empowering you to survive and move forward. They believe in you, they love you or you would not exist." -Anna Byers
Watch this short video of Anna inciting inspiration to us and her friends on streets.
Anna is truly a gem. Her words to her friends are powerful-- if you believe in yourself, you can move mountains. Time and time again, I'm humbled by the wisdom and resilience of the friends we meet who have gone through so much.
This is no surprise to God. In Ecclesiastes 9:15, it is written, "A poor, wise man knew how to save the town, and so it was rescued. But nobody remembered that poor man and his words were not heeded. So even though wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor."
Let us heed the words of wisdom from the poor who in the trenches of despair, have profoundly experienced the comfort and love of God. In their cries for help, He heard them and delivered them. In the stripping away of all the futile distractions and noise of the world, they have discovered the true values of life.
We are so thankful to have met Anna and are inspired by the hope she carries. Through our connection, we not only able to hear her story, but we were also able to give her medical care. She was in severe pain due to an infection in her leg & Dr. David Thompson came out to treat her and give her the medical attention she could not access without backpack medicine.
Shasta Thrive cannot continue to bring life-giving relationships to youth and adults without the financial support of regular donors. If you are able, we welcome your gift of any amount. If you'd like to be a part of meeting the needs of our homeless, recovering & transitioning friends in Redding, click here to donate to our bridge fund.
If you'd like to volunteer with us, start by joining our Advocates for Community Network(ACN). The ACN is a diverse network of leaders co-creating a movement to befriend and live in community with our homeless neighbors. We look forward to meeting you and guiding you in remembering the poor among us.